Monday, August 10, 2015

The English Language Really is Whackadoodle

I think I've mentioned my deep respect for my scientific editing clients, many of whom are writing in English as their second or third language, and depend on professional editors like me to help them keep their tenses and participles straight. 

Aside from one or two papers I have sent back to the authors with a carefully worded request that they work with an English-speaking colleague to bring the manuscript up a couple of notches before I take a crack at it (e.g., the one that a Russian scientist wrote, submitted to Google translate, and sent in for editing--yikes!), they're so much better than I could do if asked to be coherent in a foreign language. 

(I've got some high school French to my credit, along with equine survival Spanish: Pas grano por favor, el es muy gordo! As for science? Nope, nope, nope.) 

Okay, so there have been some giggle-worthy editing moments, like an entire paper written about the genetics of rainbow versus Asian crap (aka, carp), and a long-ago college entrance essay (back when I was doing general editing as well) from a girl enthusing about how much she loves to play with blue balls (some sort of rhythmic gymnastic thing, as I recall). And I can always tell which of my clients is doing speech-to-text or dictating to a non-scientist assistant. But that just serves to remind me what a thorny language our English can be!

I've been reminded of this in recent weeks, as I've gotten more aware of what I'm saying to Wallaby, modeling a language that I love to play with, but that has some really whacky rules when you come right down to it. And the complexity!

When training a horse (apologies to those of you who cringe at animal v. kid comparisons, but that's the way I'm wired), I always try to have the same word or cue mean the same thing. "Whoa" always means "stop forward motion," "foot" always means "pick up the clomper in question," "stand" always means "plant all four clompers and stay there," etc. Same with the cats, though as you probably know, cats reserve the right to reinterpret their humans' input at will. 

Granted, Wallaby is going to be capable of far more complexity. But at what point do I introduce it? Right now, "gentle touch" always means "do your best not to use maximum force when grabbing me/the kitten/etc." and "not food" always means "you get two tries for your mouth before I take it away and put it out of reach." But have you ever stopped to think of how many words we use for the same thing? 

Bunker is Bunker. She's also a kitten, a cat, a kitty, and an unholy terror (being four months old now, and in maximum destruction mode). She's black-and-white or tuxedo. She's soft, warm, purring, naughty and adorable, all in turn (and sometimes simultaneously). She's Bunkie, Bunkster, Bunker T. Menace, and Darn-it-Bunker ... 

I'm sure each language has those same issues, but English adds in some real whoppers--like words that sound identical but aren't spelled the same and mean very different things, and, heck, times the same exact word means different things. Is it any wonder my editing clients stumble sometimes? And how amazing that the human brain can learn such complexities starting at such a young age!

Even then, though, I suspect there will always be some confusion as to why things are the way they are. So I'd like to share with you two of Wallaby's biggest complaints to management from this past week:

1. Why is it okay to pick up leaves off the ground and eat them sometimes but not other times? (I was all "ooh, fun!" about eating straight from the garden, then vetoed nibbling on the hydrangea. Mommy is mean!)

2. Why is it okay for Bunker to eat the eggs I drop off my tray, but I can't eat the kibble she drops from her bowl? (Mommy. So mean.)

Still, though, life is pretty good when you've got a kitten and a cardboard box.


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    1. (Not deleted for any nefarious reason, but because it was a duplicate! I thought it would just go away. Now it looks all shady and stuff. Not my intention. Sorry, Marley!)

  2. Wallaby makes an excellent observation in point #2. Lol! Great blog...and I couldn't agree with you more. Try editing erotica written by a guy from Nigeria who is also fluent in French and broken English. There were body parts that were "succulent"...which put very strange images in my head. Lol!!

    1. LOLOL! Mmmmm cannibalism erotica… (Rule 34, no exceptions, lol. And ew.)
      And hee hee on the cat food. Yes, clearly there is species-ism at work in the H household!

  3. Haha love the cat trap!
    The English language is very weird...though I know from personal experience that Russian is weirder. We at least have a sentence structure, but in Russian you can put any word at any part of the sentence and somehow it will still "make sense." Ugh!

    1. Cat trapping level = expert! LOL on the Russian. Free-form sentence structure and a new alphabet? No thanks!