Survival guide to climate change … hyphenation


In the scheme of things that are going to happen under climate change, hyphenation is surely the least of anyone’s worries. However, I am in the business of making reports readable and internally consistent, and while I’m waiting to get the dinghy out it remains my daily task to wrestle with such issues.

The problem is that I often see phrases such as ‘climate-change impact’ mixed up with ‘climate change impact’, and ‘climate-change-induced change’ with ‘climate change-induced change’. In the interests of hyphen harmony, I’ve put this list together as a handy how-to.

My source is the (Australian) Style Manual 6th edn. I’ve copied out the relevant sections below, giving them a ‘rule number’ in square brackets (and their page numbers, of course). The table below that describes, in the first column, how these phrases should be set; the second column tells you which rule I’ve applied to make that decision.

Here goes.

p. 88 … the main concern should be to retain consistency in hyphenation throughout a document … hyphens can be an important device to avoid ambiguity, but otherwise there is no need to overuse them. The decision about whether or not to use a hyphen must often be based on the context in which the word or words appear.

[1] p. 91 Compound adjectives: when a compound adjective consists of two adjectives, or of a noun plus an adjective the expression is hyphenated no matter whether it precedes or follows the noun it is describing: bitter-sweet, red-hot → climate-ready, climate-ready approach, approach is climate-ready.

[2] p. 92 In contrast, compound adjectives that are set phrases consisting of, say, a noun plus a noun or an adjective plus a noun are not usually hyphenated: a tax office ruling, the stock exchange report, an equal opportunity employer → climate change approach.

Note: if the expression is further modified, a hyphen may be necessary to prevent ambiguity, as in a ‘a retrospective tax-office ruling’ → mild climate-change attitude to avoid the problem of reading ‘mild climate’ as a set phrase. I haven’t ever actually seen this phrase used, but the principle applies.

[3] p. 93 Compound adjectives containing capital letters, italics or quotations marks are not usually hyphenated: a ‘do or die’ attitude → ‘climate ready’ approach.

Note: it’s normally sufficient to put a phrase in quotation marks like this just once, the first time it is mentioned. Thereafter the quotation marks can be dropped, which leads us to ‘climate ready’ approach for the first mention, but climate-ready approach for subsequent mentions.

[4] p. 108: when a compound adjective precedes the noun it qualifies, it is often hyphenated. If, however, the compound noun consists of more than one word (or element) on either side of the hyphen, an en rule should replace the hyphen to indicate the broader link: a hepatitis C–positive person → climate change–induced weather, pre–climate change distribution.

[5] Compound adjectives involving present or past participles usually take a hyphen: government-owned facility, heart-rending image → climate-induced change.

Phrase RULE
climate-ready approach 1
‘climate ready’ approach 3
climate-ready biodiversity management activities 1
‘climate ready’ biodiversity conservation objectives 3
climate-ready biodiversity planning 1
climate-ready status 1
climate change adaptation 2
climate change impacts 2
climate change responses 2
climate change scenarios 2
‘climate ready’ assessment criteria 3
‘climate ready’ concepts 3
‘climate ready’ framework 3
climate change–driven changes 4
climate change–induced loss 4
non–climate change pressures 4
pre–climate change distribution 4
climate-driven ecological change 5
climate-induced change 5

Source: Snooks and Co. 2002. Style manual for authors, editors and printers, 6th edn, John Wiley & Sons, Milton, Qld.

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Atomic typo – yes, that’s really a thing


Malapropisms, the topic of my last post, can occur in writing but most often you hear them in speech. As an editor, I am  usually correcting writing not speaking (although you’d be amazed at how many garrulous people become carefully articulate once I tell them my job), so I thought I should give some real-world examples of errors I see. Most of these are examples of typos, rather than malapropisms (where the person genuinely believes they’ve used the right word) or of spelling mistakes (where the person knows which word they want, they just don’t know which letters need to go in it).

This is a list of examples I’ve seen that the authors (and spell check) would have missed because they are actual words, just not the words that were wanted, and they are words that come up all the time in the corporate/academic writing that I’m working on. It turns out that this kind of mistake has a name, atomic typo, due to its small size and relatively large punch – it can create a big difference in meaning, as anyone who has typed ‘pubic’ instead of ‘public’ will know.

