Sitting in our office it’s easy to forgot that the cultural context of what you read and write is so important.
Although we have been writing and editing for more years than we like to remember (think pre-millennium and then add a few more years), sometimes we come across new words that throw us.
This happened the other day when I was reading the instructions for an editing contract for a large public sector organisation.
I was flicking through the attributes and skills required when I read the phrase “the successful contractor will carry out tasks timeously”.
Timeously? What’s timeously? Is it a real word or some special term plucked out of a jargonised lexicon used only by public sector procurement teams?
Perhaps it’s me, I thought. In all my years writing I don’t think I have ever come across this word before. Then again, maybe it’s a commonly used word, that’s just passed me by.
So, I stretched across my desk to look it up in the dictionary. It’s only a pocket dictionary, I confess, but there was no mention of ‘timeously’.
My next port of call was Oxford Dictionaries online. I went to:
And there it was. Timeously, Adverb. Meaning “in good time, or sufficiently early”.
That makes sense, I thought to myself. But why select a term that’s obviously not widely used?
Then I looked closer. Everything became clear. It said that the term is ‘chiefly Scottish’…and the public sector organisation behind this particular tender was Scottish.
A wry smile came over my face. I was relieved that it was not a word I’d failed to spot or understand before. But it was not necessarily jargon either. It was a reminder that words are never written in a vacuum.
Editors are acutely aware of the difference between UK English and US English. Here in the UK they often feverishly weed out and correct US spelling and idioms which are invading our language.
But the word timeously illustrates that there are other subtle differences between English-speaking countries and regions.
As writers and editors we need to be aware of this. There is not one universal form of English that is correct or appropriate for all readers in all circumstances. Context is always key.