A Capital Idea
A copy-editing blog covering grammar and newspapers like they're going out of style.
Saturday, May 28, 2005
Friday, May 27, 2005
I'm just wondering, but ... why does Blogger's spell check not recognize blogger, or even blog, for that matter?
Is it that difficult to customize the dictionary?
Who's reading blogs?
The latest Numbers Guy column tries to tackle the number of blogs out there.
With all the media coverage blogs are getting, you're bound to edit a related story. After reading this column, you'll find it easier to spot which numbers sound fishy. Are there 10 million blogs? Thirty-two million? How many of those are active blogs? And how many people are reading them?
In addition to pegging these numbers down, Carl Bialik also shares some readership numbers for the biggest blogs, including Gawker, Defamer, Little Green Footballs and Boing Boing. (Compare their numbers with New York Times' online readership, and, well, you can see that even the biggest blogs have a looong way to go.)
Tuesday, May 24, 2005
Fired copy editor now a columnist
Gawker points out (with the great headline "Christ-happy copy editor pens cringe-worth column") that Dawn Eden has a new gig at the New York Daily News:
And for her first column, we get -- well, a blog entry. A link dump, no less. With only one little paranoid far-right digression about the YWCA poisoning our precious bodily fluids or something. I think she's been cleaned up. Sanitized for the staid Daily News readership. Even the headline is decidedly un-Dawn.Gawker cracks me up.
Reading it, I got choked up. How will people truly understand Dawn's struggle against the entrenched liberal elite at the Post reading this list of funny-ish links? No, something must be done. If I were to change Ms. Eden's copy, just a little bit, it would be a public service.When strangers began stumbling across my blog while doing Web searches, I realized I had a virtual soapbox.
A blog, unchecked, can easily [result in the destruction of embryos].
(And Dawn's column looks as if it will be a roundup of blogs to check out. If you're into that kind of thing. [Blogs. Bah!])
She gets it?
Media Bistro founder Lauren Touby has an interview in the San Francisco Chronicle:
I probably spend less time than I should on the site. I'm always discovering typos when I do look, so it's horrifying to me. When you're over 30, you realize how little attention is paid to grammar, punctuation, spelling. ... And my staff are like, "Get over it -- it's the Web." Except that we're a professional Web site for journalists. Hello.
Monday, May 23, 2005
There's tasteless, and then there's the New York Post
Did your newspaper run the photos of Saddam in his underwear?
Newsdesigner.com breaks down the front-page options papers had, with telling examples: make no mention of the photos at all, run a story without a photo, run a story of photos of other media outlets' coverage, run the photos with a tasteless headline, or make compete asses of yourself with a headline like "Wedgie of Mass Discussion."
Find out who did what.
Friday, May 20, 2005
Condescending to readers
Christopher Hitchens shares some thoughts on editors in an interview with Stop Smiling Magazine.
I used the word "Promethean" and the [magazine editors] said, "Take that out because people won't know what Promethean means." I said, "Maybe they won't. I'll cut it out if you give me another synonym for it. You give the words that would stand in for it and I'll change it." "There doesn't seem to be one," they said. "No, there isn't, is there?" You either know what "Promethean" means or you don't. If you do, it saves you about 50 words. And if you don't, then you can look it up! So I said, "No. I'm going to keep it, because it's an important word and it's actually not condescending to Americans in the least. You have to condescend far more by finding the 50-word substitute. No, I won't change it. Fuck you. And I don't mean to publish in your magazine, either, for that matter."(Link via Bookslut)
I'm reading this review, and I happen to remember -- I forget what the review was of -- but they mentioned Tolstoy. This sentence said, "This is reminiscent of the 19th Century Russian novelist Count Leo Tolstoy." Now, clearly, the author [of the review] had not written this. But someone had thought, "Not all our readers know who Tolstoy is. We better tell them." This is ridiculous! If you don't know who he is, that doesn't tell you any more than what you don't know.
America's (and A Capital Idea's) lexicographical sweetheart
Erin McKean, "America's lexicographical sweetheart," talked on NPR today:
Erin McKean, editor of The New Oxford American Dictionary, discusses how lexicographers are using technology in their search for new vocabulary and the changing meaning of words. The newest edition of the dictionary hits bookstores this month.I haven't had a chance to listen to it, yet. But soon. Oh yes, soon.
