UNSOLICITED ADVICE

TRY TO DO IT THIS WAY, BUSTER

I want to pass on a favourite grammar crank of my dear departed Mum.

That is, 'I will try and convey her feelings about this phrase', which is so commonly used in place of 'I will try to convey her feelings about this phrase'.

While it is not logically inconsistent to both ‘try’ and ‘and’ something I think almost everybody understands what they are doing is more of the nature of ‘try to’.

It is a shame my Mum was not able to cure the world of that suboptimal expression but she was certainly able to instil an aversion to the ‘try and’ expression in me. Far be it from me to try to pass that on to you, dear reader, but...

R WALLER, OTTAWA

Look, we're not saying you should do it our way, but...you should do it our way. 'The police of the world "running in" an editor'. Wood engraving from  Police news , 5 August 1876, Melbourne. State Library of Victoria accession number PN05/08/76/00.

Look, we're not saying you should do it our way, but...you should do it our way. 'The police of the world "running in" an editor'. Wood engraving from Police news, 5 August 1876, Melbourne. State Library of Victoria accession number PN05/08/76/00.

PEDANTRY

EN-DASH-MAN IS HAPPY

Ah, it’s been a while since I’ve had to review a technical paper. And sure enough the expected hyphen is found half way down the first page: 2014-15. I hastily add a comment to show my superiority. Life is good! And there’s 2015-16 a few lines further down. Bliss! Disdain for the illiterate author oozes from my every pore.

The author should have had 2014–15 and 2015–16. If email, pinknantucket’s typesetting, and the gods align, you should be able to see the difference. One dash is longer than the other. It’s simple: a hyphen is used to connect words and the longer en-dash (or en-rule) is used to connect numbers. Well, of course it wouldn’t be English if occasionally words should be connected by en-dashes. But never numbers.

Simultaneously hitting the Ctrl and the numeric keypad’s minus key in Word is a quick way to obtain an en-dash. It’s a good way to obtain a minus sign the same size as a plus sign in an equation—in Word but not Excel, I hasten to add. [1]

Anyhow, I just had to share my joy with CRANKENGRAMMAR. Bye, it's back to the paper to find another insignificant flaw. Maybe there will be a 'data are' to rant about.

EN-DASH-MAN, WARRNAMBOOL

  1. The author is a PC user; on a Mac an en-dash can be inserted by pressing the option and hyphen keys simultaneously. An em-dash (on which the author does not elaborate; em-dash-man is a separate entity) can be obtained by pressing shift, option and the hyphen key. 
They seek him here, they seek him there...is this the elusive en-dash-man? A superhero for our times, en-dash-man keeps his identity secret by adopting numerous frankly quite disturbing disguises.  George Rignold , 1886. Gelatin silver photograph. State Library of Victoria, H10162/1.

They seek him here, they seek him there...is this the elusive en-dash-man? A superhero for our times, en-dash-man keeps his identity secret by adopting numerous frankly quite disturbing disguises. George Rignold, 1886. Gelatin silver photograph. State Library of Victoria, H10162/1.

PEDANTRY

YOU SAY TOMATO, I SAY TOMATO

Somehow that subject line works better when spoken than when written.

In the cultural heritage industry, some say 'collections care' while others say 'collection care'. While it is not a strict rule, the convention in English is to use the singular form of a noun when that noun is used as an adjective. Most of us have little trouble choosing the better form of the following:

  • Fire truck vs fires truck (yet most of these will work on more than one fire)
  • Investment broker vs investments broker (yet most of these deal with more than one investment)
  • Nail file vs nails file (yet, you guessed it, most of these will file more than one nail)

Now, I personally find 'collections care' an awkward and bothersome homonym, and thus also related phrases such as 'collections management'. However, it has been suggested to me that the term 'collection management' is used extensively by the debt-collection industry, and therefore to avoid search result entanglement we in the heritage profession should stick to 'collections'. 

Clearly it was time to gather some evidence. On 2014 September 6, using an anonymizing program I searched 'collections management' and 'collection management' using Google, Bing, and Yahoo. Ignoring advertisement results provided the following counts:

The 'other' category mostly referred to 'intelligence collection' activities.

