blog, Books, copyediting, Uncategorized

What’s So Scary about Scare Quotes and Italics

Photo by Kaboompics .com from Pexels

Welcome to the latest edition of “copyediting adventures!” I had the pleasure of editing a great book with some really interesting content. But there was one tiny flaw. Rather, it was a tiny flaw that turned into a big annoyance: the overuse of emphasis in the manuscript. There were scare quotes and italics everywhere. Multiple words were italicized in a sentence. Some times, one sentence had a combination of italics and quotation marks. There were even words that were italicized, quoted, and underlined simultaneously. This, my friends, is what we call overkill.

As a copyeditor, my job is to make the texts readable while respecting the voice of the writer. But in my experience, some writers don’t understand the power of their own voice. So they try to make the reader see that power. This is a mistake. The fact of your written words is already important enough. To say it another way, if the words are not already important, they should not be in your book.

Sure, writing is a process, and each word should be carefully chosen for clarity, comprehension, and impact. And of course, there are moments when some words need to be emphasized over others. However, if you use too much emphasis, you actually de-emphasize the entire sentence or paragraph.

Everything in the book is already important. But if a reader has to pay attention to every emphasized adverb, preposition, concept, or phrase, then readers will forget to pay attention to the big picture of the book.

So, this is my public service announcement: Too many scare quotes are scary. Excessive use of italics is irrational. Every word in the manuscript should be significant on its own. Just keep writing and let the reader decide their own experience.

—KRW

blog, Writing

Spring Semester 2019

I’ve not paid much attention to my blog of late because I’ve been paying attention to my students. We are about 5 weeks into the semester here, and I’m still trying to get my bearings. However, even though I feel like I am trying to catch a speeding train, I’m having fun.

Funny how that works.

I am teaching a Strategic Communications course, and I love it. The course is geared towards young advertisers, public relations students, and marketers, and it is about studying, pitching, and writing narratives for various products, events, or ideas. The writing style, though, is different. It’s a different kind of storytelling, one that focuses on understanding the nature of branding and people’s response to brands. I’ve never taught a class like this before, but it is shaping up to be the most fun class of the semester.

My other two classes are Technical Writing for Engineers and a general education Rhetoric and Writing course. Tech Writing is always fun and challenging to teach because how do you make writing Usability Reports fun? It’s doable. You just have to be a little crazy.

The gen ed writing course is the one that I have the most experience teaching, and it is proving to be the most challenging. The main reason is that it is a required course. Most students don’t want to be there, and it shows. Since I don’t want to be one of those teachers who lecture, oblivious to their student’s engagement, I’m having to do a bit more work to get the students involved in their own experience.

Trials of a teacher…

How is your year going so far?

-K

blog, Uncategorized, Writing

It’s A New Semester

…And so far, things are going great. I could not sleep at all, so I am operating on less than 3 hours of sleep. I get to class and realize I have no dry-erase markers (ladies and gentlemen, the professor is unprepared for class!), so I run to the store to get some. Then, I get to class, and bring up my Canvas course page and — dun, dun, dun — it’s empty. I put all of the right content in the wrong class. I spent all week doing the wrong thing.

—sigh—

In any case, I have four classes I am teaching — two writing for engineers courses, one strategic communications (writing in advertising and public relations) course, and one traditional rhetoric, research, and writing course. I am excited about all of these course in their own way, but I am most excited about the strategic communications course because it is new. While I have done a bit of freelance copywriting (not much to write home about), it will be interesting to see what I can bring to this course and what I can learn from teaching it.

Onward and forward,

-K

blog, Writing

Word of the Day: What

You ever noticed that when dictionary-type sites do the word-of-the-day, it’s always a really interesting, uncommonly used word? Why not use common words, words that are a part of our everyday?

I was thinking of a word-of-the-day when I decided to read a few news articles to try and get some inspiration, and the only word that came to mind was, “what.” I kept saying it after each article: “what?”

Sometimes I said, “what the hell?”

Other times I  said, “what the [insert word here]?”

It’s such a useful word that allowed me to express my full range of emotions from confusion to incredulity, from cynicism to excitement.

It is a pronoun (What we need is love.), a determiner (He lost what little common sense he had left.), or an adverb (What does it matter if you had one pumpkin muffin already; eat another!).

Further, when successfully deployed, it is one of the few words that lends itself to non-verbal communication; facial expressions can do an excellent job at conveying the “what-ness” of a situation.

For example, you remember that time your co-worker said something so stupid that words simply failed? Or what about that time a loved one said they had a surprise for you, and you were left speechless? Both scenarios can be addressed with a well-placed verbal or non-verbal “what.”

In either case, let’s give it up for the common words too. I mean, really, every day can’t be an ‘anfractuous’ kind of day. Sometimes you just need to say, “what,” and let it go.

-K

 

Writing

The Wisdom of Words

These are some trying times. Things are difficult for me personally, and they are also hard and stressful for a lot of people. It seems like things have turned upside down and inside out. Soren Kierkegaard has a quote that captures this feeling perfectly. He writes,

What if everything in the word were a misunderstanding, what if laughter were really tears?

What if indeed! We have all experienced this kind of pain. More importantly, we perform it every day. So, to expand on Kierkegaard, what if the misunderstanding was really just an inability to see, hear, or understand?

I’ve been thinking about the word melancholy and its poetic nature. Susan Sontag once wrote that “Depression is melancholy minus its charm.” I wonder what it is about the word, melancholy, that makes it charming. Certainly, sadness is probably the furthest from charming one can be.

Perhaps children maintain charm in the face of sadness. Maybe we think that way because we don’t take the sadness of children seriously, much to the detriment of the children.

Poets and philosophers speak of melancholia as if it is a bridge beyond sadness or as Eli Cioran notes, it is “an appetite no misery satisfies.”

Fundamentally, to be sad and to be melancholy are the same. However, one of those words feels more despairing. This is the wonderful thing about words: they can demonstrate degrees of a feeling just by the feelings generated by the word.

But all is not lost. Herman Hesse has this to say about melancholy:

I began to understand that suffering and disappointment and melancholy are there not to vex us or cheapen us or deprive us of our dignity but to mature and transfigure us.

Well, if I am going to be transfigured, I wonder what I will become?

In any case, are there any good poems out there that can assuage the intensity of your melancholy feelings? Leave the titles in the comments below.