Some of the new words included in the second edition:
Words in the News: al Qaeda, antiterrorism, frankenfood, Gitmo, intelligent design, Falun Gong, bunkerbuster, faith-based, hate crime, John F. Kerry and greenwash.Taikonaut! Ginormous!
Modern Times: 9/11, Amber alert, reality TV, taikonaut, smart mob, supersize, Texas Hold 'em, air rage, safe room, conflict diamond, fake bake, death metal, sizeism, smokeasy, trustafarian, mash up, permatemp, and barista.
Computers and Technology: adbot, blogosphere, bluetooth, wiki, phishing, malware, infoholic, addy, hacktivist, dataveillance, snert, megapixel, code monkey, lurker, and RFID.
Funny "ha ha" (and Funny "strange"): buckle bunny, cankle, clueful, cone of silence, FUD, ginormous, labradoodle, snivel gear, shojo, unobtainium, noogie, Joe Schmo, ka-ching, Raelian, and prairie-dogging
Thursday, May 19, 2005
Terrible, simply terrible
Three reasons I just love Testy Copy Editors (where I got these examples of terrible journalism):
Take this headline from the Guardian UK:
Hello! wins OK! damages appealAnd this lead from the Chicago Sun-Times:
Donald Trump had nothing on Chicago Public Schools principals last week.And then this hit-the-readers-over-the-head clarification from the Ventura County Star:
"You're fired," they told 1,096 nontenured teachers who have found themselves suddenly jobless under a new policy allowing principals to dump nontenured teachers -- without hearings.
"My dad kind of wants me to go to Harvard (University). I just don't want to, but I'm not sure," said the young Latina. "They told me to be proud of who I am."
Koran or Quran?
A reminder on AP style: Quran The preferred spelling for the Muslim holy book. Use the spelling Koran only if preferred by a specific organization or in a specific title or name.
One state, two state, red state, blue state
Geoffrey Nunberg had a recent piece on NPR's "Fresh Air," about red states and blue states. You can read the text here.
I know, I know, you're tired of reading about them. So am I. But I enjoyed what he had to say. Consider:
Until recently, red connoted the revolutionary left -- the Red Army, the Little Red Book, "a bunch of reds." That connection was first made in the 1830's from the color of either a flag or party badge -- there are different stories about this. But it caught on because red evokes passion, violence, and the forbidden. ...So why is this reversal working? Nunberg has some ideas. And let's hope he's right when he says this:
Blue, on the other hand, evokes fixity, coolness and reserve, which is why it's historically associated with conservatism and propriety. You think of bluebloods and blue-noses, not to mention blue chips, blue laws, and the blue book that lists the names of socially prominent families. Blue is the traditional color of the Conservative Party in the UK, and in Canada, the Blue Tories are the conservative wing of the party. It's no wonder foreigners sometimes feel that we Americans have gotten our chromatic wires crossed.
The faster the media pick up on a fashion, the more quickly they tend to drop it when it gets shopworn. My guess is that the appeal of dividing America into color-coded cultures will fade as soon as another presidential election re-arranges the electoral quilt into something less tidy. Or as soon as "The Simple Life" goes into reruns -- whichever comes first.(And to think, we can help make it happen. Huzzah!)
Wednesday, May 18, 2005
C'mon, this is the easy stuff
It is inappropriate in almost any setting to write about "sloppy seconds" in a headline. Or in a story. Or in a letter to your mom.
I just saw "MTV Settles for Britney's 'Chaotic' Sloppy Seconds" on Zap2It.com.
Curious, I did a Google News search to see if anyone else has used the phrase. Yep: the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and CNN/SI had recent references.
Star Wars spellings
There's a chance you'll end up editing a "Star Wars" story, even if you're just not that into it.
Need to get up to speed? Read this primer from Slate.
I learned that Wookiee has two E's. Anakin has one N. And the planet Kashyyyk, which I'd never heard of, has a "fun" spelling.
A subtle mistake
Geoff Nunberg had a post recently at Language Log that pointed out an error that flies under the radar.
They had only just moved in; their boxes lay on the kitchen floor, still unpacked.Notice the error? The boxes lay on the floor, still packed, not unpacked. A glaring error, right?
