Jeremy Butterfield Editorial

Making words work for you

About

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Welcome to my blog site!

(In case you’re wondering, yes, you can write it as “blogsite”, but according to that fount of all knowledge, Google, rather more people write it as two words. So, I’m following the crowd.)

Many of you have no doubt stumbled across this site because a) you wanted to know what the first word in the dictionary is, or b) what the longest English word is.

If you asked either of those questions, I hope the respective posts gave you the information you wanted. If not, feel free to let me know why not.

However, as you’re now reading this page, your curiosity has clearly been piqued to find out more about the person behind the blog.

There’s a bit about me lower down, but before that I’d like to suggest – or hope – that you want to explore some other posts, which answer questions like:

Is it hone in or home in on something?

Do you spell it analyse or analyze?

Is on tenderhooks a mistake?

Which language does cockroach come from?

What is an eggcorn?

Who is the Mary in the cocktail Bloody Mary?

Who am I?

That’s a question I ask myself every morning.

But I’m sure you want a bit of background, potted CV stuff, not metaphysical musings.

about_nutshell

In a nutshell …

How language works, with all its quirks and oddities, has always fascinated me. After university, I taught English as a foreign language.

As I think many TEFL teachers find, that gives you a different perspective on the language, almost as if you were looking at it from outside.

Later, learning Italian and Spanish gave me yet another perspective.

Much of my working life has been concerned with creating dictionaries, that is lexicography (or “lexography” as one CEO used to call it.)

As Editor-in-Chief of Collins dictionaries, I was responsible for creating dozens of dictionaries and grammars of English and other languages.

More recently, I wrote Damp Squid, a book about some trends in current English.

Damp-Squib

 

(I’ll give myself a little puff by saying that the eminent novelist Alexander McCall Smith called it “irresistible”.)

 

 

And most recently, Oxford University Press published my revision of the classic Fowler’s Dictionary of Modern English Usage.

Apart from blogging, I provide editing services of different kinds. I’m a Professional Member of the British organization representing editors, the SfEP (Society for Freelance Editors and Proofreaders.)

If you need some help with editing what you’re writing, feel free to give me a shout.

And if you sign up to the blog, you’ll be notified by email every time I write a new post.

Thanks for visiting!

PS: For a very funny Q & A session with Bill Bryson producing wonderful one-liners, look here. 

 

 

 

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7 thoughts on “About

  1. I don’t know which side of the pond you live on, but here in the States there’s an evolution of American english that continues apace and is driving me batty. It is the usage of nouns as verbs, as in: “I was journaling for hours last night.” Some of the more recent atrocities: scrapbooking, tabling (handing out printed information in public from a table top), portraitizing. Just a few days ago I encountered “collaging.”
    Have you professional linguists coined a term for this? (Please don’t reply it’s “verbing” or “verbizing.”)

    Onward!

    Like

    • Hello, William (or Bill?), and thanks for your comment. I’m on the British side of the pond. In principle, I suppose English speakers can make almost any noun a verb if the need arises and the context requires it. There are several terms, but none of them specifies nouns to verbs, which is why I suppose ‘verbing’ is so handy (I hadn’t come across ‘verbizing’ before). conversion: the process that takes a word which is normally used in one part of speech and uses it in another without adding any kind of affix. It also affects e.g. nouns from verbs, ‘a swim’. This process is also called reclassification; and functional shift, the latter because it changes the syntax of the word.

      It is such a common and established process that we don’t notice it all around us in words we use all the time. As a simple example, I am commenting (1599 in the OED) on your comment (around 1400 in the OED). Historically, that verb is an example of this kind of conversion. I have to say that I find the use you describe of ‘tabling’ rather odd, since that verb already has a distinct meaning; as for ‘portraitize’, apart from being hideous, it is more than conversion, since it adds -ize to the noun. I hope this answers your question.

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      • Thank you, Jeremy. Most illuminating. We must all accept, I reckon, that we live in a world constantly in flux. But regarding the easy embrace of noun to verb conversion I remain, for the time being, unconverted.
        There’s another issue with American language that I’m interested to know your opinion about, and whether it’s happening on your side of the pond, too. In addition to your scrutiny of the written and spoken word, do you pay much attention to the evolution of the way people actually talk? Here in the States a speech pattern has emerged that almost everyone I know (over 40) finds annoying. I’m referring to the creeping proliferation of “uptalk.”
        Uptalk is the name given by professional linguists (who cannot seem to resist a punchy portmanteau) to the habit of changing the pitch of a word in a declarative sentence – either at the end, or midway, or both – that makes it sound like a question or uncertainty when it is not. Normal: “She made it sound like a question.” Uptalk: “She made it sound like a…question?” Double uptalk: “She made it sound?…like a… question?”
        Linguists who have studied the pattern found that it’s most prevalent among girls and young women, but listen closely and one can hear it appearing in nearly every demographic, including professional broadcasters who ought to know better than trying to sound like teens or twenty-somethings.
        Recently I heard a radio interview with an associate professor from a local college. Her speech lilted with so much singsongy uptalk it was difficult to determine whether she was answering questions or auditioning for a role in a musical.
        Is it happening there, too?

        Forward!
        Bill

        Like

      • Hi Bill,
        Yes, it is happening here. I am too old to associate much with the age group among whom it is prevalent, but I have certainly heard it. And I have even noticed female friends in their fifties using it, which is disconcerting. I suspect it is here to stay. I can’t say that I have noticed it being used by broadcasters, though. Could that be because their role is generally to assert forcefully?

        Where it comes from seems to be debated, but it has been around for quite a while. The article I give you the link to suggests it may go back to the 1960s, and has some interesting quotes from various linguists, including Pinker:

        http://www.theguardian.com/books/2001/sep/21/referenceandlanguages.mattseaton

        There is also this entertaining article, in which the parallel use of the question mark is writing is parodied:

        http://www.express.co.uk/comment/beachcomber/567287/Beachcomber-98-years-old-and-STILL-questioning-questions

        Best regards, Jeremy

        Like

  2. Thank you once again, Jeremy. I’m now more educated about the phenomenon, but that doesn’t make it any less annoying to the ear. When I hear someone speaking with frequent uptalk it reminds me of hearing a poem read aloud or recited badly.
    Before signing off, let me recommend (if you haven’t already read it) an entertaining little booklet by the late author, columnist and polemicist Alexander Cockburn, titled: Guillotined: Being a Summary Broadside Against the Corruption of the English Language. It was the last publication he worked on before his untimely passing.
    Guillotined! is a collection of commentaries by Cockburn and many readers of CounterPunch (the political website he co-founded) in which they inveigh against the hackneyed words, phrases and usages they find vexing. They are woven together with the leitmotif of the early, bloody days of the French Revolution. To quote the infamous prosecutor Fouquier-Tinville: “There are certain words which have counter-revolutionary potential, in the sense they have the power to debase and coarsen common speech by thoughtless and repeated use.”
    Cockburn and his readership tribunal subject the accused to swift and merciless judgement. Like the “justice” of those terrible days, the majority are condemned and must take that fateful ride in a tumbril to La Place de la Revolution where the tricoteuses have taken their seats and “the ministers of Sainte Guillotine are robed and ready.”
    It’s not up to the standards of academia, but it’s an amusing read. Disclosure: I have an item in it, too.
    It’s available only through the CounterPunch.org website.

    A pleasure corresponding with you.
    I have the honor to be…etc., etc.
    Bill

    Like

  3. Pingback: Fowler for the 21st Century | Scripturient

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