Changing Usage—February Meeting Report

by Grace Seybold

Early in our February 8 discussion of changing usage, the subject of Google’s Ngram Viewer came up. Carla Douglas used the twig’s new “projector” (a.k.a. cheap TV) to demonstrate how to track changes in language usage with this site, which scans a corpus of 155 billion words of English published since 1800 and plots frequency statistics by year. This was the first some of us had heard of Ngram; others had used it before, either to investigate a usage change or to check for anachronisms when editing fiction, since it shows when a word or phrase entered the realm of publication. (We learned, for instance, that “scumbag” only entered general use in the 1960s, with only a very few scattered occurrences earlier—not what fans of gangster movies might have guessed!)


Nancy Wills explained how she confirmed that the use of “scumbag” in the dialogue of a novel set in the 1940s that she was editing was an anachronism. (Its use is plotted on the blue line, which begins to rise in the mid-1960s. The red line shows that the open variant, “scum bag,” remains rare.)

One can specify a particular subset of the corpus; for instance, searching only British English publications for the words “towards” and “toward” shows “towards” to have been the clear favourite for the past two centuries, whereas the American English record begins with roughly the same proportions, but “toward” soon grows in popularity as “towards” declines, the two lines crossing in 1898 and “toward” being the more common term thereafter. (Most style guides agree that there’s no difference in meaning between them, and both are perfectly acceptable.)

It’s a fascinating program to play with, and something that many of us are probably going to be looking into further. Some questions were raised about possible shortcomings; for instance, the corpus is made up of whatever volumes have been scanned into Google Books, so that may tend to weight the data in favour of bound books (versus things like magazines and newspapers) and thus may not reflect actual usage by the population in general, particularly for the earlier sections of the corpus. Copyright issues, in which Google Books is perennially embroiled, will primarily affect which books have made it into the later sections, and may bias the data in unexpected directions. But it’s still an awful lot of words, and there’s a great deal of interesting analysis to be made.


The gang at the February 8 meeting (minus twig coordinator Ellie Barton, who took the photo).

We then talked about some knotty grammatical questions, such as the use of “comprise” and “compose,” and the difference in meaning between “compared to” and “compared with.” (In case you’re wondering, the Oxford Guide to Canadian English Usage explains that “compare to,” according to many usage commentators, is appropriate in a context where it can be replaced with “liken”: “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?” It’s used when the focus of the sentence is on one thing that is being compared to another thing in the manner of a simile. “Compare with” is used when the focus of the sentence is on both of the things in question and the relative value thereof: “The critic compared the book with the movie.” “However,” the Guide goes on to say, “Canadians do not appear to observe this distinction, even in formal writing.”)

Another usage issue that most of those present had encountered frequently was the rapid change of group names. The evolving use of Indigenous/Aboriginal/Native/First Nations/First Peoples has left many style guides obsolete almost before they’re published, and likewise the use of LGBTTIA2Q and the many variants thereof. Since there’s no central governing linguistic authority in either case, it’s sometimes difficult to figure out what the appropriate term should be; asking members of the group in question is generally the polite thing to do, but may still evoke multiple answers.

The meeting ended with a discussion of style guides, including a plug from Lee d’Anjou for the consistently entertaining Chicago Q&A, and the need for a really up-to-date Canadian dictionary—an issue that Editors Canada has made it a project to address, so keep watching this space!

Association News

  • The Editors Canada conference is in Ottawa this year, June 9 through 11. Accommodations are going fast because it’s Canada’s 150th birthday, so if you’re thinking of going, don’t leave finding somewhere to stay till the last minute!
  • Editors Canada is making this year to marketing and recruitment, with a much more significant budget for this area than in the past, even though it means running a deficit. Editors Canada membership is on the rise after several years of decline and about two years of remaining steady, and the executive feels that, with many new services, a modern website, and improvements to member communications, the organization is poised to grow again in a significant way.
  • Don’t forget about the Editors Canada webinar series! Coming up on February 22 is Microsoft Styles, and on March 4 & 5 From Wordiness to Plain Language: Editing with Style, taught by Editors Canada Fairley Award winner Kathryn Dean.

