A Capital Idea
A copy-editing blog covering grammar and newspapers like they're going out of style.
Thursday, March 31, 2005
Rules? What rules?
Here's one more example of why you need to know your shit before you write a column about it:
A freelancer at the Daily Pilot for Newport Beach and Costa Mesa, Calif., says she is tired of the descriptivists and prescriptivists duking it out. (That's not a bad sentiment, though, really, what's the solution?)
She points out that when stylebooks rule on issues, they are often left in the dust of quick-changing fields.
For example, AP once insisted that "on-line" should have a hyphen. It continued to insist this long after the rest of the world had opted for "online." Same with "Web site," "free-lance" and "adviser," which AP clung to long after the rest of the world left them in the dust by using "website," "freelance" and "advisor." AP caved on the first two, by the way, but holds fast to "adviser" with an "e."AP has not caved on the first to: Web site is most definitely still two words.
What's more, when the authorities do put a foot down, it usually lands on someone's head. For example, the AP Stylebook, which is used by newspapers, and the Chicago Manual of Style, which is used by book editors, have different rules for writing numbers. The result is that, in some newspapers, a 16-year-old who has lived on 1st Street since age 9 seven years ago might have 1,000 photographs of his former home. But, in books, a sixteen-year-old who has lived on First Street since age nine, seven years ago, might have a thousand photographs of his former home and 1,288 of photographs of his current home.That's "First Street" in AP style.
It's not good form to pick on the small papers, I know. But complaining about the intricacies of style and then getting those points wrong is detrimental.
Then again, maybe it just proves her point.
Origins: au pair, the buck stops here
The origin of "au pair," discussed in this Wordwatch column by Merriam-Webster, is interesting. It started out in English an adjectival or adverbial phrase, closer to its original meaning in French: "She is seeking a position au pair."
"Au pair" would be literally translated as "at par," but the column says it's closer in meaning to "on equal terms." The "equal" here has more to do with reciprocal arrangement than with an au pair being treated as an equal part of the family; the au pair would agree to, say, care for children in exchange for room and board. Or maybe daughters in two families would switch places to teach the other their language.
Just as in England, "au pair" in the United States usually refers to a young foreign woman. While adopting "au pair," we've also picked up on the British term "nanny" to use for a usually older woman, whether foreign or American, who has similar duties but whose job specifically involves child care. An au pair isn't necessarily in charge of children, though in the United States she frequently is.The column also discusses the origin (Harry S. Truman) of "the buck stops here," a phrase I'm rather fond of, though I never use it.
Wednesday, March 30, 2005
That ever-reliable grammar check
A University of Washington student turns in a paper riddled with grammatical errors. Her professor rightly chides her, but she rolls out (what she thinks is) a good defense: She ran the paper through Microsoft Word's grammar check.
So the marketing and e-commerce prof took his chiding to Microsoft and said: "Microsoft the company should big improve Word grammar check." Word had no problem with that.
But don't be too hard on Sandeep Krishnamurthy. He's also trying to get the word out to students.
"If you're a grad student turning in your term paper, and you think grammar check has completely checked your paper, I have news for you -- it really hasn't," he said.An article in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer includes some passages the professor has gotten through the grammar check unflagged:
Marketing are bad for brand big and small. You Know What I am Saying? It is no wondering that advertisings are bad for company in America, Chicago and Germany. ... McDonald's and Coca Cola are good brand. ... Gates do good marketing job in Microsoft.People seem to agree that the grammar check in Work can improve quite a bit. However, said Christopher Manning, assistant professor of linguistics and computer science at Stanford University, "it still wouldn't be as good as a good human editor."
Krishnamurthy has some examples of errors that fly by undetected on his Web page.
Dear Norm Goldstein
Doug Fisher at Common Sense Journalism wrote an open letter to Norm Goldstein on other AP style changes he'd like to see.
Now that fundraising is one word (man, that will take some getting used to), he'd like to see others follow suit: under way, good will, work force. I'd have just as soon seen the word require hyphens in every instance, and I'm in no rush to close these other words up. I think the confusion with fund raising wasn't due to whether it was one word or two: It had more to do with remembering that fund-raiser was always hyphenated and that fund-raising was hyphenated only sometimes.
Doug also wants the entry on U.N. to make more clear that it is acceptable as both a noun and an adjective. The stylebook forbade the use of it as a noun until last year, when it dropped the language from the entry. The recently changed entry on U.S. is very clear: "The abbreviation is acceptable as a noun or adjective for United States."
Language complaints on NPR
NPR's ombudsman gets a lot of complaints about on-air language and grammar. Some people even apologize in advance for pointing out minutiae, but Jeffrey Dvorkin thinks the gripes are justified.
First, NPR needs to get the little things right. If it can't, what does that say about the accuracy of the bigger issues?Dvorkin has saved up some of the quibbles, and they include some classic debates: Mass vs. service, soldiers vs. troops, literally vs. figuratively, sink vs. sank vs. sunk, translator vs. interpreter. The letters are short, quick to get through. And I'm always interested in readers' (or listeners') language complaints. Check it out.
Second, errors of grammar and usage tend to break the listener's concentration. If a listener stops to wonder if he or she really heard an error or a syntactical lapse, then whatever else the reporter or announcer was saying is lost because the listener's train of thought has been derailed.
Copy editing questions answered
Joe Grimm, Detroit Free Press recruiter, answers a question about copy-editing jobs at Ask the Recruiter.
A proofreader in Tokyo is moving to Chicago and wants advice on how to break into the biz. Grimm, as usual, shoots straight.
