A coffee costs €2

Drawing of the euro symbol

Let’s play a quick game: Read the title of this blog post aloud. How did you read it? “A coffee costs two euros” or “A coffee costs two euro”? Here’s my guess: If you’re American, British, or Portuguese, you probably said “two euros”. If you’re German or Italian, you probably said “two euro”. The nice thing about this game is that everyone wins. The correct plural of euro is euro or euros, depending on whom you ask or what dictionary you consult.

One euro, two euro, two euros

In most of the English-speaking world, euros is the commonly used plural of euro. For native English speakers, it’s natural to add -s to form the plural—just like the plural of dollar is dollars and the plural of pound is pounds. But when speaking English, a German or an Italian is likely to use the plural euro. Some native English speakers use the plural euro as well. Also, if you look at a 50-euro note, it has “50 euro” written on it. Does that mean the “official” plural of euro is euro? The answer lies in the history of this currency.

The history of the euro

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The funniest typos of 2017 (Part 1/2)

My job gives me the chance to see all kinds of typos—many dull, a few irreverent, and some hilarious—before they reach the reader. Although it’s fun to correct misspellings, some are too creative to be buried under red markups forever. That’s why last year I decided to start this series of blog posts.

Here is the first half of the lineup of the most creative typos I came across in 2017:

Customers prefer leaning [learning] about a brand

Person leaning against a logo

Who knows what customers prefer these days? Leaning against a brand or learning about a brand? I lean towards the second option. You can lean against a wall when you’re tired waiting in line. You lean towards an idea when you have a preference towards it.

Install your valences [valances]

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The generic man and LinkedIn gaffes

Sticky note saying "Human"

A couple of days ago a manager shared on LinkedIn a photo of a team of smiling men and women celebrating some achievement. Nice. But her message read, “thanks to my 15-man team” (I’m paraphrasing).

Ouch.

It’s true that in Old English man meant “person”. But by the Industrial Revolution, the generic man was gone and the modern meaning of the word (“adult male human”) was firmly established. So, “15-man team” is not the same as “15-person team”.

Not convinced? Would you say “Marie Curie was the first man to win a Nobel twice”?

Before I became a professional editor, I didn’t pay this much attention to the nuances of the English language, even though reading or hearing sexist terms had always bothered me. Now I finally get the chance to eliminate sexist expressions from the texts I work on. So if I see “15-man team” in a report I’m editing, I’ll suggest replacing it with “team of 15”, explain why, and hope that the author agrees with my change. Read more →

What I wish I knew when I was a research scientist – Part 2 (More tips)

Book with halo

In the first part of this blog post, I listed five language editing tips for academic writers:

  1. Write we did instead of this paper did.
  2. Avoid long paragraphs.
  3. Use because.
  4. Reference figures in parentheses.
  5. Be assertive.

Language editing tips

In this second part, I’m discussing five more tips, which I hope you’ll find useful when revising your own papers.

Repeat or edit rather than use a thesaurus

If you need to repeat a word five times in a sentence, there’s probably something wrong with the sentence, so consider editing it. But if you need to repeat a word twice, for example, don’t be afraid to do so. Often, if you use synonyms just to avoid repetitions, the result is funny, awkward, or just annoying. Consider this sentence: A decrease in X shows a reduction in Y because of a decline in Z. In this case, it’s better to reword the sentence to something like There is a correlation between….

In all cases, read the text aloud and see if it bothers your ear. This is a great trick, because language wasn’t made for the eyes, but for the ear. I read this somewhere, but I don’t remember where. (If I do, I’ll update this post.)

Surname et al. + a plural verb

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What I wish I knew when I was a research scientist – Part 1

Book with a halo

Once upon a time, I earned my living as a research fellow. Like many scientists, when I submitted a manuscript to a peer-reviewed journal, I wanted my paper to be error-free, but I didn’t spend much time on polishing my writing style. I wasn’t a writer, and scholarly writing wasn’t prose—so I thought.

But now I know the quality of the language can influence referees’ impression of a paper and, in turn, the editorial decision. One reason might be a psychological bias called the halo effect, “the phenomenon whereby we assume that because people are good at doing A they will be good at doing B, C and D”, as The Economist explains it. The reverse is called the negative halo, and it may lead some referees (those who do not combat this unconscious bias) to assume that a poorly written paper contains less-than-perfect science.

Many scientists know about this bias and—I imagine—do their best to combat it. However, even when they make a purely unbiased, objective decision when evaluating a manuscript, journal editors appreciate well-written papers, because good writing has two powerful qualities: clarity and effectiveness.

As writing well can help you get published, perfecting your writing skills is worth the effort. As well as reading books on academic writing and practicing as much as you can, seek advice from people who are knowledgeable about academic writing. Getting timely and constructive feedback on your writing is probably the one thing that will make you a better academic writer.

Language editing tips

To help you make more informed decisions when writing, I’ve gathered some language editing tips from the papers I’ve worked on recently. Read more →

Brioche and 7 other English words with surprising meanings in Italy

Loaf cake and slices with price tag and red pencil“Ecco le sue brioche” (“here are your brioches”), the baker said, handing me a paper bag with my order.

“No, croissants”, I said.

“Si, brioche”, he said, nodding.