Coming Up at Editors Kingston

  • Next month’s meeting (Wednesday, March 8) will focus on editing theses, with a presentation by twig regular and experienced thesis editor Angela Pietrobon and one of her recent clients, Reena Kukreja.
  • As a smaller-scale follow-up on the success of our Authors Talk Editing event last spring At the April 12 meeting, Ellie will interview Kingston author Diane Schoemperlen, who has written both fiction and memoir and has also worked as an editor.
  • On May 27, the twig will host a workshop: Word for Editors, taught by Editors Kingston founder and tech teacher extraordinaire Adrienne Montgomerie. It will be a full-day class held at the Tett Centre, with lunch included. Participants will bring their own laptops. Pricing and registration details coming soon!

Coming Up February 8: Changing Usage Round Table


Cuneiform Messenger Tablet

As language professionals, we know that language is always evolving—as it should. Keeping up with the current language in the fields we work in, and making judgment calls about when a particular evolving usage is acceptable, are things that editors do every day.

Bring one or two interesting issues that you’ve encountered to the table for discussion, and any questions about evolving usage that you’d love to have input on from your colleagues.

For example: Has your employer recently changed “First Nations” to “indigenous people” on its style sheet? Have you recently decided “if I was in charge” is okay where you once would have insisted on “if I were in charge”? Do most of the texts you edit (or write or read) now accept the singular “they”?

Have you ever used the Google Ngram viewer to find out how the frequence of a word’s use has changed over time?

What other resources do you turn to for guidance in evolving usage?

*Image: “Cuneiform Tablet: Messenger Tablet by Neo-Sumerian” via The Metropolitan Museum of Art, licensed under CC0 1.0

Come Join Us!

When: February 8, 7 to 9 p.m. Doors open at 6:30.
Where: Ongwanada Resource Centre, 191 Portsmouth Ave.

Editors Kingston members and visitors welcome.

Coming in March—Editing Theses

Self-Publishing Panel ─ January Meeting Report

Three Takes on Self-Publishing

by Gregory Murphy


Stacey Atkinson (just left of screen) discusses the steps of self-publishing a book as fellow panellists Bob MacKenzie and Carla Douglas (right of screen) and Editors Kingston members and guests listen.

This year, Old Man Winter has enjoyed turning Ontario’s sidewalks and roads into hazardous snow-and-ice-encrusted traps. Some of us editors come from afar to take part in our Kingston gatherings, and it would have been reasonable to skip out, planning to go to the next one, if Winter had been at it again on Wednesday, January 11. But he wasn’t. In fact, it was a beautiful day. What a slice of good luck for us, helping to ensure a fantastic turnout!

Our meeting room at Ongwanada Resource Centre was full, and many were jostling for space in any nook and cranny offering a view of our panellists and their presentations. We all came with an appetite to learn about self-publishing from our three knowledgeable panellists: Stacey Atkinson, who travelled from Ottawa, and Kingston’s own Bob MacKenzie and Carla Douglas.

Stacey Atkinson

Stacey has been a word lover for much of her life. After spending several years writing her first book, Stuck, a YA novel, she started her own self-publishing company, Mirror Image Publishing. While on this venture, Stacey found an affection for editing, among many other skills important to self-publishing authors, such as book design, typesetting, and marketing.

At first she wanted to publish traditionally. Then she chose to self-publish because of the control it allowed her to keep over her work. Quickly she realized that self-publishing, though rewarding overall, is no walk in the park. She promoted her work endlessly in person and online on social media, creating several websites as vehicles for promotion. To drive traffic to her websites, which also advertise her editing services, among others, she did her research, learning SEO (search engine optimization) techniques. (In response to a question, Stacey explained that SEO includes finding and using keywords and content that work together to help move her websites up the stack on search engine results pages when curious authors type search queries to find her.) She learned how to use InDesign and how to format manuscripts for sale online as ebooks.