Jesse Sheidlower wrote in to say there are several references to unpacked used in this way in the OED's files.
So how many times do you have to see something in print before it becomes a legitimate use? For copy editors -- we're a conservative lot -- that bar is set quite high. (It's our job to act as arbiters in such manner, not to merely reflect what usages are out there.)
But for even the descriptivists, this is a problematic usage. Nunberg said in a separate post:
Well, "legitimate" comes with a lot of ideological lint clinging to it, but my sense is still that this is an error, if a common and inviting one. After all, it's hard to see how un- could be plausibly reanalyzed as a mere intensifier; more likely this is an idiosyncratic sort of haplology, where the form unpacked stands in for ununpacked. The decisive question ... would be whether the writers of these passages would defend the usage if the apparently anomalous use of unpacked were pointed out to them.Sheidlower was one step ahead of the game and had already tried to contact the sources. He found one, who admitted it was a mistake (and also blamed his editor). He also asked several other language types, one a fact checker at the New Yorker, another an editor at Slate. All had a problem with the usage, though most didn't notice the error at first.
UPDATE: Languagehat has a blog entry on the word, too. He is firmly in the other camp, saying:
People who think language should be a certain way even though it's not, even in their own usage, are perfectly willing to condemn their own usage and say "it's wrong, I won't do it again..." You can't depend on users' judgments in these matters, you have to look at the facts of usage, and based on what I've seen at the Log, one meaning of unpacked is '(still) packed.' The fact that it contradicts the older meaning is irrelevant; context will disambiguate, just as it does with other self-contradictory words like sanction.
Would you let these words into print?
Merriam-Webster lists its top 10 favorite words that aren't in the dictionary (as submitted by readers). Note that they are in M-W's pay-only premium online service, which says quite a bit.
Top Ten Favorite Words (Not in the Dictionary)
1. ginormous (adj): bigger than gigantic and bigger than enormous
2. confuzzled (adj): confused and puzzled at the same time
3. woot (interj): an exclamation of joy or excitement
4. chillax (v): chill out/relax, hang out with friends
5. cognitive displaysia (n): the feeling you have before you even leave the house that you are going to forget something and not remember it until you're on the highway
6. gription (n): the purchase gained by friction: "My car needs new tires because the old ones have lost their gription."
7. phonecrastinate (v): to put off answering the phone until caller ID displays the incoming name and number
8. slickery (adj): having a surface that is wet and icy
9. snirt (n): snow that is dirty, often seen by the side of roads and parking lots that have been plowed
10. lingweenie (n): a person incapable of producing neologisms
I've heard the first three used conversationally. But this is the first time I've come across the other seven.
Also, there are references in Google News to published uses of ginormous, woot and chillax that fit these definitions.
Tuesday, May 17, 2005
The Numbers Guy and Armenian genocide
A Numbers Guy column posted yesterday, about pinpointing the number of Armenians killed by the Ottoman Empire 90 years ago.
Armenia argues that as many as 1.5 million Armenians were massacred. But Turkey says the number of dead was no more than 600,000 and possibly far fewer, and says the killings were justified as the product of armed conflicts that swept the region at the time. Scholars disagree on the number, and politics have obstructed honest statistical debate.Why does it matter today? The killings and current relations with Armenians are still issues for Turkey today, especially in the country's bid for EU membership. And does the exact number really matter?
Dennis R. Papazian writes on the Web site of the Armenian Research Center at University of Michigan-Dearborn, where he serves as director: "Does it really make the actions of Turkey better if they succeeded in killing only 600,000 Armenians and not 1.5 million? ...In any case, it was genocide."Up until last year, the New York Times had a long-standing practice of not referring to the killings as genocide, according to a story in the New Yorker. (Editor Bill Keller was using the dictionary definition, to eliminate all of a race of people from the face of the earth. But the 1915 killings seemed to apply mainly to the Armenians within the Ottoman Empire. However, most scholars use the U.N. definition of genocide, killing or harming people "with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group.")
You may also find interesting this CJR interview with Carl Bialik, the Numbers Guy himself. (Thanks, Vince.)