Because vs. since
James Kilpatrick's language column this week deals with since vs. because. He leads with:
Let it be conceded, up front and without a single quibble, that "since" can function as a conjunction meaning "inasmuch as" or "because." Thus, it is permissible to say, "Since we ran out of Scotch, we'll have to drink gin." The New World Dictionary provides a less interesting example: "Since you are finished, let's go."But because is often more clear than since because since's primary definition has to do with time.
(Last week's column, which I failed to mention here, was on creating new words.)
Tuesday, March 29, 2005
Self-publishing: Don't they have an editor?
The Akron Beacon Journal has a couple of stories about self-publishing that include information about copy editing.
At one business, you get quite a bit for $699.
The "Premier Package" ... included a thoughtful, constructive review of her manuscript, including separate scores for structure, plot, characterizations, pacing and dialogue, and valid recommendations for resolving a few issues.But it did not include any copy editing. For that, you pay 1.5 cents a word. And for that customer's 251-page book, her out-of-pocket expenses would have tripled, the story says.
And that leads a lot of people to forgo the copy editing.
[AuthorHouse's Brad] Tirey acknowledged that the expense might discourage some writers from spending the money for a copy editor, but disagreed with my suggestion of finding a graduate student who might take the job for a lesser fee. And he wasn't just trying to sell his company's services: He advised that finding a professional freelance book editor would be better. If authors still balk and are "willing to put their name on it," AuthorHouse will release the book and can't legally make any changes.The other story mentions iUniverse and says its deluxe package, for $699, includes a "full editorial review with copy editing services, in which a team of seasoned publishers looks over the manuscript and produces a 25- to 30-page report outlining the weaknesses and strengths of the manuscript."
AP Stylebook updates
The AP Stylebook has announced some big style changes:
U.S.: The abbreviation is acceptable as a noun or adjective for
United States. (Before, the noun had to be spelled out.)
fundraising, fundraiser One word in all cases.
best-seller Hyphenate in all uses.
National Guard Capitalize when referring to U.S. or state-level forces, or foreign forces when that is the formal name: the National Guard, the Guard, the Iowa National Guard, Iowa's National Guard, National Guard troops, the Iraqi National Guard. When referring to an individual in a National Guard unit, use National Guardsman: He is a National Guardsman. Lowercase guardsman when it stands alone. (Before, the foreign forces were lowercase.)
Fatah A secular political party and former guerrilla movement founded by Yasser Arafat that has dominated Palestinian politics since the 1960s.
Sears Holdings Corp. A 2005 merger of Kmart and Sears, Roebuck and Co. Based in Hoffman Estates, Ill.
Monday, March 28, 2005
Errors stop readers (and subscriptions?)
I don't know if The Bee's proofreading staff is overworked, indifferent, or incompetent, but something should be done to ensure that errors like these aren't allowed into the paper every day.
A reader takes the Sacramento Bee to task for errors, and the public editor responds. He includes a response from Mort Saltzman, the managing editor who oversees the copy desk.
"There really is no excuse for inaccurate or inappropriate language in the newspaper, of all places," said Saltzman. "Do we systematically work at improving our grammar? I'm not sure. We are very much focused on improving our writing ... and good grammar is part of that."What's surprising to me about this article is that there isn't the usual explanation of how much copy goes through a desk on any given night, an explanation of how errors will sometimes slip through because of the sheer number of words we process. I'm not sure what that says, if anything.
"We as a newspaper need to do more about it than just talk about it," he added.
To be hip, young and a lexicographer
Who's in charge of the nation's dictionaries?
This article from the New York Times (provided still by the fine folks at Word Detective) gives some insight by first looking at the pink-glasses-wearing "America's lexicographical sweetheart," Erin McKean.
She is one of the youngest editors in chief of one of the "Big Five" American dictionaries: At 33, she is in charge of the Oxford American Dictionary. (The others are American Heritage, Merriam-Webster, Webster's New World and Encarta.) She was appointed last year, and the first Oxford dictionary created under her auspices will hit stores next month. And she is not alone. Ms. McKean is part of the next wave of top lexicographers who have already or may soon take over guardianship of the nation's language, and who disprove Samuel Johnson's definition of a lexicographer as "a harmless drudge."(Bespoke? Ah, custom-made.)
They include Steve Kleinedler, 38, who is second in command at American Heritage and has a phonetic vowel chart tattooed across his back; Grant Barrett, 34, project editor of The Historical Dictionary of American Slang, whom Ms. McKean describes as looking as if he'd just as soon fix a car as edit a dictionary; and Peter Sokolowski, 35, an associate editor at Merriam-Webster and a professional trumpet player. Jesse Sheidlower, 36, editor at large of the Oxford English Dictionary, is best known among the group so far, partly because he is also editor of "The F-Word," a history of that vulgar term's use in English. He is known for his bespoke English suits, too.
The whole article is worth reading. It includes a new word being added to the OAD soon ("Google" as a verb), one recently taken out ("information superhighway"), and the process lexicographers use to find new words. (McKean subscribes to 60 magazines [including The Oldie, a British publication for the elderly] and watches "The O.C.," known for being linguistically playful, she said.)
And there's plenty on these lexicographers' charm.
Mr. Sheidlower said that [legendary lexicographer Robert] Burchfield's level of excellence was what he and his peers aspired to, and that if they reached it, it would come from their love for language. "I wear suits," he said, "and Erin wears these funky glasses, but most of the time you are sitting in an office looking at a computer screen. So you have to really like it. Otherwise, you're going to go nuts."
Pet peeve or pedantry?
