Job titles such as chairman, salesman, policeman and fireman imply that it is a man that is performing the job. And stewardess and barmaid would suggest women. But both men and women work in the police force or stand behind the bar.
Gender-neutral language aims at avoiding reference to a male or a female when the job is not gender-specified. Thus we use neutral forms: chair or chairperson, sales representative or salesperson, police officer, firefighter, flight attendant and bartender.
Some job titles that were seen as typically male or female are now used with reference to both genders, such as nurse, judge, doctor and model. You should avoid specifying, for instance, male nurse or female judge.
In some cases, the male form has taken over: actor instead of actress, usher instead of usherette.
Interestingly, man meant person in Old English (Anglo-Saxon). And female has nothing to do with male; it comes from the Latin femella, the diminutive form of femina, meaning woman.
When the gender of the person referred to is unknown or irrelevant, you can use the pronoun they to refer to that person. Read more about the use of theyhere.
To sum up, when you write in English, avoid using gender-specific job titles when there is a neutral alternative.
Most writers either use these two words indiscriminately or simply choose cooperation without even reflecting on the alternative collaboration.
The main difference between the two words is that collaboration involves people working together towards a shared goal, while cooperation implies somebody working to support somebody else’s goal.
As a copyeditor, I work with the author of a text. The author wants me to make sure the manuscript is in fluent English without any linguistic or factual errors. (You can read here about how I work.) The author may ask for comments on a certain passage and I may want clarification of what the author intends. I can suggest an alternative formulation. Our shared objective is an article that deals with an interesting topic, has perfect language and format and is of such a quality altogether that it can be accepted for publication. That is collaboration. Collaboration is teamwork requiring mutual respect, trust and adaptability.
In my job as a copyeditor I may come across a word that is totally unknown to me. I can then call an expert to ask about that word. For example, I once called the coast guard to ask what word they used in a certain context. Thanks to their cooperation I could achieve my goal – to use that word correctly.
Should you have a hyphen or not? The answer is here.
Perhaps some writers hesitate to use the word collaboration since it has a less agreeable connotation. A collaborator is someone who helps an enemy that has occupied their country in a war.
Many writers seem to be unsure of how to use the semicolon.
The semicolon looks like a combination of a full stop and a comma, and that is an indication of how it is used. Like the comma and the full stop, the semicolon separates clauses. The semicolon links two independent clauses that are closely related. In other words, we use a semicolon between two complete sentences to indicate that what they say is of equal importance. The semicolon can replace words such as and and but.
Finally, Tom found his bike behind the garage; it was rusty and the tires were flat. This method is based on many years of research; particularly important are the findings from four studies in the heavy vehicles industry. The potential variables are numerous; they include everything that might influence the evaluation criteria.
You cannot have a semicolon after a dependent clause beginning with words such as since, although, when, because, etc.
Since she had visited the city several times, she knew all the tourist spots. She had visited the city several times; she knew all the tourist spots.
To avoid confusion, use a semicolon to separate groups in an enumeration.
Among the cities in the study were Hamburg, Germany; Milan, Italy; Copenhagen, Denmark; and Helsinki, Finland.
Don’t use the semicolon where you must have a colon!
He had three main interests: vintage cars, whisky and antique furniture.
You cannot write *He had three main interests; vintage cars, whisky and antique furniture (For the use of the asterisk read at the end of this text). After a semicolon there must be a complete, independent, clause with a subject and a verb. So you could write: He had three main interests; they were vintage cars, whisky and antique furniture.
Are you disinterested or are you uninterested? If you are not sure about the difference between those two words, you are not alone. Many writers find it difficult to distinguish between them.
If you are disinterested, you have no stake in the actual matter, you are impartial or neutral. It is understandable that this word is often used in legal or business contexts.
Can we take it for granted that the judge in this case is truly disinterested?
You should use uninterested if you mean that someone is bored or not engaged.
How can we catch the attention of uninterested students?
Chances are that you will find disinterested used where you would expect uninterested. Not surprisingly, the two words are often confused. But you, as a good writer of English, will of course make the distinction.
Generally speaking, big describes weight or extent, large is often related to dimensions or volume and great suggests something impressive. Great is often used with abstract nouns.
Big is used more often than large. In fact, big is one of the most frequent words in the English language. Big may also sound a little less formal than large.
They have a big mansion in the countryside.
Big often means important, powerful, successful: That’s a big decision. He is a big tycoon in the automotive industry.
Big can also mean older or elder: My big brother has helped me a lot.
As mentioned above, large often refers to dimension or volume. They have a large house with a very large garden. I have a large collection of posters from the 1960s.
Large is more common with some quantity words such as the following: A large amount A large number To a large extent On a large scale A large percentage A large quantity
With food and clothes we use large: I’d like a large coffee, please. Those shoes are too large for you.