A couple of quotes from Bialik worth repeating:
It seems sort of contradictory, maybe, for somebody who writes a column called Numbers Guy, but I'd be happier if news contained fewer numbers, rather than more. It just seems like there are more numbers being reported than there are good numbers. And if you write a trend story, and you are honest with readers and don't cite any numbers because no credible numbers exist, then readers have a better chance to decide on their own if this makes sense to them. Sometimes you need to make a qualitative argument, because there aren't any valid quantitative arguments to be made. ...
If there's no source attributed, then you should start out very skeptical, because you just have to take the reporter's word for it. If there is a source attributed, try to think about what that source's interest is in the number. If it's an industry group saying that piracy is a big problem, well, you wouldn't expect the industry group to say that piracy isn't a big problem.
Think about what the number is, what it says, and how you would go about measuring it. There are some things that are actually pretty credible, that somebody could measure well."
The editing process at the Freep
Thanks to Doug Fisher for posting this graphic from the Detroit Free Press that I somehow missed.
One quibble: I think it would be worth pointing out that the copy editor (also known as a rim editor, rimmer or rimster) can also send the story back to the editor if there are substantial changes to be made in prose, narration, structure or content.
More ACES photos
A correction of a correction that didn't need to be
Monday, May 16, 2005
Do you know your world geography?
Try this impossibly difficult quiz (thanks, Diego!) on the location of cities around the globe. The first time I played, I got 331 points. The second time: 2,227. It's all luck.
Go here and click on "visit" to play.
A conversation with copy editors in publishing
The Book Standards has a feature on manuscript copy editors by Adam Langer.
They perform one of the most important jobs on manuscripts, saving authors from their misspellings, their grammatical errors, their logical and stylistic flaws, and yet, their efforts remain largely anonymous.He interviews a few editors (Judit Z. Bodnar, Courtney Denney, Jude Grant. Dorian Hastings, Steve Lamont and Betsy Uhrig) and includes responses in the article.
Find the books they keep at their desks, their tips on what makes a good editor and why it can be tough, the anonymity of editing, and what to do when you're forced to copy edit a snoozer.
One needs to be fairly neurotic to copyedit -- you have to be willing to spend time worrying about whether something's a restrictive participle or a nonrestrictive one, and you actually have to care. Relatedly, it has to make a difference to you whether the name of the song is "I Want to Hold You Hand" or "I Wanna Hold Your Hand." ...(Link via Languagehat)
I work in fits and starts, bitch and moan to others in the business, toy with the idea of leaving everything just as it is, walk around the block when I find myself sarcastically reading passages aloud to myself. When the deadline looms close enough, I sit down and do what I'm being paid to do. You just do your best and wonder why you didn't make a career of grooming poodles or putting wheels on toy trains when you had the chance. And why you didn't have the business sense to whip out a piece of trash and sell it to a publisher for a huge advance.
Insurgents or jihadists?
Christopher Hitchens makes a long-winded plea at Slate for media outlets to stop calling Iraqi fighters "insurgents."
In my ears, "insurgent" is a bit like "rebel" or even "revolutionary." There's nothing axiomatically pejorative about it, and some passages of history have made it a term of honor. At a minimum, though, it must mean "rising up." These fascists and hirelings are not rising up, they are stamping back down. It's time for respectable outlets to drop the word, to call things by their right names (Baathist or Bin Ladenist or jihadist would all do in this case), and to stop inventing mysteries where none exist.
Editing Mitch Albom
The Free Press has released its review of Mitch Albom's work.
It didn't find any problems of the magnitude of the column that caused this hullabaloo. But it did find that Albom has many times lifted quotes from other media outlets without attributing. (This practice recently cost two reporters their jobs, one at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and one at USA Today.)
There's also a section on editing Albom:
As Albom's profile rose he garnered national recognition.Names are also given, toward the end of the article, on the editing Albom's original problem column got.
But another perception also grew -- from sports to features to other sections that have all edited Albom's columns -- about the need to go light on editing his copy.
"Nobody ever came up to me and said don't touch Mitch, but there are lots of subtle clues," said Greg Crawford, a features copy editor. "With columnists here, management kind of encourages a cult of personality."
Crawford noted that even as the paper began reeling from Albom's flawed April 3 column, the copy desk chief sent his staff a computer message telling them not to touch the copy of another heavily promoted columnist, Rochelle Riley, without her permission. "Just about any change, beyond a typo ... should be discussed with her," said the memo, posted on the newsroom's intranet.