I agree with little in this Media Bistro column about usage and grammar. Writer Jesse Kornbluth rants about 10 errors that make him -- and, he says, "all readers and editors who actually liked English class" -- flinch.
HOPEFULLY: Kornbluth says:
Everyone uses "hopefully" as a shortcut for "I hope." It is not. Yes, the dictionary allows it, but that's just bending to popular usage. In my book, there is only one correct use for "hopefully." It's a synonym for "prayerfully"?as in, "She looked up hopefully and said, 'Dear Lord, please make it rain soon, or we'll have no harvest.'" Do you want to say "I hope"? Then say "I hope."I say: Poppycock. But I'm no expert. Here's what Garner has to say:
Four points about this word. First, it was widely condemned from the 1960s to the 1980s. Briefly, the objects are that (1) hopefully properly means "in a hopeful manner" and shouldn't be used in the radically different sense "I hope" or "it is to be hoped"; (2) if the extended sense is accepted, the original sense will be forever lost; and (3) in constructions such as "Hopefully, it won't rain this afternoon," the writer illogically ascribes an emotion (hopefulness) to a nonperson. Hopefully isn't analogous to curiously (= it is a curious fact that), fortunately (= it is a fortunate thing that), and sadly (= it is a sad fact that). How so? Unlike all those other sentence adverbs, hopefully can't be resolved into any longer expression involving the word hopeful -- but only hope (e.g. it is to be hoped that or I hope that).Or, as Bill Walsh puts it more succinctly: "I won't complain if you use hopefully the way most people do, but be prepared to hear a lot of other people gripe. Personally, I avoid this usage, if only to avoid the scorn of the misinformed legions."
Second, whatever the merits of those arguments, the battle is now over. Hopefully is now a part of American English, and it has all but lost its traditional meaning. ...
Third, some stalwarts continue to condemn the word, so that anyone using it in the new sense is likely to have a credibility problem with some readers. ...
Fourth, though the controversy swirling around this word has subsided, it is now a skunked term. Avoid it in all sense if you're concerned with your credibility; if you use it in the traditional way, many readers will think it odd; if you use it in the newish way, a few readers will tacitly tut-tut you.
I'll spare you the dissection of the other nine points, other than to say that I agree that a distinction must be preserved between "its" and "it's" and that "a day that changed us forever" is an unforgivable cliche.
But read them and see what you get out of it.
What did I get? Everyone is entitled to their pet peeves, but realize that they're not always law.
Friday, March 25, 2005
Do You Speak American?
A review of "Do You Speak American" in the Philadelphia Inquirer piques my interest in the book even more. A peek:
Because of the disconnect between the written representation of spoken language and the way people actually talk, most Americans feel that the way they grew up talking is somehow inferior to the accepted standard. Some experts, such as Oxford English Dictionary editor Jesse Sheidlower, seek to record all these variations. Grammar prescriptivists, on the other hand, think the language is going to hell in a hand basket. MacNeil's conclusion? "People treasure their local accents, precisely because where they come from, or where they feel they belong, does still matter."
Thursday, March 24, 2005
Copy editing and credibility
Think poor copy editing can't affect a newspaper's credibility? Think again.
I was reading a ruthless review of Ken Tucker's "Kissing Bill O'Reilly, Roasting Miss Piggy" today, and I couldn't help but make it relate to my profession.
I won't mince words: this is one of the worst-written, most atrociously edited books I've ever had the misfortune of spending money for. In fact, if I'd merely checked this book out of the library, I'd still feel ripped off. Some of Tucker's run-on sentences are spliced together more than a past-due film school project, which explains why there are multiple sentences in this book without either a subject or a predicate. If the author can't keep track of what a sentence is supposed to be about, how is the reader supposed to?Want more on credibility? Read this.
This book's copy-editing sins go far beyond tortured grammar, however. Who signed off on a chapter heading like "Schlock Forgotton: Silk Stalkings"? The factual errors in this book range from mild (referring to the detectives on "Miami Vice" as "Crockett and Stubbs") to preposterous (referring to one of John Larroquette's "Night Court" co-stars, who is still very much alive, as "the late Richard Moll"). ...
The fault doesn't entirely lie with Ken Tucker, however. Authors make mistakes all the time; book editors are supposed to catch them. That's what they get paid for. But the sheer volume of errors in Kissing O'Reilly makes me wonder if anybody at St. Martin's Press even bothered to read Tucker's manuscript before publication.
A dream come true?
I read a lot of references to "a copy editor's nightmare" -- usually in reference to wacky capitalization or punctuation of proper nouns ("Yahoo! -- a copy editor's nightmare," "moe., a copy editor's nightmare" or "(hed) Planet Earth -- a copy editor's nightmare."
I'm a copy editor, but these are not my nightmares. In fact, they're some of the easiest errors to deal with: Proper nouns are capitalized. Errant punctuation disappears. Voila.
But I saw a reference today to a copy editor's nightmare that made sense:
Best band name: Very Be Careful. This band from Los Angeles plays Colombian styles mixed with African drums. In these days of irony, post-irony and post-irony irony, I love this name. It's a copy editor's nightmare.Nightmare is strong, but it certainly would make me pause to look it up. And there's only so much time in the day to look stuff up.
On Britspeak and the origin of A Capital Idea
A story in the LA Times discusses the growing number of Briticisms making their way into American speech, including "queuing up," "went missing" and "at the end of the day."
Why are they more prevalent lately?
