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JUL 2

Native Eigo-juku: English Words Borrowed from Japanese

Filed on: July 2, 2008 | Written by | 1 comment

Haven't you always felt that origins of words make for interesting discussions? It is amazing to discover that a word you have been using without thought has very relevant and insightful origins. Our theme for July is borrowed words. Throughout this month, we will look at words borrowed from other languages into English.

Our three borrowed words for the day are completely unrelated-one refers to a natural calamity, the other refers to a sense of taste, and the third to a mode of transport! However, what they have in common are their Japanese origins!

Tsunami: The first thing that you notice about the word is the unusual spelling. The letter t is silent though. Literally, the word tsunami refers to waves that hit the harbor (tsu = harbor; nami = waves). And if you go by the literal meaning, the word doesn't seem all that threatening.

However, tsunami, as used popularly, refers to huge tidal waves. It is almost synonymous with other forms of natural calamities like earthquakes and floods. Also, in English, tsunami is treated as a countable noun. It is preceded by "a" when used in the singular form; the plural form is tsunamis.

Example: The tsunamis that struck after an earthquake under the Indian Ocean took the world by surprise. (Source: CNN)

Umami: Umami is a legitimate, scientifically recognized sense of taste! It is Japanese for "deliciousness," and was discovered by Professor Ikeda when he studied the taste that was common to tomatoes, cheese, and meat. Thus was born umami-an addition to the four basic tastes of sweet, sour, bitter, and salty.

We have all tasted food that has an umami taste to it, but we just don't know it. The umami taste is produced by food that contains glutamates, e.g., monosodium glutamate. Although, umami is not yet used as the other senses of taste, I'm sure that it's just a matter of time before things change.

Example: A search with the Google engine found more than 4000 web pages containing the phrase "umami." Some of these pages were from restaurants advertising umami food. (Source: A letter titled The Discovery of Umami in the journal Chemical Senses)

Rickshaw: If someone told me a year ago that the word rickshaw originated from Japanese, I wouldn't have believed him or her. But now, I know better. Most city-dwellers in India use this very popular medium of transport blissfully unaware of its origins. Rickshaw is the shortened English version of jinrikisha in Japanese, which means "a carriage pulled by hand." The English variant is used to refer to all types of rickshaws-cycle rickshaws, hand-drawn, and even automatic ones.

Example: Three-wheeled auto-rickshaws are generally half the price of a taxi. (Source: Travel information on India from the Lonely Planet website.)

Note the use of the plural form, in the example.

 

[Native Eigo-juku is the Cactus newsletter providing essential English tidbits to interested non-native English speakers.]

JUN27

Be a small-capitalist

Filed on: June 27, 2008 | Written by Yateendra Joshi | 1 comment

Using capital letters to emphasize or highlight text is not particularly efficient. Long strings of capital letters not only take up more space but also slow readers down. A typographic alternative to capitals - to full caps in trade terms - is small capitals, which are like capitals in shape but like small or lowercase letters in size. Select a string of letters and in the formatting options available in the Font menu, choose small capitals to see what I mean.

The use of small capitals is a matter of style or preference. Whereas capitalization is mostly governed by clear-cut rules of grammar - to begin a sentence, to begin proper nouns, and for the first person singular, for example - "small caps" are not subject to such rules.

Incidentally, a word is said to be "capitalized" although only the first letter of that word is a capital letter. Text in which every letter is a capital letter is said to be set in full caps.

Here are a few situations where many publishers use small caps.

# Abbreviations: a.m. and p.m., which are rendered as am and pm.

# Names of authors in reference lists (typically, the first letter is a full capital, though, as in Tanaka).

# Academic degrees: ma, md, etc.

# Postal codes (postal addresses in the UK and Canada, for example, are a mix of letters and numbers): London ec2 or m4b 1g5

# Instructions to cross-refer in indexes: see, see also, etc.

# The first word or the first few words that begin a chapter or a section Lastly, note that in some word-processing software, characters appear in small caps only if they are typed in lowercase letters; text typed in full capitals retains the capitals.