What’s important about knowing all these skills, she said, is that many shtpab_logo-jpeg-largeelf-publishing authors who believe they are looking strictly for editing also need help with the many other processes through which their self-publishing journey will take them.

Stacey is the creator of the online course How to Publish a Book.

Bob MacKenzie

Bob has been self-publishing since his youth, in the sixties. With him he brought his first self-published work, a small white volume of poetry titled Reflections, which came into the world in 1966 and was sold for one dollar. He was nineteen. Bob regarded it fondly, pointing out the volume’s quirks, such as the old plastic spiral binding, which was, as he put it, “new technology” at the time.self-publishing-bob

Then he pulled out many of his other self-published works: more volumes of poetry, short stories, novellas, and novels, all created under his publishing imprint, Dark Matter Press. Bob was not only the writer of these but did much of the other work himself in bringing them to life. But he didn’t hesitate to ask for help from others when he needed it. This was one of Bob’s key takeaways of the night. For example, he acknowledged he isn’t a skilled artist, so it isn’t unusual for him to bring an artist aboard to help a project soar. His advice was to ask for help when you need it: there are many components to self-publishing; trying to do it all on your own, when you’re unfamiliar with something, may work only to the detriment of the project.

Carla Douglas

carla-douglas-headshotx175Carla, along with her colleague Corina Koch MacLeod (who has been part of the Editors Kingston community but wasn’t at this gathering), is an adept self-publisher. With Corina she has written literacy  workbooks. Don’t Panic 2.0: On-the-go Practice for the OSSLT was one such book. The pair wrote and self-published it for sale as an ebook, and formatted it for use on smartphones and tablets. However, they found that students were instead gravitating toward its paper copies. Carla said the lesson learned was that certain projects work better in certain formats; it’s important to know the needs and wants of the readership.

Carla and Corina have also written, produced, and 4164rvcvzjlpublished The Ebook Style Guide and You’ve Got Style: Copyediting for Self-Published Authors.

Carla’s tips were to stay informed about developments in the publishing industry; to be aware that the worlds of traditional publishing and self-publishing are merging; to learn about fonts, typefaces, ebook formatting, and other essential pools of knowledge; and to be prepared, as an editor, to coach authors through the process.

Coming Up February 8: Changing Usage in Your World

How has the evolution of English affected your work lately? Let’s compare notes and share experiences.

Association News

  • This year the Editors Canada conference will be in Ottawa in June. Keep an eye open for our upcoming webinars:

February 22: Introduction to Microsoft Office Word Styles

March 4 and 5: From Wordiness to Plain Language: Editing with Style

March 6: La correction d’épreuves de manuels

March 15: Good Grammar: It’s More Than Gut Feel

For more information on webinar synopses, scheduled times, and prices, see the Editors Canada webinars page.

  • Editors Canada also recently held a free webinar hosted by Greg Ioannou on maximizing the impact of an Online Directory of Editors profile. (The ODE is a marketing tool that helps Editors Canada members.) connect with clients and employers.) A recording soon be available for streaming.
  • The National Executive Council has struck a task force, led be executive director Paul Yip-Chuck, to explore the creation of a new Canadian dictionary. This is only the very first stages of what would be a huge, long-term project. But it looks like we’re not getting a new dictionary any other way, so we’re going to work on it.

Coming Up January 11: Self-Publishing Panel


A panel of three experienced self-publishing author/editors will share their expertise.

Stacey D. Atkinson is a freelance writer and editor based in Ottawa, ON. She has written two novels, Stuck (2013) and Letters from Labrador (2016), and she offers an online course on how to self-publish a book at You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram @StaceyDAtkinson.

Kingston editor and former Editors Kingston coordinator Carla Douglas is the author of more than 10 books, most recently the self-published You’ve Got Style: A Writer’s Guide to Copyediting.

