Denise M Taylor

Writing Consultant I Editor I Proofreader I Teacher

Not long ago, I was proofreading a memoir written in Microsoft Word by a Melbourne writer who had contacted me after searching for ‘Proofreader Melbourne’. He spelt (or do you prefer ‘spelled’?) verandah without the ‘h’, which looks unfinished to me. When I added the letter ‘h’, the word was immediately underlined in red by MS Word, indicating that it was spelt incorrectly; the language was set to English (Australia). So I investigated, as proofreaders do on these occasions (well, this proofreader does!).  The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) entry is veranda, noting ‘Also – dah’. Even though I was vindicated, and prefer the look of ‘verandah’ on the page, and not ‘veranda’, I dropped off the ‘h’ on this Melbourne writer’s memoir, the red wiggly line disappeared, and . . . Reader, I moved on.

Well, not immediately . . . If you’re like me, once you’ve checked out the spelling of a word, you then spend too much time tracing its origins, and become an annoying etymologist: “But, why?” The OED tells me that the origin of ‘veranda’ comes from the Portuguese word, veranda, railing, balustrade, and from the Hindi varandā. I just continue down the garden path until I am overwhelmed by the thickening wilderness. Reader, are you still with me?

I am a proofreader and editor who lives in Melbourne, and although I have edited and proofread manuscripts and documents from other parts of Australia, my main source of work is from Melbourne writers. I guess there is a feeling amongst writers that if I’m Melbourne-based, I must understand the Melbourne-English lingo. Maybe it’s the warm and fuzzy feeling that Melbourne writers get when they know that their proofreader lives ‘just around the corner’. Releasing one’s much-treasured writing project to be scrutinised and marked by someone other than a friend or a lover requires careful consideration in the selection process.

That brings me to the marking of a manuscript: the ‘old’ days (as far as I’m concerned) of printer marks and blue pencils are long gone. Even though we still offer the service of proofreading hard-copies, most proofreaders these days work online and use MS Word Track Changes; the author can accept or reject each suggested change with the click of a mouse.

The greatest asset that a proofreader of the English language can have (whether the proofreader lives in Melbourne or not) is a keen eye for ambiguity, typos and inaccuracies; a better-than-basic grasp of grammar (e.g. keeping track of tenses and recognising the subjunctive mood even if the author cannot) and punctuation (mostly the use of apostrophes and commas) is worth striving for. English-Australian spelling is my preferred choice (although I will always prefer the OED to the Macquarie Dictionary). A typical example is the removal of the ‘whoreson zed ’, as Shakespeare put it, from mindless US spellings (Reader, I don’t proofread US manuscripts).

Kent to Oswald in King Lear (Act 2, Scene 2):

Thou whoreson zed, thou unnecessary letter!—My lord, if you will give me leave, I will tread this unbolted villain into mortar and daub the wall of a jakes with him.—Spare my grey beard, you wagtail?

(You useless bastard—you’re like the letter ‘z’, a totally unnecessary addition to the alphabet. My lord, please let me grind this lumpy lowlife into a powder and use it to plaster up the bathroom walls. You didn’t kill me because I’m so old, you fawning dog?)

Capitalisation (note the sensible Austral spelling here) remains problematical, as it has been for much of the history of English, and at times a client will want to reinvent the wheel. Just goes to show how rules can be broken, and when it comes to English grammar, punctuation and spelling, it is a hot potato as rules change from century to century. The trend is to let spelling off the hook of the past by allowing infiltrations of shortened versions of words; for example, according to the OED, the word, sneak, can be used as a noun, a verb and an adjective (its origin is ‘Perh. rel. To SNIKE’ . . .); the OED goes on to state that its past tense is written as sneaked (also snuck). Apparently snuck sneaked into our vocabulary in the 1800s and is now considered a standard past tense of sneak, particularly in the US. Bill Bryson writes in Bryson’s Dictionary for Writers and Editors that:

The day may well come when snuck super-cedes sneaked — it probably already has in American speech — but it is worth bearing in mind that many authorities continue to regard it as non-standard. Use sneaked instead.

The English language is constantly developing and changing: today’s slang (which Virginia Woolf calls “the speech of the herd”), or condensed words, could eventually become the standard of the future. The spelling of words is certainly not fixed for eternity. Being a Melburnian, I often find myself trying to explain the omission of the letter ‘o’ in ‘Melburnian’, which locates me in my place of birth. Reader, I can’t.

The reality is that many of the bits of grammar that we think of as wrong are actually just a matter of preference. Words that I deem redundant in a sentence are sometimes debated by the author. For example, the sculpture we liked best in the show was the bronze one called ‘Braveheart’; ‘one’ is redundant. Words still ring in my ear from a teacher, who was obsessed with eliminating redundant words and constantly pointing out ‘fillers’ in sentences such as actually, really, just (look at the first sentence in this paragraph. Consider eliminating actually or just), in fact, in actual fact. I recall proofreading a memoir that was written just how the writer spoke; for example, be that as it may, I really just wanted to get the hell out of there because I’d said all the things I wanted to say about those two different men in fact I’d said too much so I snuck out. Reader, take a guess.

The English language is shifty and can be confusing, but must be respected for all its mood swings and transformations (even by colonial renegades ‘down south’). So, dear Reader, please don’t bully this sensitive Melbourne proofreader if she questions your spelling, punctuation, choice of words and grammar preferences. Your revenge can be exacted with the click of a mouse.

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Proofreader Melbourne

If you’re ready to have your writing proofread or edited, or you would like an appraisal of your writing, whether it is a complete manuscript or a work-in-progress, then please email me via my contact page with a brief overview of your needs and I will give you an idea of the type of personalised service/s I can offer that  I think would best suit you at this stage in your writing project (mentoring, manuscript appraisal, editing, proofreading).

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