"We've always had a cultural inferiority complex with regard to the Brits," Stanford University linguist Geoffrey Nunberg says, "that they speak correctly and we don't. We even say we 'use the queen's English.' And why should that matter to us?"I find that Britspeak crops up in my writing and speech when I watch BBC series (I can't get enough of "Wives and Daughters" and "Pride and Prejudice") or read British novels. (In fact, the name "A Capital Idea" came from watching P&P; one character is always saying "Capital, capital," and it was stuck in my mind.)
Just such intellectual Anglophilia may be what's behind a virus that's infecting American media these days: Britspeak. We have become a nation of journalistic copycats, betraying perfectly good American idioms along the way.
Adding British expressions to your vocabulary, Nunberg says, "makes you sound pragmatic, a little cynical." Smart, in other words. And it's a cottage industry in some quarters.
All that being said, take a couple of minutes to read the whole article. It's a fun -- but quick -- read.
A day with the copy desk
What happens if you sell access to the copy desk? I finally took time to read this fictional account at Poynter. There's some good stuff there. (Bob is the visitor.)
* 10:30 a.m. - Bob goes down with me to the cafeteria with a co-worker to hear the latest rumor about the position on our desk that's been open for four months. ("It's ABOUT to be filled - maybe!")What does it make me think of? The Star-Tribune's headline contest prize: a night with the copy desk.
* 11 a.m. - Bob watches me send a reminder e-mail to the section chief that the centerpiece due at 6 p.m. last night still isn't in.
* 11:15 a.m. - Bob watches me look up the "fund raising, fund-raising,
fund-raiser" entry in the AP Stylebook for the 48th time this year.
* Noon - Bob watches me read a reply e-mail that the centerpiece is being *polished* and will be in my hands at 2 p.m.
* 12:30 a.m. - Bob watches me laboriously edit a couple of other little four-inch wire stories that have trickled in. ("How many times have you run a Britney story this week?" Bob asks. "Who's counting?" I reply.)
Stop me if you think that you've heard this one before
If you're hell-bent on seeing a movie with a copy editor as the main character, and you like crap, you have your wish.
"Happy Hour" sounds terrible, and it probably is. It stars Anthony LaPaglia:
LaPaglia plays Tulley, an over-the-hill Manhattan writer slumming as an advertising copy editor while cobbling together a novel -- presumably his magnum opus. Tulley lives bitterly in the shadow of his condescending father -- a famous author -- and nocturnally drowns his miseries in booze alongside Levine (Eric Stoltz), a rooster-plumed dandy whom the hardboiled Tulley has inexplicably befriended and Natalie (Carolyn Feeney), a sassy schoolteacher who he hops into bed with the night they meet.I just heard about this movie, but it appears to have been released last year. It's still making the film festival rounds, though, so if you're dedicated, you may be able to catch it.
UPDATE: And while we're talking about movies, Naomi Watts' character in the recently released "Ring 2" is a reporter no more. The review in the Baltimore Sun describes her as:
an erstwhile careerist who has moved from Seattle to Astoria, Ore., and taken a copy-editing job at The Daily Astorian so she can spend more time with her son Aidan (David Dorfman).Copy editors as the discontented. Love it.
We have met the enemy, and it is newspapers
The subject line on an e-mail I got from SBC this week:
Forget the newspaper. Find your next job online.
I'm back from vacation and a root canal (which wasn't so bad). I'll try to catch up on posts, but there's a lot of news out there. Expect an inadequate job.
Tuesday, March 15, 2005
Reluctant vs. reticent
The latest Language Corner from CJR lays down the difference between reluctant and the oft-misused reticent.
Reluctance you know. But reticence? They're not synonyms.
Reticence is a reluctance to speak, similar to silence and, the article says, "is commonly followed by a word or phrase meaning "concerning": His reticence about the accounts made the investigators suspicious."
Like "silence" or "reserve," "reticence" is uncomfortable with an infinitive; "reticence to sign," or "to" do anything, will offend every time. "Reluctance" and "reluctant," though, work nicely with infinitives, as for example in "reluctance to sign further contracts."
Congratulations to friend and colleague Chris Borniger, who was honored with the John Murphy Award for Excellence in Copy Editing yesterday.
The award is given every year by the Texas Daily Newspaper Association.
Monday, March 14, 2005
James Kilpatrick's language column this week covered two types of redundancies: malignant and benign. Some (nape of the neck, skip over, etc.), he writes, aren't as bad as others (hot water heater, 2 p.m. this afternoon).
William Safire's On Language column is a good one -- about the origin of the money quote and the background of some movie lingo.
Bill Walsh wisely cautions against the rote deletion of that, no matter what your college professors taught you.
And Ruth Walker talks about inspired uses of metaphors.
Begs the question
Thanks to Doug at Common Sense Journalism for pointing out a philosophy professor's post wondering if it was time to give in on "begs the question" used to mean "raises the question."
John Holbo wrote:
Philosophers are always bothered by this usage. We prefer to reserve 'beg the question' for venerable 'presuppose your conclusion'. But there is considerable pressure in favor of the shift. Not only is it clear how the phrase could mean what these authors mean by it, but 'x demands that we ask y' is just plain something you often want to say. And 'begs the question' is really better than 'x demands that we ask y'. ... Should I give in?Though I've been delving into some descriptivism of late, this topic brings me back to my prescriptivist senses.
I learned the definition of "begs the question" in high school. Here's the entry from Bremner:
Begging the question is not the same as avoiding the issue. To beg the question is to assume, without proof, the truth of something whose truth is being questioned. If you are trying to prove the existence of a deity, you beg the question if you state that a belief in God's existence is essential to man's sanity.It can be a difficult concept to wrap your head around, but it's similar to circular reasoning.
(And it's interesting to note that the prevalent misuse in Bremner's heyday, to evade the issue, is less common now.)
