GENEVA, SWITZERLAND – Singapore has worked it out: if you want people to love good English, you have to make it fun. The Speak Good English Movement on Facebook does it really well. A must-read: “A teacher presented each child in her class with the first half of a well-known proverb and asked them to complete it. The results are below…”
GENEVA, SWITZERLAND – The Geneva Writers’ Group will turn 20 next year and as its 2012 conference drew to a close last weekend, it was clear that the group has matured into a body that today offers an established, “adult” level conference for writers who are looking to become, or already are, serious professionals.
The first conference was held in 1998.
Regular monthly workshops for members cover a variety of topics. The conference, held every two years, takes this a step further, offering “high-level instruction, support and feedback through workshops, discussions, and readings”.
The 2012 conference was sold out, as was the previous one. Some 210 people attended from 30 countries if local expats’ nationalities are considered, “with writers flying in for the weekend from Australia, Iran, Qatar, Kenya, Italy, Austria, United Kingdom and the USA,” according to the group’s founder, Susan Tiberghien.
The list of instructors was impressive and included, for fiction, writers Patricia Duncker, Sheila Kohler and Bret Lott; for non-fiction Nick Barlay, Dinty W Moore and Geneva-based Susan Tiberghien (who founded the conference). Poetry and playwriting instructors led sessions, as did sevral editors and agents (complete programme).
The value of quality conferences like this cannot be understated in an era where digital publishing makes it too easy to put your words into book form. A steady stream of unsolicited self-published books, almost all of them short on professionalism, comes my way for review, and while I admire the determination it takes to write a book from start to finish, I am not happy about the lack of respect for professional skills. Sometimes it is simply naivete. But writers need to keep in mind that readers deserve and demand books whose authors have mastered technical skills, understand the value of good layouts, have taken on board time to proofread and the cost of editorial help.
Professional writers work hard, mostly without much glory or money. Meetings like the Geneva Writers Conference are a wonderful source of inspiration and help to those willing to take the trouble to ask for it; these are the writers who have earned their audiences.
When I see a press release that has something like this at the top I think the senders haven’t quite worked out that even smart people who like dictionaries can’t be bothered to decipher what they mean, and might not bother to read further. When you write for an audience as opposed to defending a thesis before academics, try to keep in mind that we’re all busy, distracted and probably in a hurry. In this case, the World Economic Forum forgot:
“A dystopian world, unsafe safeguards and the dark side of connectivity are this year’s major risk cases.”
Here are two sentences that would benefit from an extra word or two to avoid confusion. Writers often take these shortcuts to avoid being pedantic. Fair enough, but it’s better to be clear. See if you can work out the problem; I’ll post my edited versions tomorrow.
The suspect allegedly shot and killed a man who had just withdrawn 200,000 yuan ($31,700) from a bank in Nanjing’s Dongmen Street on January 6 and then fled the scene in a car, China’s state-run Xinhua news agency reported.
from the Atlantic:
The average first-time mother is as old as any country in the OECD (30), and the career costs of having a child are sky-high.
I really enjoyed most of, let’s say the first 76 percent of, Michael Agger’s Slate post on how to write faster. I’m a fast writer and never quite know how to answer people who ask for tips on this; improve your typing skills? sounds a bit feeble. He has some good points, has done some interesting research. As I continued to read, faster and faster, I realized he’s done one thing I counsel other writers to avoid: stop writing for the web as you would for print, and the best way to do that is to write shorter, so people read to the end. I nearly did.
I wanted to ask him how long it took him to write the post, but all the Slate options for leaving comments require me to give my address books and half my life to Google or Twitter or other places where I hang out online, and I like my privacy and that of my friends too much for that.
Linking the right to comment to a swap whereby the other party gets to post on your pages is one of my pet peeves with social media because I see too much rubbish on some people’s FB or Twitter pages as a result. Writing faster runs parallel to speeding up time spent looking at stuff you really don’t care about.
And while we’re on pet peeves related to writers, I do wish manic writers would stop invading every networking site they can find, with crazy numbers of posts. Ever met someone at a party you couldn’t get away from, who just couldn’t stop talking, and seemed to think everything they had to say was of interest? Hmmm, they’ve moved to the online party.
This is probably news to a lot of people: you should pronounce the “f’ in twelfth, as in the Twelfth Day of Christmas, ladidadi. Here’s your chance to sing it. If you’d rather listen to John Denver and The Muppets sing it, see the video below.
This gives me a golden opportunity to ask if you know how to spell the word, and if you hesitated, you might want to check out this very good list of commonly misspelled words.