The term ‘atomic typo’ was coined in 2002 and since then it has appeared in various blogs and newspapers but doesn’t seem to be in common usage (it returns only just over 3000 results on Google!). Not all words lend themselves to these sorts of errors; if you mistyped ‘photosynthetic’ you probably wouldn’t get another word that a spell check would miss. However, some words are very prone to being mistyped; in fact, ‘fife’ is the word most likely to be mistyped to give another extant word, with 199 possible mistypings. Yes, someone has done the maths on this. Lucky for me, ‘fife’ doesn’t come up very often in my work.

So, here are some that I do find:

  • asses for assess
  • casual for causal
  • conversation for conservation
  • county for country
  • heath for health
  • mange for manage
  • mangers for managers
  • pubic for public

What can you do about these errors? Not much, except pay attention to the ones you are prone to making and check them every time you type them.  Some of them are easier to see than others – for example, you can imagine it’s very easy to type ‘wad’ in place of ‘was’, but people mostly see those errors quickly and fix them. My list above is small, but it is of genuine errors I see in reports.

You can run spell checks for the words that wouldn’t normally occur in your work, such as ‘asses’ and ‘mange’ (depending on your field, of course – that may not help people working in veterinary science), and you can do this across whole folders as well as individual documents. It’s a good idea to spend the extra minute to run these checks; here’s a poem that expresses the joy of finding – after publication – a typo that slipped through.

The typographical error is a slippery thing and sly
You can hunt til you are dizzy, but it somehow will get by.
Til the forms are off the presses, it is strange how still it keeps.
It shrinks down in a corner and it never stirs or peeps.
That typographical error, too small for human eyes.
Til the ink is on the paper, when it grows to mountain size.
The boss, he stares with horror, then he grabs his hair and groans.
The copyreader drops his head upon his hands and moans.
The remainder of the issue may be clean as clean can be,
But the typographical error is the only thing you see.

(credit to ericshackle@ for this, in the comments of the atomic typo article link)

Update: additions to this post as they come in:

  • casual for causal
  • diary for dairy
  • emphasises for emphases
  • infarction for infraction
  • later for latter
  • seal level rises for sea level rises
  • steam for stream
  • medial used in place of medical (thanks, Erin)
  • purse used in place of pursue (thanks, Erin)
  • costal for coastal
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And a happening ear chew too

MalLRA bit of light-heartedness for the new year: We’ve all made the mistake at some point or other of using a word that sounds like but is not the one we mean, sometimes with hilarious results. Language learners make them often: I’ve made these errors in Dutch recently, using ‘verkopen’ instead of ‘kopen’, which resulted in me announcing to a smooth salesman that I’d like to sell a vacuum cleaner. I bet he was thinking, ‘We’ll see about that. I’ll be doing the selling around here.’ And then when returning a hotel keycard to the receptionist I tried to say, ‘We’ve forgotten your card’ but instead said ‘We’ve eaten your card’, mixing up ‘vergeten’ with ‘gegeten’. A recent example I’ve heard from a Dutch speaker learning English was when he wanted to express his appreciation to his host for the lovely dinner and time they’d had together, and he said, ‘Thank you for your hostility.’

At least language learners are likely to be corrected and not make the same mistake again; but when people make these mistakes in their first language, they usually don’t realise the error and so continue to make it. People send me examples of malapropisms they hear or say themselves, such as ‘one foul swoop’ for ‘one fell swoop’, ‘hotter than Haiti’ for ‘hotter than Hades’; ‘nip thinks in the butt’ for ‘nip things in the bud’; and even ‘erotic fish’ for ‘exotic fish’. The humour in the meow cop game relies on the butt of the joke thinking the cop is using malapropisms.

There are some great ones from the TV show Kath and Kim, including Kim’s plea, ‘I want to be effluent, Mum!’ and Kath’s judgement about what kind of kitchen table (or is it marriage?) Kim should have: ‘Oh no, Kim, monogamy’s very old fashioned. You just want a veneer of monogamy. That’s all people care about these days.’