Bob Mackenzie, a regular at twig gatherings, self-published his first book more than 50 years ago. While he has been published by traditional houses, he continues to be a self-publisher.

Bring your questions!

Also bring some cash or a chequebook, as our panellists will have their books available for sale.

Come Join Us!

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

7 to 9 p.m. (doors open at 6:30)

Ongwanada Resource Centre, 191 Portsmouth Avenue (map)


Bring a friend!

Editors Kingston is a Twig of Editors Canada. Our events are open to anyone with an interest in editing.

Coming Up February 8: Discussion on Evolving Usage

Watch this space for details!

We Ate, We Drank, We Were Editorial


Several Kingston Twiggers added “garganelli” to their vocabularies. And their stomachs.

The Editors Kingston holiday social on December 14 was a great success. Fourteen twig members and guests gathered in the back room at cozy family-owned Olivea, where a great deal of pasta and wine were consumed and laughter rang out all evening. (People who think editor parties are staid affairs have never partied with editors.)

Some walked from homes just a few blocks away in downtown Kingston; others drove in from up to 100 km away — Belleville, Picton, Erin….

As a “twig” (small local group) of the Editors’ Association of Canada, the most important things Editors Kingston does is help editors… associate.


Elizabeth is a better twig coordinator than photographer. Does anyone have a better photo from this evening that we could sub in here?

Twenty-sixteen was a great year for the twig, with well-attended meetings or socials every month, a great “Authors Talk Editing” event, and lots of members connecting in other ways, from chatting on our Facebook page to recommending one another for jobs. The official membership grew by two, from 12 to 14 (that’s over 16%!), and over a dozen new faces turned out for a meeting or two. As Editors Canada continues to improve its services and its marketing, we expect both those numbers to keep growing.

Here’s to a happy, prosperous — and correctly punctuated — 2017 for all.

Coming Up Next: Self-Publishing

Panel with three great guests sharing their expertise:

  • Stacey Atkinson, an Ottawa-based editor and novelist, and the author of the online course How to Self-Publish a Book
  • Carla Douglas, a Kingston editor and the author of more than 10 books, most recently the self-published You’ve Got Style: A Writer’s Guide to Copyediting
  • Bob MacKenzie, a Kingston poet, novelist, and editor, and the creator of Dark Matter Press

If you’re curious about this growing field for editors, come learn more, such as how to find self-publishing authors, how to guide them through the stages of editing and publishing, and where to turn for the best resources. If you’re an experienced self-publisher, come hear how your colleagues’ experiences compare with your own, and join in the conversation!

Ongwanada Resource Centre, 191 Portsmouth Avenue

7 to 9 p.m (doors open at 6:30)


Meet a Trade Book Editor ─ November Meeting Report


Guest speaker Alex Schultz

Association News

Website Update

The evening began with a look at the redesigned Editors Canada website. Its launch was so fraught with technical difficulties and delays that last month when Elizabeth started to announce it was really about to go live a collective shout went up from those in the room: “Don’t say it! You’ll jinx it!” But it was indeed launched last month, and it’s a beautiful thing. One of many improvements is that all the subsections can now be reached directly from the main page—including the Editors Kingston content. Elizabeth noted an increase in visits to this blog as soon as that became the case.


The inaugural season of webinars from Editors Canada continues. These online training opportunities are a boon for those of us not living in major centres! Coming up are sessions on

  • language theory as it informs editor-client relations
  • developmental editing for fiction and memoir
  • creating and maintaining a house style guide

Local Seminar

Editors Kingston is looking into holding a seminar on Using Word. This would be a one-day hands-on workshop (bring your own laptop) led by our own Adrienne Montgomerie, original founder of the Kingston Twig. Adrienne is a sought-after editing instructor with a particular expertise in software and technology for editors. If you’d be interested in taking such a seminar, and especially If you’d be willing to volunteer to help out with it, please contact Elizabeth (

Guest Speaker: Alex Schultz shares captivating career

by Gregory Murphy


madeleine-thien-certainty“You can’t just walk up and pet a sheep, you know,” Alex Schultz said with a smile. “Madeleine was obviously very much a city girl, but I happen to know a thing or two about sheep—and you just can’t do that. They’re skittish.” Laughter circled the room. Alex was talking about a scene he had to change while copyediting Madeleine Thien’s first novel, Certainty. “When you’re editing, you end up having the most ludicrous conversations sometimes. It can take you anywhere.”