Large, not big, is used in the combination small, medium, large.
The expression at large has two meanings, 1) free, at liberty and 2) as a whole, in general: The prisoner is still at large. These findings relate to society at large.
Big and large are only used with countable nouns (read here about countable and uncountable nouns). You cannot talk about *big traffic or *large traffic (for the use of the asterisk, read at the end of this text). Instead we use heavy traffic, intense traffic or a lot of traffic.
Big and large often overlap in meaning when we talk about size. A big house. A large house.
It is sometimes said that big implies an element of emotion, surprise, etc., especially in fixed expressions such as the following: Big deal! She’s a big fan of the Rolling Stones. He’s a big liar.
A big-headed man is not the same as a large-headed man! A big-headed man thinks he is more important or cleverer than others, while a large-headed man just has a large head.
Susan is my big sister – she is older than me. Susan is my large sister – she is physically larger than my other siblings.
Great implies a large size: All creatures great and small.
Great often means distinguished, remarkable: She is one of the greatest novelists of our time. The performance was a great success. I have great respect for her abilities. He has great wisdom. My cousin is really great at tennis.
To vary your language, you should use synonyms. In a dictionary of synonyms you will find many words to describe size or importance, such as huge, enormous, sizeable, impressive, momentous, substantial, comprehensive, extensive, immense, tremendous, prominent, distinguished, etc.
A language is a living organism that constantly changes. Words often take on another meaning over time.
Let me give you an example:
Originally this word meant a heated building, usually made of glass, used to grow plants.
This is what it still means today, but the word is now also used figuratively referring to a place or situation with intense activity, usually to promote the development of somebody or something.
New York in the 1940s was a hothouse of artists and intellectuals. For decades the palace was a hothouse of intrigue.
Hothouse can also be used as a verb meaning to train a child intensively in sport, music, academic work, etc. This often has a negative connotation.
The articles imply that women are hothousing their children when they are simply trying to do the best they can for their families.
So here we see a change in meaning from something good – promoting the growth of plants – to something negative – disapproval of the way some parents train their children.
A word related to hothouse is hotbed, which originally also had to do with the growing of plants. When used figuratively, hotbed especially in British English usually refers to an unwanted or unpleasant activity.
The village had turned into a hotbed of disease.
Can you think of other English words that have taken on a completely new and different meaning?
Many writers find it difficult to distinguish between beside and besides.
Beside is a preposition meaning next to, by the side of. Can I sit beside you? I can never teach my dog to walk calmly beside me.
Beside can also mean in comparison with. I feel stupid beside you.
Beside is used in a couple of sayings: That’s beside the point. (That is not related to what we are talking about.) He was completely beside himself with joy. (He had very strong feelings of joy.)
Besides is a preposition meaning in addition to, apart from. What’s your favourite food besides pizza? Who was there besides you and your girlfriend? Besides being a language teacher she is also a talented piano player.
Besides can also be a linking adverb giving additional information. Sorry I can’t stay longer. It’s a long way home and, besides, I have to get up early tomorrow.
The words personal and personnel are easily confused, even if they are pronounced differently. The word personal has the stress on the first syllable, while personnel has a heavy stress on the last syllable, rhyming with carousel.
Something that is private, that relates to or is owned by one person is personal.
When away from work I use my personal computer. You must keep this in your personal file. When he was promoted, he was allowed to have a personal secretary. Is that your personal opinion? Don’t take it as a personal attack.
The people employed in an organisation form the personnel. Personnel refers to human resources. The word can be used in the singular to denote all employees as a whole or in the plural to denote a group of individual employees.
All personnel is required to strictly follow these instructions. Four security personnel were injured when a gunman opened fire on their patrol. Who is responsible for the personnel file? You’d better check with Personnel (with the Human Resources Department).
Now you should be able to understand the difference between a personal issue and a personnel issue. The first refers to a matter concerning just one person; the second refers to a matter concerning all employees.
Staff is often used synonymously with personnel. The use varies between organisations. Staff can denote people who work for a special purpose, assist a manager or work under a supervisor.
She is on the editorial staff of the journal. You may use the car park for senior staff. He’s in a staff meeting; you’d better send him an email.
Staff can also be a verb:
We are happy to report that we are now fully staffed. We can staff your facility with our employees.
Principal and principle sound the same, yet they have different meanings.
As an adjective, principal means the most important. What’s the principal theme of the book? Principal is also a noun, meaning leading person. He is now principal of the school.
Principal can also refer to a sum of money on which interest is paid. During the first years most of your payments go towards interest rather than principal.
A principle is a rule or guideline. The principle of subsidiarity and the principle of proportionality govern the exercise of the EU’s competences. Einstein formulated the principle of general covariance. I’ve always seen him as a man of principle. ”Those are my principles, and if you don’t like them… well I have others.” (Groucho Marx)
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