ACTive Voice issue 3 2021

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Book review

Working words by Elizabeth Manning Murphy Revised edition (Lacuna, 2019) x + 257 pp. ISBN 9781922198365

(paperback); ISBN 9781922198372 (ebook)

Reviewer: John Linnegar, Accredited Professional Text Editor, Director, Professional Editors’ Guild NPO (South

Africa), Chairperson, SENSE (Netherlands)

I was fortunate enough to have met the author of the first edition of Working Words in 2012, barely a year after it

was published. On reading the collection of ‘chats’ previously aimed at members of the Canberra Society of

Editors, what impressed me instantly was how redolent those chats are of the author’s voice and outlook on her

craft as a consummate text editor. In fact, of her persona: this is unmistakeably Elizabeth Manning Murphy from

beginning to end, whether it’s her solid linguistic foundations, her vast editorial experience, her travel-savvy

advice to editors on the wing or her sometimes wry sense of humour or turn of phrase.

The series of 63 chats that form this compendium = are grouped broadly into eight parts, each dealing with an

important facet of the text editor’s craft –especially that of the freelancer. These parts range from the craft of

editing and editing as a business via the ethical and legal considerations inherent in improving authors’ texts to

the nitty-gritty of grammar, spelling, word usage, punctuation, plain language and style. In this gem of a resource,

this seasoned editor turned author about editing covers the entire gamut of the text editor’s craft and business

with both thoroughness and aplomb. And she does so in the most accessible and personable of styles. Indeed,

Working words spends precious little of my waking hours idly on my bookshelf – the fact that it’s my heavily

thumbed and bookmarked vade mecum speaks volumes.

Having received the revised edition recently, I was naturally curious to discover just how ‘revised’ it is. After all,

the wisdom that fills its pages is timeless. But much has changed in the eight plus years since the chats were first

written and the collection was published.

My impression is that the morphing of the original volume into the current revision has been deftly handled, in a

number of respects. For starters, the design is slimmer, more compact, perhaps even more contemporary in its

look and feel while remaining unmistakeably the Working words we are so familiar with: justified text, unspaced

paragraphs with first lines indented, the spaced en-rule having replaced the unspaced em-rule as a dash, and so


In the text itself, the changes have been subtle though necessary to keep the book relevant to a new generation

of readers. Here, author and editor (and associates) have clearly taken cognisance of the technological changes

that have occurred since 2003–2011, when the chats were penned. And so ‘working online’ is now ‘working on

screen’, ‘flashdrives’ are now augmented by ‘external drives’ and ‘the cloud’, and references to redundant

software (eg Publisher) have either been deleted or replaced with more current products; in addition, references

to ‘Wifi in hotel rooms’ and ‘video-conferencing facilities for use for worldwide training and discussions’ serve to

bring the chats right up to date. It has also been necessary to update references to MS Word functionality (eg

using Track Changes) to reflect upgrades since Word 2000 and Windows 98 (ancient history to Millennials), for

instance. The author has added the URLs of a number of online references in the text (some of them only recently

available online), which is another useful feature of this edition. And, recognising that the internet has made it

possible for text editors to service clients worldwide, in the Chat on ‘The ethics of editing’, the author has inserted

a reference to editing papers for students of overseas universities, adding the caution that ‘it is important to find

out what degree of editing is allowable in the particular institution’ (at 43). It’s typical of the sound advice that

pervades Manning Murphy’s text.

Perhaps even more interesting to this worker with others’ words, though, is the number of subtle changes

introduced to the word usage in the 2019 edition, because, as the author writes in its preface, ‘some rethinking

was necessary … the English language has moved on and the way we express ourselves has become increasingly

informal, even in formal writing’. So, for example, in Chat 63 ‘Whither grammar and plain English’, the examples

illustrating language change in the 21st century have – sensibly – been updated. One example is the changing

connotation of ‘awesome’ from the original ‘inspiring awe’ to ‘That’s good’. The other is equally apt: ‘absolutely’

is now used to mean total agreement rather than (or in addition to) ‘completely’ or ‘perfectly’. Editors clearly

need to remain alert to such linguistic shifts when engaging with authors’ words, and intervene appropriately.

page 6 of 10 ACTive Voice July August September 2021

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