My problems with using "begs the question" in place of "raises the question" go deeper than simply not wanting to lose a perfectly good description of an existing concept.
Using it in the colloquial sense, although universally understood, stretches too far the limits of the verb beg. That's not the way we use the transitive verb anymore (although some dictionaries recognize it). We beg for money; we don't beg money.
And it's a cliche.
Garner's has an entry on it, as well:
This phrase has not traditionally meant "to evade the issue" or "to invite an obvious question," as some mistakenly believe. The strict meaning of beg the question is "to base a conclusion on an assumption that is as much in need of proof or demonstration as the conclusion itself." The formal name for this logical fallacy is petitio principii. ... All that having been said, the use of beg the question to mean raise another question is so ubiquitous that the new sense has been recognized by most dictionaries and sanctioned by descriptive observers of language. Still, though it is true that the new sense may be understood by most people, many will consider it sloppy."Well said.
Word history: nonchalant
I had another word history in my Word a Day calendar Friday, this time on "nonchalant."
A nonchalant person is not likely to become warm or heated about anything, a fact that is underscored by the etymology of the word nonchalant. It stems from Old French, where it was formed from the negative prefix non- plust chalant, the present participle of the verb chaloir, "to be concerned." This in turn came from the Latin word calere, which from its concrete sense "to be hot or warm" developed the figurative sense "to be roused or fired with hope, zeal, or anger." French formed a noun nonchalance from the adjective nonchalant that was borrowed into English by 1678; the adjective itself was borrowe later, as it is not attested for another half-century.
Friday, March 11, 2005
Grammar in rap
The New York Times has a piece on grammar in rap that's worth checking out. It quotes Patricia T. O'Conner and Jesse Sheidlower (we're all Sheidlower all the time at A Capital Idea these days; brace for it).
Columnist Clyde Haberman wonders why grammarians aren't outraged by usage in hip-hop.
Few of them seem to be losing sleep over tortured word formations. On the contrary, rap usage "is grammatically interesting," said Jesse Sheidlower, the North American editor of the Oxford English Dictionary. "It's not random, and it's not sloppy." ...I listen to some hip-hop, and I enjoyed the premise of the piece. But I loathe the cutesy plays on words Haberman employs. Consider this insert into a quote from O'Conner:
If you consider rappers "on purely linguistic grounds," he said, "their inventiveness is worthy of emulation."
"If you wanted to get ridiculous," - as opposed to, say, ridikyulis, which would look ludacris - "I guess somebody could argue it's supposed to be heard poetry rather than read poetry, so you don't see it in writing," she said.and
Don't expect a protest group to be formed any time soon, something on the order of Grammarians Repudiating Rancorous Rap Refrains, or Grrrr.What trash.
For some unknown reason, the bottom half of the column is devoted to the lastest conflict in the rap world, where Haberman tries to prove once and for all that he is superior to the artists in question -- 50 Cent and the Game.
Last week, another shootout occurred there between hangers-on - they prefer to call themselves posses - of 50 Cent and his onetime protégé, the Game.'Tis a pity a nice idea for a column was so sullied by a columnist's bad attitude.
IT seems that Mr. Cent, who earns a lot more than four bit for his albums, does not get along with Mr. Game. You know how temperamental artists can be. That is especially true when they walk around with bullet wounds from old shoot-'em-ups. Fortunately for Mr. Cent, wounded nine times but going strong, some in the rap world don't shoot any better than they spell.
Linquist Arnold Zwicky is collecting examples of published dangling modifiers.
What's a blog?
A new Gallup poll shows that 56 percent of Americans are not at all familiar with blogs.
And though I generally abhor starting reports and articles with a quote, I do like the quote that this article used from Benjamin Franklin:
f you would not be forgotten, as soon as you are dead and rotten, either write things worth reading, or do things worth the writing.(Not that that's the case with headline writers, really, even great ones.)
Contribute to the OED
I wrote last year about the OED's pilot effort to collect words on specific areas of interest. They started out with science fiction words. They wanted help tracking down the earliest reference of words they already had and other words common in science fiction that they hadn't tracked down yet.
The OED's Jesse Sheidlower maintains the Web site that is collecting and displaying all these words, their meanings and their uses.
The idea for a collaborative site began when Sue [Surova, a researcher] posted a message on a Usenet discussion group looking for early examples of the SF usage of mutant 'a person with freakish appearance or abnormal abilities as a result of a genetic mutation'. The earliest example the OED had for this sense was 1954, but OED editors knew the word must have been used earlier. A 1938 example was quickly found, and a plan for further research was formed. And here we are.The site has undergone a facelift.
The biggest change is that the OED's database of citations of SF words is now made (mostly) available via the website. The OED does not usually make its work available in this way, but OED has agreed to publicly open up this part of its database to acknowledge the great contribution volunteers have made to this project.(Link via Languagehat.)
Regret the Error posts two amusing corrections worth sharing.
The first is from the Ottawa Citizen, Nov. 22, 2001:
The Ottawa Citizen and Southam News wish to apologize for our apology to Mark Steyn, published Oct. 22. In correcting the incorrect statements about Mr. Steyn published Oct. 15, we incorrectly published the incorrect correction. We accept and regret that our original regrets were unacceptable and we apologize to Mr. Steyn for any distress caused by our previous apology.The second is from the Washington Post, Sept. 22, 2003:
A Sept. 21 item in the Metro in Brief column about a woman fatally shot in Prince George's County and a child who was wounded incorrectly reported the woman's age, the child's sex, the child's location at the time of the shooting, and the street on which the shooting occurred. A correct account of the incident appears in today's Metro in Brief column.You guys have any other classics worth sharing?