Riley declined to comment.
Alex Cruden, the chief editor of the copy desks, told his staff the memo was merely intended to remind copy editors to check with columnists before changing their language, a long-standing practice. But Crawford and others said the memo had a chilling effect on some copy editors, who are responsible for scanning stories for flaws.
[Gene] Myers, Albom's direct editor, said, "I have no clue how I missed it. I totally screwed up. Everyone needs an editor, and I failed miserably in this case."Further reading:
The column, in addition to the made-up descriptions, carried a St. Louis dateline that suggested Albom had been there. But he was in Michigan when he wrote it. The paper forbids the use of datelines if the writer did not report or write the story in that location. After reading the column, Myers sent it to the copy desk for further edits.
Two veteran copy editors -- Marshall Swanson and Lee Snider -- said they read the story, they noticed the past tense narration, but did nothing.
"I didn't raise any flag," Swanson said. "I'm sorry I didn't. I made a couple of assumptions that weren't worth a damn and so did Mitch."
Next in line was Barbara Arrigo, an editorial page writer asked to review a final version of the Sunday page, said she also put aside her concerns. "I could kick myself," Arrigo said.
>Recent discussion from "Albom apology" [Testy Copy Editors]
>Levine Resigns from 'AJC' for Lifted Quotes [Editor & Publisher]
>USA Today Reporter Resigns [Washington Post]
>Food for thought on Squitieri firing [A Capital Idea]
(Edited to update TCE link)
Friday, May 13, 2005
"A policy on dirty words"
Denver's alt-weekly has the low-down on the Boulder Daily Camera's explicit expletive policy.
A few weeks back, staffers at the Boulder Daily Camera received an e-mail with a grabby subject: "A Policy on Dirty Words." In the memo, editor Sue Deans began in a general way, declaring that "using profanity, scatology or racial and ethnic slurs in the Daily Camera is not a good thing. Those words stop readers in their tracks and detract from the quality of our news coverage and writing." Then she got specific about the lingo she preferred to avoid, beginning with "the 'seven words' made famous by George Carlin, which as you may know are: shit, piss, fuck, cunt, cocksucker, motherfucker and tits." More surprising, however, was her opposition to what she described as "other less-graphic references that you might yell at your kids for using, including but not limited to crap, screw, blow, and in some instances, ass or suck, depending on the context, and other double-entendres."Are "crap" and "screw" worse than "ass"? Hmmm.
Deans's memo rejects what she calls "the 'hangman game,' where we leave out some of the letters," and advises reporters to "write around the word wherever possible, or if necessary in a quote, use ellipsis to indicate we've left something out." In her view, she would "much prefer that writers and editors spend their time on better journalism, spelling and grammar rather than trying to slip naughty words into the paper."An admirable goal, to be sure. Good luck with that!
Thursday, May 12, 2005
Good for a laugh
Be sure to check out the comments in this post on song titles before they were edited. They've had me chuckling all night.
Keep flagging those stories
Another columnist resigns over questions about her sources -- this one from the Sacramento Bee.
A column from editor Rick Rodrigues says:
"[Diana] Griego Erwin has said throughout the inquiry that there was no fabrication of sources. When asked to provide confirmation, however, she was unable to do so to our satisfaction. She resigned citing personal reasons while still maintaining that her sources ultimately will be proved authentic. ...
Our inquiry began when an editor flagged a Griego Erwin column more than two weeks ago that had inadequate sourcing and, after discussions with other editors, that column was held. Because of that, we decided to delve into other columns that had appeared in print in recent months. We will continue to do so.
The toughest editing job ever?
Here's another column (this one superb) about editing Hunter S. Thompson, a nightmare job if there ever was one.