Typographers distinguish between true small caps, which are special characters and form a separate character set, and "fake" small caps, which are nothing but capital letters of a smaller font-size. But that is a matter of another post.

 

[This is a part of a series of posts, entitled Publish and Prosper, which talk about tips for researchers whose first language is not English but who submit their papers to journals published in English. The series will touch upon not only writing (spelling, grammar, punctuation, usage, and style) but everything else relevant to publishing research papers that journal editors wish their authors knew.]

JUN25

Native Eigo-juku: How to Use a Style Guide

Filed on: June 25, 2008 | Written by | Add new comment

Last month's theme was mistakes by nonnative speakers of English. In any scenario, once you have discussed mistakes, the topic that naturally follows is ways to correct these mistakes. So naturally, the theme for this month had to deal with correcting mistakes. To correct language mistakes, you need to learn more about the language, and the best way to learn any thing is to refer to resources on the subject! So the theme for this month is "How to use language resources." This week's language resource is a style guide.

What is a style guide: Style is a broad word used to refer to a great number of aspects related to writing. Style in writing can refer to anything-from the tone that a writer should use to the correct format for presenting a piece. A style guide addresses all these issues. Typically, a style guide is published by a publication house to educate writers about the stylistic policies followed by the house. It is usually used by writers and editors of articles, theses, and manuals and even by corporate organizations for their documentation-related rules.

How to use a style guide: A style guide is like an exhaustive collection of instructions to authors-instructions about writing, punctuation, grammar, and format. It also includes information about the conventions followed in a particular field. If a style guide is published by, say, a medical association, then it will include notes on ethics in medicine. On the other hand, a style guide published by Microsoft will tell you how to deal with IT-related terms. 

The first step in referring to a style guide is to choose a style guide that is appropriate to your field. There are different style guides for different fields of study; and writing conventions also differ by subject area.

  • For what kind of information do you refer to a style guide? For any information related to writing conventions. A style guide will give you details about spacing, punctuation, citation styles, referencing styles, how to use quotations, and even writing formats. For instance, some style guides feature sample letters, proposals, and research articles.
  • A style guide is not meant to be read from start to finish. It is a resource that you refer to when you have doubts. Most style guides have a very detailed index at the end. So if you want to know whether the word by in your title should be capitalized, you should go to the last few pages of the guide and look under T for titles, and then under C for capitalization of titles.

Prominent style guides: As mentioned earlier, style guides are published by different authorities. For instance, there is a style guide by the American Psychological Association, which deals with conventions in psychology. The American Chemical Society has published a style guide known as the ACS Style Guide that deals with the style and conventions to be followed by technical writers.

  • The Chicago Manual of Style is considered to be one of the most authoritative style guides. Although, it is mostly used by writers in the field of humanities, even other style guides recommend its use for certain stylistic issues.
  • Scientific Style and Format is a very well-known scientific style guide. Published by the Council of Science Editors, it is used by individuals dealing with any aspect of scientific writing.

 

[Native Eigo-juku is the Cactus newsletter providing essential English tidbits to interested non-native English speakers.]

JUN20

Explaining blank cells in a table

Filed on: June 20, 2008 | Written by Yateendra Joshi | Add new comment

How do you interpret a blank cell in a table of data? An earlier post mentioned the issue in passing and advised against leaving any cell blank.

The problem in leaving one or more cells blank is that readers cannot tell why the cells are blank. Is it oversight on part of the author? Perhaps the information is not available for some reason? Simply filling the blank cells with "NA" is not a solution: does it mean "Not available" or "Not applicable?" In a table showing the number of men and women admitted to a hospital for different ailments, for example, the cell in the column for men cannot have any number when the row heading is, say, ovarian cancer (or that for women in the row marked prostate cancer). In this case, NA clearly means "Not applicable." However, context may not always provide a clue.