George W Bush is famous for them, including this pearler: ‘We cannot let terrorists and rogue nations hold this nation hostile or hold our allies hostile.’ This example meets the criteria for a malapropism, which is that the word used by the speaker is a real word but not the one they meant to use, that it sounds like the word they meant, and that the result doesn’t make any sense. The title of this post is not strictly a malapropism in that you’re unlikely to hear anyone saying this as a genuine mistake. You can read here how the term malapropism comes from the character of Mrs Malaprop from Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s play The Rivals; she said things like ‘promise to forget this fellow – to illiterate him, I say, quite from your memory’ and ‘He is the very pine-apple of politeness!’

As word meanings change, something that may have been a malapropism is no longer: for example, the word ‘fortuitous’ means ‘occurring by chance’, but because it sounds as if it’s related to ‘fortunate’, it has, since about the middle of last century, come to be used in the sense ‘occurring by good chance’. Because any fortuitous event can happen by good, bad or value-neutral chance, these two words do legitimately overlap in meaning at least some of the time. Fowler’s Modern Usage still prescribes the ‘chance’ meaning of ‘fortuitous’, but I think that battle to halt meaning shift is already lost.

Studies of malapropisms and other language errors can be used to find out how children develop language and which language centres of the brain have been damaged when people have strokes or accidents. That’s not to say that any instance of a malapropism constitutes brain damage – in a general setting people have just learned the wrong word from their social group, or misheard a phrase and repeated their mishearing.

This leads me to ask if speakers repeat these errors, even after they’ve been corrected. This article in Language Sciences by Arnold Zwicky from 1979 suggests they don’t, because they are convinced they already have the right word. A person will be looking through their mental dictionary for a word, but find the wrong one; when they utter that word, they accept it and store it as the correct item, so they continue to make the error. The fact that they couldn’t find the right word the first time means that the correct word was either stored incorrectly or incompletely. In Zwicky’s study, people were asked if they had intended to say what they had, and they were certain that they were right. That study was not longitudinal so it didn’t follow up to see if being corrected did change what people said. (I couldn’t find anything more current than this; not even recent abstracts behind paywalls seemed to answer this question exactly.)

I’ve heard people say often enough that so-and-so person always says such-and-such malapropism, so it seems as if it is a difficult thing to correct in a speaker’s mind. I once mixed up ‘superstitious’ and ‘suspicious’ and I’ve never trusted either of them since, always pausing now before I say one to make sure it’s right. If you know someone who has this kind of speech impeachment, be sure to collect them! They’ll thank you heavily for it.

More info:

Here’s a whole website devoted to them

Aman from pafnutyblog has managed to extract the wikipedia entry revision history and put a bigger list of malapropisms in one place here:

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Substance abuse

ImageSometimes the meanings of two words are very close and it’s easy to confuse them. Two such words are ‘substantial’ and ‘substantive’.

According to Macquarie (Australia’s dictionary), the meanings are:

substantial: real or actual, of ample amount, of solid character, of real worth, having to do with substance, having to do with the essence of a thing.

substantive: having independent existence, belonging to the real or essential part of a thing, essential, real or actual, of considerable amount or quantity.

Obviously they’re very close in meaning. Sometimes Macquarie includes usage notes about words that might be easily confused, such as in the entry for ‘effect’, where the usage note says ‘not to be confused with affect’, but it does not for these two.

Searching a little broader (read: trawling the great google) was a little more useful. In fact, given the ease with which the internet erupts in apoplexy about infinitesimally subtle shades of meaning, it’s eerily quiet out there on this topic. (I have, however, learned from the interwebz that ‘Substantial’ is the name of a Maryland rapper. Yes, that’s him in the pic.) That tells me that either most people have a feel for it and get it right, or that most people don’t know the difference between them and so don’t know when they’ve been used incorrectly, or that the meanings are so close that to a large extent they are interchangeable. It seems from Macquarie (and from what you’ll see below) that it’s mostly this last reason.

Many lists aim to educate people about easily confused words, and these two do not appear on the most common ones:

Even Grammar Girl didn’t have an entry about this.

But the formal sources do: Fowler’s Modern English Usage and the Australian English Style Guide (Peters).