In my own experience, the dividing line between fact and fancy rarely blurred, and we didn't always use italics or some other typographical device to indicate the lurch into the fabulous. But if there were living, identifiable humans in a scene, we took certain steps. (And sometimes it wasn't obvious. He did, after all, talk football with Nixon for an hour and a half in New Hampshire in 1968, and he knew Jackie Onassis; but he totally made up the fact that Senator Edmund Muskie had overdosed on the hallucinogen ibogaine during the 1972 primaries.) Hunter was close friends with many prominent Democrats, veterans of the ten or more presidential campaigns he covered, so when in doubt, we'd call the press secretary. "People will believe almost any twisted kind of story about politicians or Washington," he once said, and he was right.Interspersed in the story are memos from HST to the editor, Robert Love. An example:
In my accompanying memos, I used publishing terms like "trimmed, "tightened," and "compressed," but Hunter did not always respond well to editing. When things didn't go over in Woody Creek, I'd find something like this awaiting me in the morning in New York.And then there's the fact- and libel-checking. I'll leave that to you to read in its entirety. Fascinating.M E M O R A N D U MThis memo ended with a farrago of insults and a kiss off: "We are not functioning well, in an editorial sense, and FUN is a long way off. I may be running a bit late, Bobby -- but you're not running at all. Thanx for nothing. H."
To: Bob Love
Re: Bad News
I have tried and utterly failed, Bobby, to figure out how a smart person could whine and jabber day & night about the desperate need for at least some pages about anything that happened in Little Rock on ELECTION NIGHT. . . . But what the fuck am I suppose to think when I see that YOU have very shrewdly cut (dropped, deleted, excised (sp?) "edited out") the only two pages I've sent that have anything to do with real events that occurred on either the DAY or the NIGHT of November 3 at Clinton headquarters in Little Rock (see attached/below Pages 26 & 27 -- which I wrote and & planned & intended to be my LEAD INTO Election Day/Night . . .
These two pages followed page 25 which you also cut out of your revised, compressed text of whatever story you plan to write & publish under my byline -- a randomly Altered Version of my goddamn MEMO FROM THE NATIONAL AFFAIRS DESK . . . & you also got rid of all my subheads, my intro and the only real drama that happened that day . . . .
A good hed? Let's ask the focus group first
The Chicago Tribune is using online focus groups to test headlines and page layouts, among other things, before publication, the Sun-Times reports.
"You sort of do it to take the temperature out there. But I don't know of any editor who's been told, 'Whatever they say, that's what we do,'" said Denise Joyce, editor of the paper's Q section.
Wednesday, May 11, 2005
Do you know your states?
Take this interactive geography quiz (thanks, Nate!) and see how easily you can kick my ass.
(Geography: not my strong suit. I had 88 percent accuracy with an average error of 27 miles. And I know of at least two of you who will probably ace this.)
McIntyre resigns from ACES
John McIntyre has resigned as president of ACES for personal reasons, the organization said today on its Web site. Chris Weinandt will succeed him.
"John’s a tough act to follow,” Wienandt said in the news release. “But ACES is a strong organization full of great people, and we will continue to work toward the goals we’ve set for ourselves.”
UDPATE: Wienandt's post on the executive board will be filled by Scott Toole, news editor of the Express-Times in Easton, Pa.
Tributes to McIntyre are starting to come in. One, on the ACES message board, is from the KC Star's news copy chief, Jake Jacobson:
How sad to read that John McIntyre is stepping down as president. I've known him less than a year, but he has already helped shape my management style by reinforcing that an empowered, enthusiastic copy editor is a better copy editor.He asks for others to share their anecdotes.
Anyone who saw him cutting a rug at the Saturday night social in Hollywood knows how much fun copy editors can have in the company of colleagues. As he told Dave Bennett and me around 1 a.m. at the hotel bar, "This conference is my favorite thing that I get to do in my job, and if it lasted one more day, it would kill me."
And as I think most of us would agree, that would be a pretty good way to go.
At Testy Copy Editors, Peter Fisk says, "No words can fully express the gratitude we owe John for his tireless contributions to our profession."
Tuesday, May 10, 2005
Song Titles, Before Editing for Language Efficiency and Clarity [McSweeney's]
"Up There, Where the Clouds Are, Is Lucy, With Her Precious Carbon-Based Gemstones That Required Extreme Pressure and Temperatures of More Than 2,192 Degrees Fahrenheit to Become What They Are"
"Baby, You Hit Me Once, and When You Did, All I Could Think Was That I Would Relish Your Doing It Once More"
Expand your vocabulary
John McIntyre, AME for the copy desk at the Baltimore Sun, reviews "100 Words Every Word Lover Should Know," by the editors of the American Heritage Dictionaries.