Perhaps the value in question is so small as to be negligible: the number of rainy days in the Atacama desert along the coast of Chile in South America, for example. Or the number of patients admitted for malaria in a hospital in Stockholm, perhaps. Even then, do not leave the cells blank. A commonly seen notation is two dots with space in between.

And if you actually measured or observed the value and found it to be zero (the number of bacterial colonies developing from a drop of sterile water, for example), record the fact by putting a zero in the cell.

No matter what convention you choose, use the symbols consistently and explain them the first time you use them. Choose centered alignment for the symbols to emphasize that the cells are not true members of that column because no other cell in the column will follow that alignment. Personally, I favor [?] - a question mark within square brackets - to indicate "Not available," the em dash (-) for "Not applicable," and two dots separated by a space (. .) for "Negligible" or "Traces."

 

[This is a part of a series of posts, entitled Publish and Prosper, which talk about tips for researchers whose first language is not English but who submit their papers to journals published in English. The series will touch upon not only writing (spelling, grammar, punctuation, usage, and style) but everything else relevant to publishing research papers that journal editors wish their authors knew.]

JUN18

Native Eigo-juku: How to Use a Usage Guide

Filed on: June 18, 2008 | Written by | Add new comment

Last month's theme was mistakes by nonnative speakers of English. In any scenario, once you have discussed mistakes, the topic that naturally follows is ways to correct these mistakes. So naturally, the theme for this month had to deal with correcting mistakes. To correct language mistakes, you need to learn more about the language, and the best way to learn any thing is to refer to resources on the subject! So the theme for this month is "How to use language resources." This week's language resource is a usage guide.

What is a usage guide: A usage guide is not a commonly used resource; it's not as popular as the earlier resources that we have featured here-the dictionary and the thesaurus. So what is a usage guide, and who uses it? An English usage guide is a reference resource that has informative notes about writing style, word usage, and even grammar. It is especially useful when you want to know the difference between similar-sounding words.

How to refer to a usage guide: Any language is always in a state of evolution. Existing words acquire new uses, new words evolve, they acquire different connotations,-words are always in a state of flux. A usage guide clarifies the "present condition" of words and their uses.

A usage guide is not exhaustive; it is not like a dictionary or a thesaurus that has thousands of words. It will usually contain notes on selected words whose meaning and/or uses are in dispute.

Like most other language resources, even a usage guide is alphabetically arranged.

Below is an excerpt from an entry in Fowler's Modern English Usage. It is for the word academic.

Academic: A little more than a century ago, it [the word] developed a depreciatory meaning as well, ‘unpractical, merely theoretical, having no practical applications', e.g. All the discussion, Sirs, is-academic. The war has begun already-H.G.Wells, 1929.

With the help of examples from prominent publications and famous writers, a usage guide explains the current "status" of a word or a set of words. Thus, it helps readers to use a given word appropriately.

Prominent Usage Guides: There are a number of well known English usage guides, of both American and British origin.

Fowler's English Usage is considered to be one of the most authoritative reference resources. There are several editions and versions of Fowler's English usage guides.

Practical English Usage is a widely recommended resource for learners of the English language. It contains many insightful tips on how "not" to use a word.

The American Heritage Book of English Usage also has useful advice on word choice, terms, and grammar.

 

[Native Eigo-juku is the Cactus newsletter providing essential English tidbits to interested non-native English speakers.]

JUN13

Getting the References Right, Part 2: The Year of Publication

Filed on: June 13, 2008 | Written by Yateendra Joshi | Add new comment

A research paper may cite a reference either with a number or with a name (of the author or authors). An earlier post dealt with the minutiae of formatting such as names when they appear in the list of references at the end of the paper. This post takes the next element in the sequence, namely the year of publication, as in ‘Watson J D and Crick F H C. 1953'.

Although this is perhaps the simplest part of a full reference - the other parts include title of the paper, name of the journal, and the volume number -sometimes it comes attached with a letter, as in 1998a or 2007b and so on. The letter is invariably in lowercase and close to the year (without any space). Some publishers use italics for the letter and some do not (1998a or 1998a).

