Michael Eriksson
A Swede in Germany
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Notes on language


Below I address some issues concerning the language I use on these pages. More information can be found in the category Language and writing, e.g. in Limitations of language or Annoying writing mistakes.

American vs. British English

I do not deliberately try to adhere to either (or any other variant of English), but use the spellings that either seem more natural to me or are preferred by my spell-checker. Seeing that I am not a native speaker, live in Germany, and do not write specifically for a particular geographical audience (in fact, not even specifically for speakers of English), there would, in my eyes, be little to gain by the extra effort. Occasionally, the spelling of specific words (“behaviour”/“behavior”) can vary in my texts; this, OTOH, is not ideal, and will likely be improved over time.

Gender-neutral language

Is not something I think highly of. I will typically use pronouns like “he” for generic individuals, and reserve “she” for instances where I refer specifically to a woman (or where women are noticeably more likely to be referenced—“A driver who uses the rear-view mirror to adjust her make-up when driving...”). Occasionally, constructs like “(s)he” or “his/her” are used; however, this is typically only done where there is high risk of misunderstanding my meaning as restricted to one of the sexes.

For more information, see my discussion of gender-neutral language in general.

“Or” vs. “And/Or”

I occasionally use “and/or” instead of the equivalent “or”. This should be seen as a means of adding emphasis or reducing ambiguity only; no modification of the meaning of a stand-alone “or” is intended. In particular, should an exclusive “or” be intended, this will be explicitly stated (unless clear from context). Examples:

“Have you seen Jack or Jill?”Inclusive or.
“You can bring Jack and/or Jill.”Inclusive or; just “or” could have been interpreted as exclusive.
“You can bring either Jack or Jill.”Exclusive or.
“You can marry Jill or Gillian.”Exclusive or; in most contexts, marrying both would not be legally possible. (In the context of e.g. a polygamous society, a willingness to ignore laws against polygamy, or an unusually long time frame, further specification may be needed.

Common errors

A few common errors of mine that may require mental corrections on behalf of the reader (and that tend to slip through both my proof-reading and my spell-checker):

  1. I am very prone to unconsciously replacing words with homophones (including words that may incorrectly seem like homophones to a Swede). Typical examples include “to”/“too”/“two” and “their”/“there”.

  2. Occasionally I leave out individual words. “a” and “the” are common victims.

Capitalization of headings

I originally used the typical English capitalize-almost-everything approach; however, I eventually came to the conclusion that this caused unnecessary inconsistencies, because I unconsciously switched between the many variations. Seeing further that my German contents use the German conventions (basically sentence capitalization) and that Wikipedia, too, prefers sentence capitalization, I decided to use the German style overall. This can also be justified by the traditional English variations being rooted in the times of type-writers, when the extra capitalization served as a distinguishing mark between headings and text—something which is redundant today.