The appropriate statistical test for significance in differences in these results is a two-tailed Z test. With this test we find there is no significant evidence in these data of preference in the cultural collection management field for either the singular or plural form (Z-Score = 1.2484; p = 0.2113). The data do reveal a significant preference for the plural form 'collections management' in the financial (debt collection) field (Z-Score = -3.2103 p = 0.00132). The data reveal a significant preference for use of the singular form in all other fields combined, although examples from these other fields were sparse (Z-Score = 3.4392 p = 0.00058).

So, if we in the heritage industry want to distance ourselves from the popular understanding of debt collection, as revealed by search results provided by commonly used internet search engines, then we should use the singular form: 'collection management'.

Still, I do not think this is the most important consideration. Another consideration of some importance is whether the use of the term 'collections management' might seem to exclude or marginalize persons who only manage a single collection, even is that collection might contain over a million items. Although I do not take that too seriously, it is a consideration that only applies if we adopt the plural form in a situation where generally preferred English grammar would suggest the singular form be used. In other words, no one with a title of 'Collections Manager' is going to feel marginalized from the subject of 'collection management' while the reverse is at least possible, and maybe true to some degree. This is in contrast to 'collections management' in the debt collection sense, where virtually all workers deal with multiple collection transactions—perhaps that is the reason for their preference of the plural.

Most important to me, however, is that it is natural for professionals in our field to identify strongly with their responsibilities for the particular collection or collection units under their care. Unfortunately, I believe this happens to the partial exclusion of the general development of the field of collection management. I think this is a slight but somewhat insidious tendency which has contributed to a slower than necessary development of professionalism in the collection management community. Too few professionals actively engage in the development of 'collection management' as a professional field of endeavour and are content to consider their professional boundaries beginning and ending with the set of collections they are assigned to manage. In my opinion, to adopt the plural form contributes to this problem instead of nudging away from it.

However, if for no other reason, an aversion to being confused with a debt collector should steer us to the singular side!

R WALLER, OTTAWA

 

WHINGE

A POX UPON THE AUTHOR'S BIOGRAPHY

If it is true, as they say, that people always love talking about themselves, why do author biographies always seem the hardest part of any piece of writing to actually write? It can hardly be natural reticence (I spend a good part of an article trying to draw attention to myself) or forgetfulness (Alzheimer’s hasn’t set in yet). Is it, then, authorial integrity, a desire to distil everything that needs to be said perfectly in the article, story, essay, or poem itself, so that anything coming after would be superfluous? Don’t make me laugh.

Perhaps it is an awkwardness, like posing for a camera and preparing an insincere smile. Somehow, no matter how hard you try, the facts don’t seem to come, the biography as it comes out is not quite right. It would be easier to attend one’s funeral than write about yourself in an author biography, and more pleasant, too, for your only duties at your funeral would be to be an inanimate corpse while others talked about you, except I suspect if ever I decided to attend my own funeral, some bastard would get me to write my own biography.

There’s something in that, though: getting to hear what others say about you. This is exactly the pleasure you don’t have when you write your own biography. And things would definitely be improved if you got to write biographies about others in a detached and calm mood of magisterial disinterest. The more disinterested, the better: 'Gary is a complete and utter bastard and also owes me a dollar' [1] would make a good biography to read, don’t you think? More so than 'Gary lives in Caulfield with his girlfriend. He is a tutor in writing at....'

It is not just that it would be wrong to lie; it’s that even if you decided to lie about yourself, you would end up catching yourself out in the act of lying to yourself about yourself. It is so much nicer to lie about other people and have them lie about you—not the obvious lies of fact, but the less obvious lies inherent in flattery and the language of critical appreciation. Self-flattery is such a valuable luxury that it only works when other people are doing it for you.

But no, you are left with that blank page of paper, and still the words don’t come or, when they do, they seem pointless statements of the mundane (which you hardly wish to have your life seem like). It becomes tempting to list things up like achievements: 'Tim has a BA, an MA, a lovely wife, two cats, and eczema.' (I haven’t tried that one yet). And what’s all this writing about myself in the third person about, anyway? That’s what Caesar did, and look how he ended up. [2]

Not all authors have to supply a biography. Long-dead authors—who you’d have to think had the most biography of all—never have to bother. Genre writers, poets, and short story writers seem to be amongst those most bothered by the pesky demand for an autobiography; other writers seem to have to do little more than supply their name, or anything to that purpose that they happen to find lying around. Or there is the author photograph. If all you had to do was pose for a photograph (rather than a biography), I would be quite happy to oblige. I would procure a pipe and tobacco (you have to be smoking the pipe in the picture or it’s not worth it) and practice my grumpy old man scowl while pulling at the hairs of my beard to make sure it is as long as it can possibly be.