The letter is used to separate two or more citations that have the same combination of author/s and year. For example, in 1953, Watson and Crick published two papers in Nature in quick succession: one in April, proposing a structure for DNA and the other in May, on the genetical implications of that structure. A paper that cites both these papers will refer to one as Watson and Crick 1953a and the other as Watson and Crick 1953b.

Note that whichever is cited first will be tagged 1953a and the other as 1953b: the order has noting to do with the order in which the two papers were published.

The exact style for citing such papers in text varies with the journal; some journals will repeat the year whereas some will not: 1953a and 1953b or 1953a, b. It pays to observe the journal's preference and follow it.

Incidentally, the year as given in the references need not necessarily be the year in which the paper was actually published: delays in publishing often result in a discrepancy between the actual date of publication and the date printed on the cover of the journal. For example, a journal may be a quarterly, with issues published in, say, March, June, September, and December. If delayed, the December 2007 issue may actually be published in February 2008 but the cover date will be December 2007-all papers published in that issue will therefore be cited with 2007 as the year of publication.

 

[This is a part of a series of posts, entitled Publish and Prosper, which talk about tips for researchers whose first language is not English but who submit their papers to journals published in English. The series will touch upon not only writing (spelling, grammar, punctuation, usage, and style) but everything else relevant to publishing research papers that journal editors wish their authors knew.]

JUN11

Native Eigo-juku: How to Use a Thesaurus

Filed on: June 11, 2008 | Written by | Add new comment

Last month's theme was mistakes by nonnative speakers of English. In any scenario, once you have discussed mistakes, the topic that naturally follows is ways to correct these mistakes. So naturally, the theme for this month had to deal with correcting mistakes. To correct language mistakes, you need to learn more about the language, and the best way to learn any thing is to refer to resources on the subject! So the theme for this month is "How to use language resources." This week's language resource is the thesaurus.

What is a thesaurus: From the last issue, we know that a dictionary is useful for finding the meanings of a word. A thesaurus is a resource that is used for finding "the word"! Often, we struggle to find the right word to express something. We usually think of a word that is close to the intended meaning, but not the perfect word. It is at these times that a thesaurus can help you!

A thesaurus gives you a list of all the words that are related or similar in meaning to a given word. A thesaurus contains synonyms for any given word. And these synonyms are grouped by parts of speech. Read the next section to know what this means.

How to use a thesaurus: In this section, we will look how you can refer to a thesaurus. Imagine that you are the writer of the following sentence:

  • I misspelled my professor's name in the report. That was the cause of my shame.

Shame is not exactly correct word to be used here, though the emotion was close to shame. If you look up the word shame in a thesaurus, you will see something like this:

Part of speech: noun

Definition: Disappointment or an unfortunate fact

Synonyms: pity, crime

Part of speech: noun

Definition: Feeling of guilt or discomfort for doing something wrong

Synonyms: degradation, disgrace, dishonor, embarrassment, humiliation, infamy, modesty, mortification, opprobrium, prudishness, reproach, stigma

Part of speech: verb

Definition: To cause feeling of guilt or shame

Synonyms: degrade, discomfit, disconcert, disgrace, dishonor, embarrass, guilt, humiliate, mortify

In a thesaurus, the synonyms of according parts of speech and then meaning. There are two entries for shame as a noun because each noun has a different meaning. To choose an appropriate word, you

  1. Confirm the part of the speech of your word. In sentence shown above, shame is a noun.
  2. Then find the meaning that is closest to your context. The second definition of shame as a noun is closest to our context.
  3. As the last step, sift through the synonyms and find the one that is most appropriate. And in our case, the word embarrassment seems to be the most accurate!

As you can see, the thesaurus is a good resource to use when you are looking for that "correct" word.

Useful thesauri: There are many useful thesauri (the plural of thesaurus) that you can use.

  • Roget's Thesaurus is the oldest and the most popular English thesaurus. It is also considered to the most comprehensive. You can access the Roget's thesaurus online

 

[Native Eigo-juku is the Cactus newsletter providing essential English tidbits to interested non-native English speakers.]