Is there anywhere where Alex’s career hasn’t taken him? In an aspiring editor’s mind, in my mind, he’s already been there, done that. He’s sat at the editor’s desk at HarperCollins, the Penguin Group, and McClelland & Stewart. And he’s edited the works of some of the most celebrated fiction and non-fiction writers out there: Jane Urquhart, M.G. Vassanji, Nino Ricci, Wab Kinew, David Cronenberg . . . The tenderfoots at the meeting, myself included, were salivating. I think most of us in the room were at one point or another.

Alex illustrated his career for us in a funny and captivating presentation lasting just over an hour; questions and intermittent chat lengthened it. He began his presentation with a story about his work on an early edition of Real Estate Practice of Ontario. Having an idea beforehand of what his career looks like, we chuckled at the uninviting title of the volume shown on the slide; Alex himself was grinning, noting our reaction. I think the idea came across clearly: we all start somewhere.

418hp1ryfll-_aa240_ql65_Learning to be an editor takes hard work, and sometimes brings dispiriting criticism. Jane Urquhart’s 1993 release, Away, which Alex copyedited, brought some to his lap. Alex said the book’s review in The Globe and Mail shone brightly on the book itself, but included the comment that it was too bad such a good book had been poorly copyedited. To her eternal credit, Urquhart came to his defence, writing a letter to the Globe in which she praised his work and insisted that each of the three specific “errors” the reviewer had criticized was in fact an authorial choice. “It was a crazy and amazing time—a rocky beginning. But it was a beginning,” he recounted.

512sxn2n97l-_aa240_ql65_During his first year at McClelland & Stewart, Alex worked on M.G. Vassanji’s The Book of Secrets, winner of the 1994 Giller Prize. He called those early times with M&S his editing education: “You got to study editing at the elbow of senior editors in those days. You can’t do that anymore.” I think that’s a bit sad, really—that gone are the days of apprenticing with senior editors in the beast’s belly. But Alex’s tales from the trenches were nevertheless an inspiration.

Since his fledgling days, he’s worked in-house for sixteen years with stints of freelance employment woven throughout. Today he freelances for his previous employers, as well as working directly with authors.

On another note, it was Ellie Barton’s birthday. To kick off the evening, Elizabeth brought homemade chocolate cake, which was passed around while we sang Ellie a warm “Happy Birthday.” Delicious!

I’d like to express thanks to Alex for joining us to talk about his career. You’re an inspiration.

Coming Up December 14: Holiday Social!

Celebrate the dark season an informal pay-as-you-go meal in the private room at Olivea (39 Brock Street, Kingston). Partners and friends welcome!

Wednesday, December 14, 6:30 p.m.

Coming Up November 9 ─ Meet a Trade Book Editor

Alex Schultz, Relaxing between Edits

Alex Schultz, Relaxing between Edits


Alex Schultz has worked as a senior acquiring editor for McClelland & Stewart, Penguin Canada, and HarperCollins Canada. He will describe what he did in this role and what it is like to work with high-profile Canadian authors such as Russell Smith, Jane Urquhart, Vincent Lam, Wab Kinew, and Roy MacGregor.

Now an in-demand freelancer, Alex does everything from substantive to copy editing of both fiction and non-fiction books.

Alex has an engaging, informal style and lots of great stories to tell. Don’t miss hearing him!

Come Join Us!