Somehow, I ended up reading the correction from Timothy Noah's take on bullshit before I read the article.
An earlier version of this article mistakenly described these words as adjectives. In fact, they are nouns.To me, the correction's more interesting than the article. (I'm that kind of dullard.)
Here's what was corrected:
How does bullshit differ from such precursors as humbug, poppycock, tommyrot, hooey, twaddle, balderdash, claptrap, palaver, hogwash, buncombe (or "bunk"), hokum, drivel, flapdoodle, bullpucky, and all the other pejoratives* favored by H.L. Mencken and his many imitators?
Mark Liberman at Language Log praised the method of correction: That asterisk after pejoratives links to the correction.
The mistake is not critical to Frankfurt's ideas or Noah's review of them. (Well, maybe it suggests a certain lack of concern for what words actually mean, which is not entirely unconnected to what Frankfurt thinks bullshit is.) However, it does underline a point that we've made again and again in this blog. Most Americans learn almost nothing about how to describe and analyze the sound, structure and meaning of the English language. This includes most American intellectuals, whose degree of ignorance in this area is historically unprecedented. It extends to many of those who are being trained, at the best universities, in the discipline known as "English", and even more strongly to those trained in other fields.
In another post at Language Log, Liberman points out another error. Noah wrote:
Although Frankfurt doesn't point this out, it immediately occurred to me upon closing his book that the word "bullshit" is both noun and verb, and that this duality distinguishes bullshit not only from the aforementioned Menckenesque antecedents, but also from its contemporary near-relative, horseshit. It is possible to bullshit somebody, but it is not possible to poppycock, or to twaddle, or to horseshit anyone. When we speak of bullshit, then, we speak, implicitly, of the action that brought the bullshit into being: Somebody bullshitted. In this respect the word "bullshit" is identical to the word "lie," for when we speak of a lie we speak, implicitly, of the action that brought the lie into being: Somebody lied.
Wrong, Liberman says:
But actually, of the 14 "Menckenesque antecedents" that Noah cites (humbug, poppycock, tommyrot, hooey, twaddle, balderdash, claptrap, palaver, hogwash, buncombe (or "bunk"), hokum, drivel, flapdoodle, bullpucky), four are given a verbal sense by the American Heritage Dictionary: humbug, twaddle, palaver, and drivel.He follows with ample examples and citations.
Sorry 'bout that
I've had quite a few problems with the blog software the last couple of days -- eating my posts or never loading up in the first place.
I apologize for the light posting.
Wednesday, March 09, 2005
A loss for copy editors
Former copy editor and current executive editor of the San Jose Mercury News David Yarnold is leaving the paper.
He is leaving the field to lead Environmental Defense.
Tuesday, March 08, 2005
SND contest results
Search SND's database for contest results -- and pat a designer on the back.
Is it e-mail or email?
You can vote at this poll by IntelliReach Corp.
“I dare say the hyphen in e-mail will wither away, but I vote for it. You wouldn’t write “Abomb,” for “A-bomb,” or “opositive” for “O-positive,” or “Xray” (which looks like the name of a science fiction villain), or “fstop.” And “ecommerce” is not good. It looks like it should be pronounced “ecko-merce.” And “echecking,” “efiling,” “evoting”? No. No. No. New words should be formed in such a way that they reflect as closely as possible how they are pronounced.”—Roy Blount Jr., Humorist/writer/novelistWell said, Roy. I'm with you.
And before you vote, read Bill Walsh's take.
(Link via the ACES board)
Roy Peter Clark at Poynter tells reporters about the importance of collaboration. On copy editors, he says:
Ignore the traditional antagonism that leads writers to believe that copy editors are vampires who work at night and suck the life out of stories. Think, instead, of copy editors as the champions of standards, as invaluable test readers, as your last line of defense. I once wrote a story about two brothers with terrible physical handicaps. The boys had been separated for several years. I described the wonderful reunion of the brothers, how they watched cartoons and fed each other "Fruit Loops." A copy editor, Ed Merrick, called me to check on the story. He offered his praise for a job well done, but said he had sent a news clerk down to the supermarket (this was before the convenience of the Internet) to check on the spelling of "Fruit Loops." Sure enough, the correct spelling was "Froot Loops." Nice catch. The last thing I wanted was for the reader to notice this mistake, especially at a high point in the story. Years later, I would see Ed and give him the thumbs-up sign in gratitude for his Froot Loops fix. Talk to copy editors. Learn their names. Embrace them as fellow writers and lovers of language.I appreciate the sentiment here. It's true: Copy editors are not vampires who suck the life out of stories. Ahem.
I do question his story, though. Yes, it's important to get the facts straight. Froot Loops was indeed misspelled. But that's the best example Clark could come up with?
No bad telephone numbers? No bad addresses? No bad URLs?
He had no stories of libel averted? Errors of fact that would have embarrassed the paper?
Focusing on the trivial things copy editors fix every night does us a disservice. I appreciate Clark's urging reporters to just get along with copy editors. But there are bigger reasons than Froot Loops.
The phrase "butt naked" has long made my blood boil. (There are certain "errors" that just do it.) I hear it and suppress the urge to scream: "It's buck naked. Buck naked!"
And so I found this post at Language Log all the more interesting. There's talk that the "buck" in question may actually derive from "butt": (as "stark naked" comes from the older "start naked").