JUN 6

Preparing a clean manuscript 1: Avoiding Repetitive Keystrokes

Filed on: June 6, 2008 | Written by Yateendra Joshi | 1 comment

If you find yourself pressing the same key on a keyboard continuously three times or more, you should realize that you are not doing it quite right. If you want to start the next paragraph on a fresh page, do not keep hitting the Enter (or Return) key until you are on a new page: simply insert a new page at that point by clicking on Insert > Break > Page break. (For this post, I have assumed that you are using Microsoft Word but I am sure every word-processing software will have appropriate equivalents.)

Here are a few other ways of eliminating those repetitious keystrokes.

# Want to push text to the next line without hitting Enter? Do not keep pressing the space bar: press and hold down the shift key and then hit Enter; this combination will give you a new line without having to start a new paragraph.

# Want a bit of extra space above a heading? Again, do not hit Enter twice or more: insert that extra space through the Format > Paragraph menu by specifying a 6-point space or a 12-point space or whatever through the Spacing option of the menu. You can add the space either before or after the paragraph. If you are in the paragraph that contains the heading, choose Spacing After; if you are in the paragraph that contains the text that follows the heading, choose Spacing Before.

# Want to align some text with tab stops? Do not keep pressing the Tab, advancing the cursor half an inch (the default) at a time: set the tab stop to the point you want through the Format > Paragraph menu (or directly through Format > Tabs).

# Want to draw a horizontal line? Do not keep pressing the hyphen key; do not use shift+hyphen to get the underscore either: use Format > Borders and Shading and choose the option that gives a border to the paragraph at its bottom. Alternatively, you can use Autoshapes in the Drawing toolbar to draw a line and then format it through Format > AutoShapes after selecting the line. The menu allows you to make the line shorter or longer, broken or continuous, thicker and thinner, and so on.

In fact, the key to good formatting in Word is the Format > Paragraph menu. But that is another day, another post.

 

[This is a part of a series of posts, entitled Publish and Prosper, which talk about tips for researchers whose first language is not English but who submit their papers to journals published in English. The series will touch upon not only writing (spelling, grammar, punctuation, usage, and style) but everything else relevant to publishing research papers that journal editors wish their authors knew.]

JUN 4

Native Eigo-juku: How to Use a Dictionary

Filed on: June 4, 2008 | Written by | Add new comment

Last month's theme was mistakes by nonnative speakers of English. In any scenario, once you have discussed mistakes, the topic that naturally follows is ways to correct these mistakes. So naturally, the theme for this month had to deal with correcting mistakes. To correct language mistakes, you need to learn more about the language, and the best way to learn any thing is to refer to resources on the subject! So the theme for this month is "How to use language resources." And the first language resource that we will look at is the dictionary.

What is in a dictionary: A dictionary is not always that big, heavy book that occupies a large corner on our bookshelves. With the advent of online and digital versions, dictionaries, these days, have become much more handy and user-friendly. There are also various types of dictionaries, such as medical, technical, bilingual, and idiomatic. Essentially, the purpose of a dictionary is to tell its readers about the words contained in it.

How to use a dictionary: In this section, we will look at how you can refer to a standard English dictionary. Any English dictionary will have the following details about a word:

  • Meaning and usage: Imagine that the word solemnize is new to you, in this sentence: Jane and Philip will solemnize their marriage on July 9, 2008. To know what it means, you should look up the word in a dictionary. Since words are alphabetically arranged, solemnize will be under words beginning with s. In fact, dictionaries follow the alphabetical order down to the last letter. So the word solemnize, which begins with so, will be listed after all the words beginning with sa, se, sh, si, etc., are listed. 