The book is a compilation of words the editors found interesting -- for their origins, their meanings or their sounds.
McIntyre manages to use 78 of the words in his piece, and it's enough to make me want to buy the book. That, and it's only $5.
A thread at Testy Copy Editors offers a great discussion about which headline puns work and why -- and you can quickly see why the qualities of a good headline are so subjective.
It also includes this instructive, if dense, passage from "Headlines and Deadlines":
Two tests can be propounded for puns, whether in a headline or elsewhere. The first is whether each of the two meanings of the word forming the pun is appropriate. ...Add to that treatises on when to use inside jokes and what makes humor, and you've got a recipe for an argument.
The second test is based on the theory that the basis of humor is incongruity and unexpectedness. This means that the pun should not be obvious; it should not be just lying around waiting to be picked up ... The best advice that can be given to the headline writer is to avoid the pun unless he is convinced that it is exceptionally good. If there is one thing that most newspapers need, it is more sophistication. The bad pun, like the childish rhyme, is the mortal enemy of this quality.
Go to, Safire fact checkers! Go to!
Languagehat takes William Safire to task for his latest column. It's not the meat of his article (on "go-to" guys and "walk-off" homers) he has a problem with.
being Safire, he's unable to broach the subject he wants to talk about without a cutesy historical lead-in, and since he knows essentially nothing about the history of language and apparently is not subjected to the humiliation of having his column fact-checked, he regularly perpetrates howlers in his tossed-off intros.Safire quotes a "go to" in "Macbeth," but Languagehat says those words don't mean what Safire thinks they mean.
Monday, May 09, 2005
The AP Stylebook says:
V-E Day May 8, 1945, the day the surrender of Germany was announced, officially ending the European phase of World War II.Note the hyphen; it's not VE Day.
Link roundup from the weekend
This week's Wordwatch column is more interesting because I've seen "Clerks." It looks at the origin of "berserk," including some (to me) funny references to "berserker." (And now that song will be stuck in my head all day.)
William Safire writes about "go-to" guys and "walk-off" homers.
James Kilpatrick writes about journalists showing off their big vocabs, to funny effect. Consider some of these examples:
Several years ago, the New York Times reviewed a new TV show called "Less Than Perfect." The critic explained: "It marks the first time that a network cast as a nubile lead a relatively unknown actress because she was zaftig, and not despite it."
Would 92 percent of Times' readers know that to be nubile is to be sexually attractive, and that to be zaftig is to be well-rounded, plump? This is probably a poor example, for all readers of the Times have above-average vocabularies.
In the Washington Post, a film critic asked a rhetorical question about "Masked and Anonymous." Is the movie "a biting social satire or a wrenching apocalyptic allegory, a brilliant evocation of Americana or the solipsistic complaint of a disillusioned artist?" Clear enough?
My next-to-favorite columnist is Maureen Dowd of the New York Times. She often tries too hard to hit every phrase out of the park, but rarely talks down to us: "The hawks saw their big chance after 9-11, but they feared it would be hard to sell an eschatological scheme to stomp our Islamic terror." How firmly do you grasp an eschatological scheme?
What about "zhlub"? In New York magazine, a film critic identified a player in the film "Sideways" as "a glum zhlub." In Yiddish, a zhlub is a fellow who is coarse, ill-mannered, clumsy, graceless. Was this word necessary? It pleased the critic. Did it mystify readers? Does it matter?
Food for thought on Squitieri firing
Brian Hart writes in to Romenesko:
Tom Squitieri was evidently forced to resign [from USA Today] over a quote from me which I have related to several reporters. It concerned a phone call in October 2003 from my son in Iraq a week before he was killed in an unarmored vehicle.
The quote was accurate. It was reported by others including Ted Evanoff of the Indy Star. Both Ted Evanoff and Tom Squitieri are excellent investigative reporters. Ted essentially broke the story that armored Humvee production was not anywhere near capacity. He and I worked together from time to time in understanding this national tragedy since Nov. 2003.
Tom Squitieri wrote one of the best researched articles in 2005 on the subject of underproduction of armored Humvees and the deceptions that allowed it. It is a subject to which I have become an unfortunate expert. The Pentagon has consistently misled the public on this matter amidst a mountain of disinformation; Tom got to the heart of the story.
