31 May 2017
How to correctly use SI units in your writing
If I use the term “SI units”, you may possibly not know what I’m talking about. But if I say it’s any term of measurement like gram, litre, or kilometre, I’m sure we’re on the same page. You don’t really need to know that ‘SI’ comes from Système international d’unités, or know the history of the metric system. We use these terms every day, whether it’s asking our other half to buy 2 kg of rice or posting our bike ride of 10 km on Facebook. They’re in every recipe, many news articles, all over magazines, and so forth.
Most people probably don’t care how exactly they write these units. The problem with being a language practitioner with a pet peeve is that I care deeply! I also believe it impacts the professionalism of a store or any business that writes SI units incorrectly.
The most common mistake people make when using these units in their writing is to leave out a space between the number and the unit.
Incorrect: 40ml 5m 100kg
Correct: 40 ml 5 m 100 kg
This can be confusing, I suppose, as symbols, like currency symbols or the % symbol, require no space. To me the right way of writing SI units looks much neater and more pleasing, though.
Another common mistake is to try and pluralise the units. You absolutely don’t need to do this. Though you would say ‘I ran five kilometres this morning’, an advertisement for a road race would say ‘You can choose to run 5 km or 10 km’, not ‘kms’ or ‘km’s’! Note that though numbers from 1 to 9 are normally written out in full, this rule does not apply to numbers used with SI units.
There are other rules, such as how to write large numbers that pertain to SI units, but the ones I mentioned I consider the most important for laypeople to know. I hope you learned something today!
21 April 2017
Two (or more) heads are better than one
I’ll let you into a secret: I don’t do it all alone. When I’m busy with an editing or translation job, I run into difficulties with terminology or grammar pretty much all the time, where I need to check my reference books or online sources to verify my own ideas or discover I was hopelessly wrong 😊.
And when not even those resources can give me the answer, I turn to the help of colleagues and friends. I’m incredibly thankful for the online era we live in and the virtual community at my fingertips. I either contact a colleague by email or Skype, or I send out a query to one of my email groups. I especially value the advice I receive from the email groups, as they contain some very experienced translators and editors who have been invaluable in helping me many times.
I love translation, and enjoy the more commercial pharmaceutical translation I’ve recently been doing. Finding correct Afrikaans terms for the English is challenging and precise work. Often more experienced translators in the pharmaceutical or medical field have come across terms before and can thus tell me what translation they used. When they can’t help me, I ask a medical doctor I know what she would say and check back with my online colleagues until I feel satisfied that my translation is both accurate and understandable.
If possible, the help of others is sometimes even more needed when it comes to grammar checking. Afrikaans, for example, is a fairly simple language compared to others, but its spelling rules can get extremely complicated. I think when you’ve been doing editing for years and years, you get to know your reference works really well and can easily check on a spelling rule. I often feel lost in my books – I know they contain the answer, but I can’t find it in the index and don’t know where to look. I’ve already gotten better at this, but every time an experienced editor explains something I honestly didn’t know to me, I learn something new. I truly feel like I manage to be mentored without even meeting people in person. And yes, even the rather crabby language practitioner who phoned me one day to point out, not very kindly, that I had two mistakes on my website, has helped me become a better editor and writer. Long live the age of technology!