Fowler’s has a couple of paragraphs on it: both words mean ‘of substance’, but they have become differentiated to the extent that ‘-ial’ is now the word in general use for real, of real importance, sizeable, solid, well-to-do, etc, and ‘-ive’, is chiefly used in special senses: in grammar, in parliamentary proceedings, in law, in the services. This is in the 2004 edition, by the way; the difference between ‘substantial’ and ‘substantive’ was not mentioned at all in the 1926 edition.

Peters also discusses this issue, saying that the two can appear in the same context but have a different focus. ‘Substantial’ is the more common of the two, by a factor of 14:1 and has more of a physical meaning, being about size or proportion. (This difference is usage would be explained by the narrower uses for ‘substantive’ given in Fowler’s above.) ‘Substantive’ is more abstract, and is to do with there being real issues. If a document is long and important in its content then it will be substantial and substantive; but a reader will prefer to get the substantive component without having to wade through substantial pages for it!

So ‘substantial’ has more to do with the amount of a change, and ‘substantive’ to do with affecting the substance itself. You might say that reducing a document by 20% through (for example, the paramedic method) was substantial but not substantive if the content was essentially the same, but that the document had undergone a substantive change if three new chapters were introduced while keeping the length the same by reducing the size of other chapters.

As to a memory device for this? I suggest the near rhymes of “a substantial meal is plentiful;a substantive argument is illustrative” could help. Now, put that into a rap.

Burchfield RW. 2000. Fowler’s Modern English Usage. Revised 3rd Edition. Oxford University Press. Oxford.
Peters. P. 1995. The Cambridge Australian English Style Guide. Cambridge University Press. Cambridge.
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Special effects affect me

Many people have trouble remembering when to use ‘affect’ and when to use ‘effect’. The basic rule is that ‘affect’ is a verb, and ‘effect’ is a noun (except for some less common usage, which is described later).

Affect – verb: to influence           Cold weather affects me.

(‘Affect’ as a verb is also used sometimes to mean ‘to put airs on’ – ‘She affected a sophisticated pose with her little finger.’ – Fowler’s says that this usage is of quite different origins to the more usual meaning of ‘to influence’.)

Effect – noun: the thing that causes some change    One cold weather effect is a numb nose.

There are a number of memory devices you can use for this one – the one that seems to have stuck in my head is to use the opposite of the obvious word trick: there is an ‘e’ in verb, so that should go with ‘effect’ but it doesn’t (because they’re opposite), so the verb is affect. This is somewhat laboured and possibly not very intuitive, but it has worked for me all these years.

Another way is to remember some example sentences, like the title of this post. You would know that in basic English sentences the word order is ‘something does something to something’. This is called subject, verb, object word order and it means that basic sentences have the structure of noun/verb/noun. Don’t worry if all that grammar terminology is meaningless; have a look at the table below:

Subject (noun or noun phrase) Verb (verb or verb phrase) Object (noun or noun phrase)
The boy kicked the ball.
Mary wrote a letter.
The brilliant Mets won the game.
Special effects saved the film.
Happy people influence everyone.
Happy people affect me.
Special effects affect me.
Cold weather affects me.
One cold weather effect is a numb nose.

So the special ‘effects’ (noun) have some influence, or ‘affect’ (verb) on people. Remember also that nouns are words that take plurals, so you’re often going to see ‘effects’ (more than one effect). Verbs are words that show tense and how many people are taking the action, so you’ll see ‘affected/affecting’ and ‘affects’ (I affect them; it affects me).

This is the most common use of these words. But in formal use they can occur as the opposite part of speech – and this complicates things and confuses people.

‘Effect’ can be a verb meaning ‘to bring about’: ‘The aim of the government policy on ice-cream is to effect change in eating habits of summer-stressed Australians.’ This one is usually used with the word ‘change’, but not necessarily. For example, you could say:

‘The medicine will effect her recovery’ (i.e. bring about her recovery)

which is different from:

‘The medicine will affect her recovery’ (have some influence on, but for better or worse is not known).

And ‘affect’ can be a noun used in psychology to describe a mood or how a person presents: ‘She arrived with a happy affect.’ This is pronounced with the stress on the first syllable (AFF-ect) as opposed to the pronunciation of the verb (aff-ECT).

Effect as a noun occurs 10–15 more times than effect as a verb, so there’s a good chance that’s the one you want. And affect as a noun occurs now only in psychology.

