Loaded Language: Writing and Editing Controversial Content for Professional or Scholarly Publication
It’s been a tough year. Civic and political unrest in the United States, Brexit, a worldwide pandemic, military rule in Myanmar, religious and political extremism, among others. While you may wish to express your opinion on such issues in personal social media accounts, examining both current and historical issues in a professional or scholarly context intended for publication requires a different approach.
How do you get your message across in a way that will convince your readers and not set them on edge? This question is particularly pertinent in academic and scholarly nonfiction, in which the writer is seen as the expert imparting important information to the audience. Your job as an authority is to present your research and draw conclusions in such a way that your readers follow along with you and then draw their own conclusions based on your evidence—without being told how to feel about it. That is something that should be left up to readers to discover for themselves, when faced with the evidence presented. Otherwise, a writer risks possibly alienating readers or making them feel manipulated by the text.
Christmas or Xmas?
Some years ago when I was working on my children’s school council, one of the communications volunteers received a complaint from some parents after a brief communication went out asking for volunteers for a “Xmas” event. The complaint? That the use of Xmas was “taking the Christ out of Christmas.” In fact, in recent years, there seems to have been some backlash in North America over the use of Xmas as a shortened version for Christmas, claiming that the use of the abbreviation is an attempt to secularize Christmas.
This week I began a lengthy editing project, copyediting a critical edition of a medieval Latin text, accompanied by its English translation—a completely satisfying, challenging, and enjoyable job that is reminding me of my previous experience with medieval manuscripts (see my previous blog) and writing my own critical edition. This work makes me ponder, once again, the connections between copyediting and manuscript editing, which consists of transcribing the ancient script; choosing, eliminating, or editing the readings of various manuscript witnesses; and finding the sources on which the text may have drawn, in order to bring the text into readable form for the modern reader. What are some of the skills necessary for editing medieval Latin manuscripts and how have they informed what I do today when copyediting academic materials and bringing these texts into more readable form for my clients?
Photo: Carla DeSantis
A couple of weeks ago, my daughter came home with a less-than-stellar grade on her history test. When I asked about it, her reply came as a shock to me: “Why do we even need to learn history? We need to look to the future instead of the past.”
Now, I am all for forward thinking, but as someone who has spent most of her life thinking and learning about what past cultures have done, thought, and written – mainly in the context of language and literature – and how this has impacted and influenced modern thought, language, and literature, I had to stop and really think about what her reply means.
I am Carla DeSantis, and welcome to my blog! I love language and words and books, and have turned this love into a business, helping others to perfect their written message.