In English, a word can have many meanings and uses. Therefore, every meaning of the word is numbered. For instance, the meanings of the word solemnize, according to Merriam Webster's dictionary, are 1) to observe or honor with solemnity 2) to perform with pomp: to celebrate a marriage with religious rites. If there is a very slight difference in the meanings of a word, then the meanings are subdivided, using letters, such as 1 a) and 1 b). For instance, an entry under the word think is as follows: 4 a) to reflect on; 4 b) to determine by reflecting.  

  • Word function: Next to every word, in print dictionaries, you will also see some letters in parentheses, such as (v), (adj), and (n). These letters indicate the part of speech; that is, they tell you if the word is a verb (v), adjective (adj), or noun (n). 
  • Pronunciation: Most English dictionaries also indicate the pronunciation of a word with the help of phonetic symbols. For instance, \'sä-ləm-ˌnīz\ is the phonetic spelling of solemnize.

Useful dictionaries: Some of the most popular dictionaries are available online and can be accessed for free. Given below are their links:  

  • Oxford English Dictionary: http://www.askoxford.com/ (This is a British dictionary. Online users can access only the concise version of the dictionary.) 
  • MS Word dictionary: The MS Word program also allows you to look up a word in multiple dictionaries. To launch the dictionary, press Shift + F7 on your keyboard, and type the word in the search bar.

 

[Native Eigo-juku is the Cactus newsletter providing essential English tidbits to interested non-native English speakers.]

MAY30

The En Dash

Filed on: May 30, 2008 | Written by Yateendra Joshi | Add new comment

If there is a single mark that sets apart professional technical writing from amateur efforts, it is the en dash. Properly, the en dash belongs to the toolbox of the typesetter and the printer: because the en dash is almost like the hyphen, only a little longer, it is seldom seen in handwritten or typewritten matter. Some authors and typists, however, type two hyphens in a row to indicate the en dash. But what is it used for?

The most common use of the en dash is to indicate a range: when set between two numbers, it simply replaces the preposition 'to', as in 'numbers 10-99' for 'numbers 10 to 99'. If you scan the lists of references cited, you will notice that the dash between page numbers is slightly longer (and thinner) than the hyphen. That dash is the en dash, and its use between page numbers is universal in professional publishing. Similarly, the en dash is used between pairs of place names in names of roads, trains, flights, and journeys, as in 'Mumbai-Bangalore expressway', 'London-Edinburgh Express', 'New York - Washington shuttle', and so on.

Also universal, but not as straightforward, is the en dash that separates two nouns of equal importance that occur together, as in the 'environment-development debate' and 'cost-benefit analysis'. In these pairs, either member can come first without any change in the meaning.

Lastly, there are pairs of en dashes used to indicate asides or parenthetical expressions when the idea is to highlight those expressions. Such pairs occur in the middle of a sentence with - usually in British English - each partner or member of the pair flanked by a space.

Keep the following tips in mind when using the en dash.

# The single en dash that separates two numbers 'rubs shoulders' with the numbers as it were: there is no space either before or after the en dash (10-99 and not 10 - 99).

# The same convention, namely the 'spaceless' en dash, holds good for the en dash that separates two place names or other nouns. However, when either or both the nouns run to more than one word, and therefore contain a space, I believe the en dash should also be spaced out ('the North-South divide' but 'New York - San Francisco flight')

# The en dash is used with a single number (usually a year) to indicate that the second number is as yet uncertain, as in life spans of those who are alive at the time of writing: 'Charles Darwin 1809-1882' and 'Albert Einstein 1879-1955' but 'James Watson 1928-' and 'Stephen Hawking 1942-'.

# The keyboard shortcut for the en dash in Windows is Alt+0150: to type it, press and hold down the Alt key and type 0150 from the numerical keypad, and release the Alt key. For this shortcut to work, the Num Lock should be on. Alternatively, in Open type fonts, use the code 2013: type 2013 from the numerical keypad, press and hold down the Alt key, type x (lowercase x), and release the Alt key. (Again, make sure that the Num Lock is on.)

An earlier blog in the series was about the colon (:).

 

[This is part of the "Grammar" series of posts, which covers everything and anything related to English language grammar.]