What about idioms? Some common expressions make use of ‘effect’: my personal effects; to take good effect; the after effect; the butterfly effect; in effect; something to that effect; snowball effect … these are all nouns, and all of them are ‘effect’ with an ‘e’.

Burchfield RW. 2000. Fowler’s Modern English Usage. Revised 3rd Edition. Oxford University Press. Oxford.
Peters. P. 1995. The Cambridge Australian English Style Guide. Cambridge University Press. Cambridge.
Grammar Girl:
And last, but not least, wikimedia commons for the image:
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Spot the difference

Do you prefer your books similar to your movies, or different from them? What about different to them? Or even different than them? In Australian usage, ‘different’ is usually paired with ‘from’, at a rate of about 6 to 1 (and ‘similar’ is usually paired with ‘to’), but it’s not the case that one is considered right and the other wrong. Fowler, in 1926, said it was a superstition that ‘different’ could only be followed by ‘from’. (He was rather acerbic in this entry, actually, saying this was a mere pedantry, a hasty and ill-defined generalisation … made by mistaken critics.) The modern edition gives more detail about usage, giving ‘different to’ as occurring from 1526, ‘different from’ occurring from 1590, and ‘different than’ occurring from 1644. The trend has been for ‘different from’ to be more accepted in British usage, and ‘different than’ to be well accepted in American usage. Even though Australians may cringe to hear ‘that red car is different than the blue one’, they will be happy with ‘that result is different than we expected’ where a conjunction, rather than a preposition is required and where ‘than’ neatly replaces the repetition of the noun in ‘that result is different from the result we expected’.

The argument that we should say ‘different from’ because we are bound to say ‘differ from’ is also a furphy as it is not extended to other similarly derived pairs. For example, we must say ‘accords with’, but we accept, indeed require, ‘according to’.

Your dictionary may well say different, however. My Macquarie says that ‘different from’ is traditional but ‘different to’ is increasingly common and that ‘different than’ is widely deplored. I wish Macquarie had space or attitude enough to nod to Fowler on this, even as I find myself preferring the ‘different from’ construction.

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Oh, the irony

Today on a national broadcaster, I saw a presenter asking about irony vs. coincidence. The occasion was that New Zealand held the world’s first national earthquake drill, just minutes after a (small) real earthquake hit just off the coast. Was that a coincidence, or was it ironic?

While irony is a rich concept (with dramatic, situational and verbal as the main types), a key part of it is something that happens that is contrary to expectation, or there is a difference between how things appear and how they are. The broadcaster was getting at the apparent relationship between the earthquake drill and the earthquake event, thinking this was an example of cosmic irony, where it seems that the gods are toying with us mere mortals. However, given that earthquake drills are held with the expectation of earthquakes, there is nothing ironic about their coinciding; it is merely coincidence. It would have been ironic if the drill were held and no earthquake ever happened again; it would have been particularly ironic if the earthquake drill caused a flux in the universe that prevented earthquakes.

In verbal irony, what is actually said is opposite in meaning to what is meant, although the true meaning may be conveyed in tone. For example, when asked whether she enjoyed the roller coaster and the woman says in a shaking voice, ‘It was great fun,’ we have an example of verbal irony. These kinds of example cross over with sarcasm, although there must be an element of ridicule in sarcasm: ‘Yes, I’m FINE, thank you!’ says the woman, after she has had to sit down, to her inquiring friend. The difference here is that in the first example, the woman did not intend to criticise her friend, but it is clear that there is a disparity between what she says and what she is feeling; in the second example she is still clearly not fine, but she intends to punish the stupid question with sarcasm that points out the disparity.

Dramatic irony is the interesting one from a writer’s point of view, because you have a mechanism that exploits the two audiences of the message: the reader, and the characters. In the play Oedipus Rex, the audience knows that Oedipus himself is the murderer he is searching for. In The Truman Show, the audience knows that Truman is on television, but he does not.

There could be irony in news presenters needing to ask the difference between irony and coincidence; are they not people whose job is to tell, not ask? Are they not trained in the dramatic arts? However, this is possibly expecting too much of news presenters, and will almost certainly lead to me being hoist by my own petard, which IS ironic indeed.

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