They use the old-fashioned UK-US spelling divide, whereas GenevaLunch uses international English spelling guidelines, but they have plenty of company, mainly based in the UK or US, where they tend to forget that English is spoken and written in several other places such as Ireland, Canada, South Africa, India, New Zealand and so on.
And if you want to know more about those strange lyrics in the Christmas song, wikipedia offers some background.
Merry Christmas, with or without that cheap shopping list shortcut, Xmas!
The beauty of a short sentence is its simplicity. The hell of a long one is that you have no idea what they are talking about. The only solution, most of the time, is to ignore it. This baffling gem of a sentence is from the IRS, the US tax agency. It is part of a plethora of instructions designed to help taxpayers, including many Americans abroad who complain that they are not only double-taxed but that US tax instructions are incomprehensible. So they don’t pay, some of them.
Judge for yourself:
“Notice 2009-92 provides that a delay or acceleration of the payment of nonqualified deferred compensation in order to comply with an advisory opinion issued by the Office of the Special Master for TARP Executive Compensation, pursuant to the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008 and regulations thereunder, including conditioning payment on satisfaction of a requirement related to the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP), such as repayment of the financial assistance granted under TARP, will not cause the plan to fail to meet the requirements of § 409A.”
Ah yes, that’s surely clear to all of us now.
Hyphens are going out of style, after a centuries-long inglorious existence. Blame the Internet, which was so quick to squash the poor hyphen that we never wrote "Inter-Net." Early typesetters invented the little line and editors embraced it because it made their lives easier. It added sense to long sentences. Forgive me if I don’t offer you a sample of 18th century text but you’re reading this on a computer screen, which your eye handles differently from a printed text. Today, short is beautiful.
Here is the lowdown: the BBC News Magazine popped the news a week ago that the Shorter Oxford Dictionary was dropping the hyphen, or at least deleting 16,000 of them. Reuters helped spread the word. Venerable journalism site Poynteronline in the US shared the news with American journalists.
Pssst: This isn’t really news. A mysterious battles of words that involved political sensibilities and hyphens is buried in the depths of the New York Times archives. The Washington Post was moaning the dying breed of hyphens back in 1987.
The Internet seems to be killing hyphens at a faster rate, however, if the good people at the Shorter Oxford Dictionary are to be believed. They say they have been watching the hyphen for some time now, which sounds like a sport slower than cricket. If you peek behind the scenes at how hyphens are handled by the Internet, you’ll get an idea of why. Hyphens are technically messy these days, a fact that would sadden old-school typesetters.
By now you’re probably wondering why it matters. For that matter, why does grammar matter? Based on personal experience as an editor for magazines, books and corporate publications I can tell you that it is costly to live by the seat of your pants, grammatically speaking. If you don’t have rules for writing, people argue endlessly over commas and hyphens. Hate the boss? Ring his excess commas with red ink. I’ve seen it happen. Want to make sure that ambitious woman doesn’t get promoted? Argue against her illogical use of hyphens. It happens.
Authors of language style guides, and I’m one, make people nervous. We don’t intend to, but confidence about grammar is not widespread. When you’re seen as a master of the art, you’re suspected of spotting dust on the toes of shoes, fluff under beds and commas where they shouldn’t be. We’re clearly tied in some obscure way to every terrifying teacher anyone has ever had, even though few style guide writers are or were teachers. Our hearts can’t survive the business of correcting student papers.
I’m asked regularly about where to put commas, especially with quotation marks, in the way that people ask investment managers for tips about where to put their money. I sense that people are looking for the same kind of return on investment, if they can only get it right.
The other bit of language that people worry about is hyphens: to hyphenate or not, to make it two words or one. Some people are word-joiners and others are word-separators, and hyphens do the job for both. I’ve never been able to spot a clear parallel between these groups and the glass-half-full or glass-half-empty believers, but I’m sure there is one.
The reason for all the uncertainty is that there are rules but not just one set of them. In an international setting, you’re bound to break someone’s rules, so relax. My advice is to go with the trend and use fewer hyphens.
Does the sentence work without hyphens? If yes, don’t add them. If the sentence is ambiguous or confusing, you might need them. Then again, if you’ve created a hyphen circus, consider rewriting.
This sentence: The French-educated, woman-despising, mistress-loving, manager-turned-political-success found himself in hot water thanks to a letter-turned-explosive-device
could be rewritten as: The French president was in trouble with women again, thanks to a dubious letter spotted by a photographer. Ouf!