Author Archives: B.K. Marcus

About B.K. Marcus

Father of Benjamin, husband of Nathalie, BK Marcus works from Charlottesville, Virginia, as a publishing consultant. He is the founder of Invisible Order and former managing editor of Mises.org, where he selected and altered images for every Mises Daily article for eight years. He has also been responsible for developing the Mises Institute's ebook program (now selling more than 250 books at Amazon.com and iTunes) and the ebook program for the Laissez Faire Club at LFB.org. BK focuses on developing electronic books and beautiful imagery for libertarian publishers, such as FEE.org, Reason magazine, and others. His own blog is at bkmarcus.com.

Which e-reader is right for you?

iPadMiniWhite4IOOnce you’ve read a few ebooks on the right handheld device, it’s very hard to go back to paper. But which is the right e-reader? The three most popular e-readers today are the iPad, Kindle, and Nook. And each has its uses.

iPad?

I know ebook enthusiasts who will only read on the iPad. Jeffrey Tucker was giving thumbs-down reviews to the most popular ebook readers back when I was already a complete convert to digital text. He said that turning the pages was too slow, that you couldn’t flip around in the book. “I can see how this might be valuable if this is the way we mostly read — the way people navigate the latest best-selling novel — but I have my doubts that this is the way most of us use books.”
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America’s first individualist anarchist featured on Wikipedia

AnneHutchinsonTrialWikipedia‘s featured article today is on Anne Hutchinson (1591–1643). Not only that, but their quote of the day is by Anne Hutchinson: “If you please to give me leave I shall give you the ground of what I know to be true.”

You have to read the full article to find buried, and in a single line, this about her: according to Murray Rothbard, Hutchinson was America’s first individualist anarchist.

Read his article about her, excerpted from Conceived in Liberty.

(This isn’t just Rothbard’s pet theory, by the way. Eunice Minette Schuster came to the same conclusion about Hutchinson and the antinomians in general in her 1932 book Native American Anarchism.)

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the vagaries of eggcorns

Yesterday’s word of the day at Wiktionary.org was vaguery:

vaguery

I’ve never seen this word before. My spell checkers all reject it. When I look it up in my dictionary app, it isn’t there; not only that, but the app tries to correct it to the word with which I’m much more familiar: vagary, for which it is apparently an "eggcorn."

eggcornI love the neologisms that language lovers come up with to categorize the creative mistakes people make. My personal favorite for a while has been mondegreen, but eggcorn may take its place.

The eggcorn, Wikipedia tells us, "is an idiosyncratic substitution of a word or phrase for a word or words that sound similar or identical in the speaker’s dialect." Unlike a malapropism, however, the eggcorn

introduces a meaning that is different from the original, but plausible in the same context, such as “old-timers’ disease” for “Alzheimer’s disease."

The term comes from the substitution of "egg corn" for the word acorn. (You can find a huge list of eggcorns here.) But back to yesterday’s word of the day.

The vagaries of fate (and the vagueness of the Delphic oracle) replaced Croesus's throne with a pyre.

The vagaries of fate (and the vagueness of the Delphic oracle) took Croesus from a royal throne to the pyre of a condemned prisoner of war.

Vagaries (I always encounter the word in the plural) are unpredictable changes, as in the vagaries of fate or the vagaries of the economy. They are not vague. The vagaries of the stock market are ups and downs, profits and losses that we can’t see coming. But while we may not know what those changes will be, we have a very clear understanding of what the possibilities are.

I have often seen writers misuse the word, either to mean "vaguenesses" (or vagueries, if Wiktionary is to be trusted) or in a way that is ambiguous enough that I can’t tell if they intend the word to carry its unpredictable-change meaning.

When King Croesus of Lydia asked the oracle at Delphi whether or not he should confront Cyrus the Great on the battlefield, he was trying to avoid the vagaries (unpredictability) of fate. But what he got back from Delphi were the vagueries (equivocal predictions) of the oracle: if the Lydian king made war on the Persian king, he would destroy a great empire. Croesus took the ambiguous answer one way, and the battle went the other way, destroying Croesus’s own empire. Tricky oracle: either way, she got to keep her job.

So if a writer makes reference to "the vagaries of oracular prophecy," you know he or she probably means vagueries, not vagaries, but it’s probably best to do more than just correct the spelling. A better word choice is needed. And if instead the text you’re editing says, for example, "the vagueries of fate," well, that may or may not be spelled correctly, depending on what the writer means, but it’s probably still best to avoid the vaguery of the word vagueries. Go for something more precise.

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The Power of the Comma

LetsEatGrandmaReuters editor, Tony Tharakan, sneaks a spurious comma into his post on how a comma allowed a Malaysian airline to sneak into the protectionist Indian market (h/t Grammar Girl).