Mark Liberman quotes the Dictionary of American Regional English saying: "BUCK NAKED - adjective. Also buck-ass naked, buck-born ~, stark buck ~. Origin uncertain, but perhaps alteration of butt/buttocks. Entirely unclothed." And the American Heritage Dictionary (perhaps echoing DARE, Liberman says) has "Etymology: buck- (perhaps alteration of butt) + naked."
Many wordsmiths argue that "buck" is shortened from "buckskin," as "buff" came from "buffalo leather." Michael Quinion writes:
Buff leather was a characteristic light colour, not unlike that of the skin of Europeans exposed to the sun, so it soon led to the expression to be in the buff, or naked. Thomas Dekker is first recorded as using it in 1602: “I go in stag, in buff” (the first part of that line brings to mind the much later expression buck naked, from buckskin, a similar sort of derivation).In any case, the jury's out. I'd still change "butt naked" to "buck naked" if the occasion arose.
But it's a nice chicken-and-egg lesson.
Monday, March 07, 2005
Writing headlines -- it ain't easy
“Headline writers have to achieve that accuracy under some of the most stressful conditions you can imagine, with tight deadlines and a very small number of words to work with. Anyone who thinks headline writing is easy should try to summarize the result of a complicated debate on a zoning issue in four or five words and still abide by rules like use the active voice, use a key word or phrase from the story, don’t use names of people who are not widely recognized, don’t parrot the lead sentence in the story, etc.”
So says Dave Solomon, editor of the Nashua Telegraph. The paper's reader representative quoted him after headline complaints.
Expounding on corrections
Every week, Gelf combs through media corrections for the funniest and most enlightening. Sometimes journalism reveals more in its mishaps than in its success.
Some of the corrections and comments from Gelf Magazine:
What's In a Title?
Washington Post, March 2: A Feb. 9 article incorrectly referred to Richard Doerflinger of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops as the organization's director of abortion-opposition activities. Doerflinger's title is deputy director of pro-life activities.
[You can trace this erroneous title back through prior coverage, from which perhaps it was copy-and-pasted: UPI, a year ago; and then the Washington Post, last July 25. Then again, big deal: The false title seems to fit well. Newsday, in 1989: "Richard Doerflinger, pro-life coordinator for the U.S. Catholic Conference, said the movement is not relying on the court case to resolve the fight. He said his group continues to explore new ways to stop abortion and predicts abortion on demand will end within five years." New Orleans Times-Picayune, 2002: " 'I don't think incremental steps toward the protection of life imply acceptance of the abortions you've been unable to prevent,' said Richard Doerflinger, deputy director of the Catholic bishops' office. 'It simply means you can't do all of the good at one time.']
We Suck, Too
Wired News, March 3: This column was amended to include Wired News in the list of media sites that employ pop-up ads.
[More from the columnist, Adam L. Penenberg: "A stream of reader e-mail has come in, pointing out the irony of a columnist (that's me) criticizing media sites for deploying pop-up ads, only to have his publisher (Wired News) serve up one (for Blockbuster) on this very same column. I hadn't encountered one on Wired.com in the eight months I've been writing this weekly media column, and my editor had assured me the site hadn't used them since even before then. I'd now like to add Wired News to the list of clueless media sites that rely on pop-up ads for additional revenue but who, judging by the reader reaction, may instead be alienating its audience. The 'money side' of the house is investigating the matter. My apologies." It's suprising that someone at such a tech-oriented site wouldn't have noticed the pop-ups earlier.]
New York Times, March 5: An article in The Arts last Saturday about "Rock Star," a CBS reality show scheduled for the summer in which a contestant will be chosen to join the rock band INXS, referred incorrectly to UPN, which has announced plans for a similar show. It is a broadcast network, not cable.
The TV Weekend column yesterday, about "The Starlet," referred to the WB network incorrectly. It is a broadcast network, not cable.
Winner named in Strib's headline contest
The Minneapolis Star-Tribune's reader representative announced a winner to her headline contest, and a Capital Idea reader was commended for his work. (Read this for background.)
Kate Parry liked a headline by Mike Innocenzi on a story about a priest who caught a walleye and landed on the Internet: "Record catch no longer walleye of the beholder." Mike works in the art department of Dallas' People Newspapers. (He has a blog.)
Alas, Mike wasn't the overall winner:
But after consultations with the copy desk, a winner was declared: Kim Cope triumphed with the headline trio, "Defense stymies 911 info,"Priest's fish spawns Web suckers: Is the jig up?" and "Osama seized!" Kim lives in Minneapolis and writes content for attorneys' websites in her job with the FindLaw division of Thomson West. Her win was even more impressive after she explained that she wrote the headlines while a cat walked back and forth across her computer keyboard.No word on whether she'll actually spend a night with the copy desk -- or try to beat them in trivia. (Vince, can you fill us in?)
Sunday, March 06, 2005
Trying to figure out the headline capitalization rules at the New York Times? They may seem arbitrary (one of is capped; the next is not), but it seems there's a method to the madness.
Friday, March 04, 2005
Copy editor pleads guilty in child porn case
A copy editor at the Honolulu Advertiser has pleaded guilty to purchasing child pornography and storing more than 600 of the images at his home.