Frustrated because I couldn’t remember how to say “I ordered croissants, not brioches” in Italian, I opened the bag to reveal two fresh and crispy croissants. The baker didn’t get my order wrong: brioche means “croissant” in northern Italy.

More than 10 years down the road, I still love croissants and I still tend to be quizzical when I hear an English word with a different meaning in spoken Italian.

Here are a few common English words you will hear often if you move to Italy. You might think you know what these words mean in your home country, but when you’re in Italy, you’ll be expected to use them in an exotic way, as the Italians do.

Beauty

If your Italian girlfriend asks if you’ve seen her beauty, because she can’t remember where it is, she’s not trying to be philosophical. She’s asking if you’ve seen her makeup purse.

Box

When you rent an apartment in Rome or Milan, look for one with a box if you want a secure parking place. In Italy, a box is a small garage that usually fits a single car (yes, a real-size car) and nothing else. The Italians use the word garage, not box, for a proper garage, where you can park your car, as well as store your boxes, bikes, and tools.

Water

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Hyphenation of Latin phrases

Roman-style text

Question: Should a Latin expression be hyphenated when I use it as an adjective?

Answer: No. In general, Latin phrases used as adjectives need no hyphens.

The purpose of hyphenation

Most compound (multi-word) adjectives placed directly before a noun they modify require a hyphen, for clarity. For example, if you write third party expert, the reader won’t know if you’re talking about the third expert in parties you’ve called (because the first two experts had no experience whatsoever in office cocktail parties) or an expert (in parties or anything else) that belongs to a third party, such as an external consultant. But the humble hyphen has the power to wash away the ambiguity: a reader cannot misinterpret third-party expert.

To hyphenate or not to hyphenate Latin?

When Latin phrases modify a noun, the resulting expression is unambiguous. For example, you cannot misread in vivo experiment or per capita income. So, hyphenation of Latin expressions is redundant.

Major style guides say no

Most style manuals recommend not hyphenating foreign phrases (including Latin) used as adjectives. Here are just three examples:

The Chicago Manual of Style

Foreign phrases should be “open unless hyphens appear in the original language”.

Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association

“Do not hyphenate foreign phrases used as adjectives or adverbs”. But APA gives an exception: ad-lib is hyphenated.

New Oxford Style Manual

“Do not hyphenate italic foreign phrases unless they are hyphenated in the original language.”

Hyphenated Latin phrases in published articles

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Thank the ghostwriter

Ghost made of paperHelen is a Cambridge graduate who found writing more rewarding than doing scientific research. Jake is a part-time teaching assistant and writes every day to make ends meet. Lisa is a full-time writer who works from home. Mike is a freelance web designer and part-time writer. Terri is a retired IT technician—with a career spanning from punch cards to cloud computing—passionate about sharing her wealth of experience with others.

They all ghostwrite web content.

They’re professional ghostwriters who work full time or part time from their home offices. They’re not doing some freelance writing on the side while hopping around the world.

When they chose to write web content for a living, they knew the job rarely comes with rewards like praise, credit, and bonuses. They knew they’d receive criticism from editors hired to defend the client’s wishes and style guides. They knew they’d sometimes need to revise or rewrite their articles for no extra pay. Some clients appreciate the ghostwriters’ genuine voice and writing style and give them full creative freedom and even a byline. But that happens rarely. Ghostwriters typically need to mimic others’ writing style and receive no credit for their work.

Most of the content online, from LinkedIn posts by thought leaders to company blogs by marketing experts, to magazine articles by CEOs, is ghostwritten. Virtually all businesses that have a website have become publishers and many hire ghostwriters. Read more →

And 5 more funny typos (to end the year with a smile)

Typos happen. But when they’re particularly creative—like the seven typos I wrote about earlier this year—they deserve the spotlight.

1. Gold [Golf] course

Golf course made of goldA golf course attracts gold diggers and is a gold mine for landowners, but no matter how exclusive a golf course is, it’s not made of gold.

2. Distinguished [Distinctive] pattern

Time magazine cover with a pattern wearing a crown

There’s a difference between distinct, distinctive, to distinguish, and distinguished. For example, each zebra has a distinct pattern that distinguishes a zebra from another. Their distinctive patterns help zebras confuse predators. Distinguished means eminent, and you wouldn’t say that about a pattern, but about a person.

3. Face [Phase] closure

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Editorial style guide for small businesses – Part 2

Clothes hanger with letters and punctuation marks

No two style guides are, or should be, identical. This example is based on the style guide template I use for my clients.

When creating your own set of guidelines based on this template, you may need to delete or add sections so that your style guide meets the needs of your business. Remember to include examples to make guidelines easier to understand and follow.

Style Guide Example

Introduction

This section explains what this style guide is, why we use it, and how we treat issues not included here.

What’s a style guide?

This document provides guidelines on grammar, spelling, usage, and punctuation for all written materials we produce. This document is not meant to replace grammar books or dictionaries—think of it as a cheat sheet.

Why do we have a style guide?

This quick reference guide is meant to help us save time and effort, and create clear and consistent documents that reflect our brand.

How do we treat issues not included here?

For issues not covered here, refer to The Chicago Manual of Style, Merriam-Webster’s dictionary, and Garner’s Modern English Usage.

Tone and voice

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