He invites readers to identify his spurious punctuation mark.

Very clever.

I think I’ll follow his lead and invite you to find the (not one but) two (yes, 2!) false commas in this very post.

(Hint: they’re more than unnecessary; they change the meaning of what I’ve written to imply something that is false.)

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What Is a Style Sheet?

DigitalChicagoIn the world of digital publishing, style sheet is an ambiguous term.

It originated in the print-publishing industry. A style guide (or stylebook) is a book that lists the important rules of capitalization, punctuation, some basic grammar, some spelling issues, and the syntax of citations in footnotes and endnotes. At Invisible Order, our standard style guide is The Chicago Manual of Style. Other style guides you may have used or at least heard of include the Associated Press (AP) stylebook, the guide for the Modern Language Association (MLA) — even the venerable Strunk & White probably counts.

But there are various reasons a particular publication or company may want to diverge from the rules given in a style guide, while still wanting to remain consistent. If so, they maintain a document for their "house style." To avoid confusion, in IO we call this our house style guide, but the common term from the print world is "style sheet." As the name implies, it was not supposed to be longer than a single sheet of paper. It doesn’t have to be a list of differences from the main style guide; it can also be a list of the most important rules from the main style guide. You can see ours here.

Why would it cause confusion to use the term the way the print world does? Because at Invisible Order, we do both editorial and technological work. And on the technological side, "style sheet" means CSS (i.e., "cascading style sheets"): instructions to a web browser or ebook reader for the visual presentation of text and images.

I’ve worked on teams where someone would say "style sheet," and everyone thought they knew what the term meant, but the coders thought it referred to typeface, character size, and layout, while the writers and copyeditors thought it referred to commas, semicolons, and compound adjectives.

Fortunately, it’s easy to avoid the ambiguity. On the editorial side, we use the term "style guide" to cover both the Chicago Manual and our house style. We use "CSS" to be unambiguous on the tech side. And when someone talks about a style sheet, I smile and nod and look for an opportunity to make sure I know which kind they’re talking about.

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Filed under Ebooks, Language, Publishing, Tips and Tricks

an Orwellian interpretation of Orwell

IngSoc, Reagan Bush '84Despite being the 20th century’s greatest anti-socialist novelist, Orwell has found himself posthumously adopted by a wide variety of socialists.

His novels 1984 and Animal Farm, which attack English and Soviet socialism very directly, are taught instead as generic anti-"totalitarian" works.

As David Aaronovitch writes in BBC News Magazine,

[T]here has been a well-established and heartfelt desire on the more moderate left to claim that Orwell was indeed a genuine socialist whose warning was aimed at totalitarianism in general, not at the left per se.

I was reared and schooled by the kinds of leftists who embraced Orwell and taught me that 1984 was about totalitarianism in general, not socialism per se. I even thought of the book as an attack on the Reagan administration, and argued with my (neo)conservative girlfriend about it in high school. A few years later, I was very embarrassed by my easy acceptance of the interpretation I had been taught.

(h/t Wendy McElroy)

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The Language of Learning

Social StudiesMike Reid of InvisibleOrder.com has written about the Orwellian manipulation of language in “The Voice of Tyranny.”

As libertarians in the language business, we have both an ideological and very practical attachment to this subject.

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Censorship Schmensorship

CensorshipButtonIs censorship illiberal?

As with so many simply worded questions, the answer depends on how we define our terms. I don’t say that as a dodge. I don’t consider this issue "merely semantic." I just notice with some annoyance that many people use the same term to mean different things where the difference in meaning is critically important.

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A Natural Birth

Image“Nothing is more natural than humans innovating to make life safer or more comfortable. Not even having a baby without painkillers.”

IO’s very own Mike Reid reflects on what is and isn’t “natural,” while his baby daughter comes into the world.
 
This article will be in the next print edition of the Freeman, but you can read it now on FEE.org.

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Editing for Liberty #15: So Long, Friend

Can You Spot the Error?

  1. Firstly, the ratio between demand and supply varies at different points in time, because personal circumstances and future expectations are constantly changing. Secondly, we systematically underrate our “future needs” as well as the “means to meet them.”
  2. For the further development of the Austrian School, Capital and Interest (Die Geschichte und Kritik der Kapitalzinstheorien, 1884) was to be trend-setting in two ways.
  3. The Austrian position is supported by the fact that many things have been used as money throughout history in various parts of the world: commodities such as salt, clam shells, and animal skins.
  4. On the face of it, the solution sounds rather reasonable and has the support of a very popular Congressman.
  5. The Supreme Court could still be relied on to uphold the constitution and safeguard the civil liberties of individual citizens.

Read on for the solutions! Continue reading

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