Martha, Martha, Martha
Various headlines about Martha Stewart from around the nation:
"Leaving prison: It's a good thing" (Modesto Bee)
"Coming home to 'a good thing'" (Atlanta Journal-Constitution)
"Martha's best move -- Why prison time was a good thing for domestic diva" (Philadelphia Daily News)
"Martha Stewart now living ... free" (Charlotte Sun)
"Hello, Martha -- Martha Stewart Leaving -- She's Getting Out Of Prison Today" (Newsday)
"Out and ready for her just deserts" (Minneapolis Star-Tribune)
"Out of Prison, Martha Stewart May Now Face A Tougher Trial" (Washington Post)
"Out of prison, into the limelight" (Kansas City Star)
"Out of prison, into the spotlight" (Akron Beacon Journal)
"Time well spent -- Martha Stewart leaves prison richer, more likable and a hotter commodity than when she went in" (San Francisco Chronicle)
"Martha mania builds at end of term" (Miami Herald)
"Martha rises again" (Chicago Red Eye)
"Martha Stewart's rehabilitation" (St. Paul Pioneer Press)
"She's back -- Will Martha show a sweeter side after 5 months in prison?" (Charlotte Observer)
"From the big house to the bigger house" (Virginian-Pilot)
"Fine living back in Martha's planner" (Seattle Post-Intelligencer)
"Prison stint ends today; now it's Martha, Martha, Martha" (Dallas Morning News)
Sometimes, you just can't win
When you get your just deserts, you are getting what you deserve. The words are spelled with one S.
But try telling that to the pissed off readers in Minneapolis. They've been writing in to the Star-Tribune about the Martha Stewart headline "Out and ready for her just deserts." So many complained that the readers rep posted a note online:
Readers, radio announcers and television stations poked some fun at the Star Tribune this morning, saying the front page headline on the Martha Stewart story -- "Out and ready for her just deserts" -- was spelled incorrectly. They thought it should have been "just desserts."Thanks to Chandra Akkari for pointing this out.
But "desert" is the correct spelling -- most of us spell the phrase wrong, thinking it refers to the sweets we eat after dinner. It's from the French word for "deserve."
Readers who want to explore the phrase further can consult page 390 of the Webster's New World College Dictionary, Fourth Edition.
Grammar from the slammer
On the Wichita Eagle's opinion call-in line:
I think if Wichita Police Chief Norman Williams is going to take credit for the BTK investigation, he should do so with proper grammar.Personally, I'm all for breaks in serial killer cases -- with bad grammar or good. Even I can keep this in perspective.
A quote about editing Hunter S. Thompson:
Greensboro resident Parke Puterbaugh is a freelance writer and a former senior editor for Rolling Stone. He went to work there as a copy editor in 1979, and had occasion to handle Thompson's copy.
"You really didn't touch Hunter's copy," Puterbaugh said. "I would not have dared. For all Hunter's craziness, he was a schooled professional journalist. His copy was readable and clean."
Stop introducing errors in copy
This thread about how to avoid introducing errors in copy has a lot of great advice. (From VisualEditors.com)
A page designer has recognized that she is adding too many of her own errors into display type and copy when she is changing things on the page. She asked for ways to avoid this -- or how to fix her errors before others see them.
Some of the tips include:
* Take a break between making changes on the page and proofing it. You'll have a fresher perspective and will find more errors.And, of course, try not to be too hard on yourself. Everyone makes mistakes, which is why there are copy editors in the first place. Our goal just needs to be to keep them to a minimum and out of display type.
* When handing off a proof, circle the copy you typed in or the changes you've made. (We do this on late proofs at the Dallas Morning News.)
* Proof a hard copy, not on the monitor.
* Allow as many people to read behind you as possible, but make sure there's at least one person doing it. It's embarrassing to have others find your mistakes, but not nearly as embarrassing as having them make it to print.
* Use an editing checklist so that you don't forget to look at any part of the page.
* Have whoever proofed the page initial it so that there's more accountability and more impetus to eliminate errors.
* Read your work aloud.
* Read things backward: From the last paragraph to the first in long articles, from the last word to the first in headlines, cutlines and other display type. This will help divorce you from the story line and focus on the words.
* Never type in an proper noun. Always copy and paste. This is fantastic advice. It's just too easy to mistype, and those errors are harder to find later.
* If you're making changes late, when there won't be time for another proof, make someone watch over your shoulder. You need a second set of eyes on every word on the page.
* Be compulsive about spell check. Make that the last thing you do before shipping a page, always.
Thursday, March 03, 2005
Think twice before you rewrite that lead
Thanks to Australian Paul Wiggins, at Testy Copy Editors, I found this article about rewriting bad copy. A note before you read: Australians and Britons use "sub editor" instead of "copy editor."
The author writes about complaints against Paul Armstrong, the editor of the West Australian:
Michael Sinclair-Jones, WA branch secretary of the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance, tells of concerns that "Armstrong is a person who likes to change copy without telling his reporters and against advice, and will combine stories in a way authors find offensive."Sinclair-Jones goes on to note that Australian copyright law gives authors a moral copyright and that reporters can sue if their work is changed too much.
"Section 195AR of the [Copyright] Act says moral rights are infringed if work attributed to one person is altered without consent by another, 'unless it was reasonable in all circumstances not to identify the author'.
"If significant changes are made to the content or context of your work, you have a legal right to be consulted and a right, if necessary, to require your byline be removed.
Tuesday, March 01, 2005
More branching out
I found another blog that looks promising: The Language Guy.
It's run by Mike Geis, who writes: "I switched my focus from theoretical linguistics to more humanistic pursuits, applying what I had learned as a theortical linguist to such areas as advertising, politics, journalism, the law, and conversation."
Already, he's written about "up to" and "more for less" claims in ads, a pet peeve ("refute" being used instead of "rebut"), and neologisms.
So far, it's been good reading.
I've always wondered how different it is to edit magazines or manuscripts rather than news articles.
Flogging the Quill has answered some of those manuscript questions. I'd say the mechanics are the same, but there's a lot more that's different. In any case, it's an interesting blog.
Now, does anyone have any suggestions on the magazine front?