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

7 to 9 p.m. (doors open at 6:30)

Ongwanada Resource Centre, 191 Portsmouth Avenue (map)


Bring a friend!

Editors Kingston is a Twig of Editors Canada. Our events are open to anyone with an interest in editing.


Coming Up December 14: Holiday Social

Watch this space for details!

Susan Hannah on Book Design ─ October Meeting Report


Carla Douglas (left) and Lee d’Anjou (right) listen as Susan Hannah talks book design at the Editors Kingston October gathering.

Association News

Some updates from the national organization:

Editors Canada has a new executive director,  John Yip-Chuck ─ and he’s an editor! At least, he was one, at legal publisher CCH Canadian and then at Pearson Education. He went on in educational publishing to become a program manager, managing editor, and eventually publisher (responsible for all science learning resources in grades K through 12 at Nelson Education). He has also developed small businesses of his own. The national executive council (NEC) is excited to have John’s expertise in strategic planning and management put to work for Editors Canada. John says, “It is my personal objective to help Editors Canada members acquire more work, to get paid more, and to have clients and employers appreciate their efforts even more than they currently do.”

The special online meeting held October 1 using Zoom meeting technology went quite smoothly. Assistant Twig Coordinator Elizabeth d’Anjou attended, and voted proxies on behalf of several other Kingston members. The outcomes:

Editors Canada celebrated Plain Language Day with a Twitter campaigplain-twwtn urging the federal government to write Canadian laws in plain language. A fun, low-cost project in support of an important cause.

The new webinars are under way! Learn how some basics of language theory can help you with author relations (November 7), or get a primer in developmental editing of fiction & memoir (December 3 & 4).

Guest Speaker: Susan Hannah, Book Designer

Collaboration was the prevailing theme at our October 12 meeting, when we listened to local book designer Susan Hannah speak on the topic “Let’s Work Together: I Won’t ‘Should’ You.” Throughout, she emphasized the importance of designers, editors, and others involved in a book listening to one another and being open to input.dlattach

About a dozen members and guests sat around tables full of books that bore Susan’s handiwork as she took us on a tour of a book designer’s world. Her presentation began with high-level topics such the basic functions of a book’s design, the qualities needed to be a good designer, and how design fits into the overall production process. But she went on to get into the nitty-gritty of typesetting decisions, printers’ quotes, fonts and leading, treatment of images, line width, cover design, and even file naming.

Here are just a few bits of wisdom she shared:

  • Book design is not just beautiful packaging, but an identifier for particular genres, an aid for readers with specific needs, and an instruction manual for readers.
  • Over 25 decisions must be made to get an accurate printing quote; it matters, because the cost of printing can make the difference between a book that makes a profit and one that doesn’t.
  • People with dyslexia read some fonts more easily; these include Aral, Comic Sans, Verdana, Tahoma, Century Gothic, and Trebuchet. (Susan now uses these in all of her books; “Why not?” she says, pointing out she can add a huge amount of variety with headings, chapter openers, and graphic elements.)
  • Consistent handling of images and captions is important not only for aesthetics, giving the book the feeling of a cohesive whole, but for ease of reading; a reader comes to expect a certain approach.
  • Cover design isn’t just about the front cover. Remember that when a book is on a shelf only its spine can be seen. The back cover’s job is to get people flipping pages once they have the book in their hands; when you see someone in a bookstore doing that, the chances are good that the book will be bought.

Throughout, she often came back to the importance of collaboration. Ideally, the many people involved in a book’s production ask each other questions rather than telling (”shoulding”) each other their own thoughts. “I always start the first design meeting,” Susan said, “by reminding everyone that we’re all here to celebrate this book, which was someone’s dream.”

An author herself, Susan professed to have greatly enjoyed meeting some of Kingston’s editors, and hopes to join us at some future twig gatherings.

Coming Up November 9: Meet a Trade Book Editor

Alex Schultz, Picton resident and friend of the twig, will give an informal talk sharing stories from his twenty years in Canadian trade publishing. See you there!