But can you imagine if these innocuous biographies had to be applied to classical writers? Homer ('lives in Ithaca with his wife. When he does not spend his time barding he takes his dogs for a walk....'), or St John? ('You might find him in the third cave from the left. When the world ends he is going to live forever and laugh at you while you fry.')

Author biographies can be quite unbalancing, too; they may not seem so to those who habitually write long-form essays or novellas, but to poets and dealers in aphorisms and epigrams, they really get in the way. Pope took exactly 29 words to pen the following perfection:

Sir! I take it as a general rule
That every poet is a fool
But you yourself will serve to show it
That every fool is not a poet.

Biographies often take twice as many words without being nearly half so interesting.

There is no conclusion to this little essay on the irritations of the jejune writer’s biography, aside from the obvious: that as a writer, generally it is much more advantageous to be dead than alive.

I guess that’s something for us all to look forward to.

TIM TRAIN, MELBOURNE

Tim has a BA, an MA, a lovely wife, two cats, and eczema.

  1. Astute readers may notice at this point that this does not exactly fit the definition of disinterested. You know what I hate almost as much as writing an author’s biography? Definitions!
  2. Astute reader: Conqueror of the British isles and father of the first Emperor of Rome? Tim: Dead! And stop answering rhetorical questions.
Even supposing Mr Sandow was an author, a biography would clearly be entirely redundant. Eugene Sandow [Prussian bodybuilder]. Albumen photograph by Henry Goldman, 1902. State Library of Victoria, H96.160/708.

Even supposing Mr Sandow was an author, a biography would clearly be entirely redundant. Eugene Sandow [Prussian bodybuilder]. Albumen photograph by Henry Goldman, 1902. State Library of Victoria, H96.160/708.

REPROACH

YOU CAN KEEP YOUR STEENKING CHOCOLATE RAFFLE

I’ve both seen and been involved with many different fundraisers in my (relatively) short time as a parent. Art auctions, cook books, trivia nights, goods and services auctions, garage sales, Bunnings BBQs, cake stalls and a multitude of drives (bulbs, pasta, pies, cookie dough). But there’s one fundraiser that has always made me particularly CRANKY: the Easter raffle.

The Easter raffle is a raffle where parents are asked to donate some chocolate (Easter-themed or otherwise) that is then divvied up, arranged into a variety of baskets, wrapped in cellophane and raffled off.

Now if you’re anything like the editor of this esteemed publication, you may be saying to yourself 'I can‘t see anything wrong with this picture'.

But ask yourself this: 'what would I contribute to such a raffle?'

If it’s a Haigh’s chocolate hen or a Lindt golden bunny or a packet of Cadbury Easter eggs (they’re just so right for an Easter egg hunt!) then that’s fine, sign me up for one of your $2 raffle tickets—in fact give me 3 for $5! But if your purchase from the shops is anything sub-Cadbury, then there is no way on Earth I want to part with my hard earned lucre for what will only be a travesty to my tastebuds.

There you have it—I’m a chocolate snob. Life’s too short for chalky, flavourless 'chocolate', and this is something I want to teach my children. The Easter 'think of the children' raffle pressures us to put ourselves at the mercy of someone else’s (poor) taste in chocolate. We should not allow it.

@SAIDHANRAHAN, VICTORIA

We might be persuaded to part with $2 for the chance of winning a giant snail or a giant teaspoon or a giant (Lindt) chocolate egg, or alternately for some miniature children. 'A monster Easter egg' ,  Published 1 May, 1896 in  The illustrated Australian news , Melbourne : David Syme & Co. State Library of Victoria, accession number IAN01/05/96/12.

We might be persuaded to part with $2 for the chance of winning a giant snail or a giant teaspoon or a giant (Lindt) chocolate egg, or alternately for some miniature children. 'A monster Easter egg', Published 1 May, 1896 in The illustrated Australian news, Melbourne : David Syme & Co. State Library of Victoria, accession number IAN01/05/96/12.