On Friday afternoon, I was contacted by a reporter who asked if I had seen the news about Tom’s dismissal. I had not. I have received only one phone call from a reporter asking if the quote was accurate. As I told the USA Today editors, I was both happy with the quote and discussed the matter extensively with Tom. In fact a review of my notes indicates over 30 days of discussion. One of the last emails I got from him was that the Pentagon was going nuts over his story.
So is accuracy or attribution more important?
Of the many times I've been misquoted by reporters, not once has an editor volunteered to fire the reporter. Yet here is a quote I endorsed which evidently has gotten a reporter fired because he didn’t attribute it to a reporter I also worked with at a sister publication of his! Madness.
Imagine my outrage. The Pentagon told the press corps that the production of armored Humvees was near capacity for a year and a half and it wasn’t though reporters dutifully publish these press releases as fact to an unwitting public. Tom does his research and gets fired. Folks at the Pentagon must be grinning at the irony.
The latest Numbers Guy article breaks down the claim that 70 to 80 percent of the people who buy rap music are white.
The statistic is a favorite of journalists and industry executives because it defies the misconception still making the rounds that rap's fans are mostly black, and shows that it is instead mainstream music and mainstream business. It's been stated so often that it's become an "industry convention," Will Griffin, president of Russell Simmons's Simmons Lathan Media Group in Los Angeles, told me. ... Sometimes it's 70%, sometimes 80%. The proportion is of rap buyers, or rap listeners, or total rap purchases; it's of teenagers, or of consumers age 13 to 34.He tracks it to SoundScan, then SoundData, then Russell Simmons's Simmons Lathan Media Group, then Vibe Magazine, then Mediamark Research Inc.
It's at Mediamark Research that he starts to get some solid research. And what he finds out is pretty interesting.
So how pervasive is the claim, and who do people credit it with?
I quickly found a few references in Google News, just from the last month.
The Rochester Democrat-Chronicle published it, attributing the figure to the New York Times.
The Washington Times quotes it from the Wall Street Journal.
It's in the Georgetown student newspaper with no attribution.
Saturday, May 07, 2005
What I learned from Ad Age
I got my hands on an old Advertising Age (I can't get enough of this magazine; if only I could afford it), the April 25 edition, and several things caught my eye.
First: KFC is saying "to hell with the healthy stuff" and embracing its lard-laden heritage. It's going back to Kentucky Fried Chicken (after switching to fried-hiding KFC 14 years ago).
Second: A chart shows a Radio Advertising Bureau survey of media buyers' confidence in different ad carriers.
1. MagazinesThird: The story "Small-market papers go up as big guys go down" says: "There are currently two newspaper economies. There's one for smaller and midsize markets, which is generally very good, the other for big metros, which is not." Why? The article gives a few reasons: Big cities have more competition. There's more overhead at the big dailies. They get a bigger portion of national advertising, which was "the slowest-growing major category for newspapers last year." And circ declines are likely to hit them harder.
3. Network TV
4. Spot TV
6. Syndicated TV
7. Cable TV
8. Spot radio
10. Network radio
A graphic illustrates the point by breaking down the ad revenue in the New York Times Co. from the first quarter of 2005. The New York Times was flat. The Boston Globe was down 4.2 percent. And the New York Times Regional Newspaper Group -- with such papers as the Santa Rosa (Ca.) Press Democrat and the Wilmington (N.C.) Star-News -- was up 7.0 percent.
Useless knowledge, but strange nonetheless
The top 10 keywords from search engines that have led people to this blog since its inception:
A grammar quiz
The National Review Online presents "Back to Basics," an attempt to humiliate readers that will fail with this crowd, I am sure.
(OK, OK, I missed No. 2, and I am a bit humiliated.)
(And I also don't know how to diagram sentences. There, I said it!)
Friday, May 06, 2005
There's a new RSS feed for A Capital Idea.
Find it always with the Feedburner icon at the end of the links at the right.
2005 AP Stylebook
The 2005 edition of the AP Stylebook is now available.
General orders are $13.75 a copy. As usual, you can subscribe online for $20 a year (which I highly recommend).
Britain's Labor Party or Labour Party?
It looks as if an AP style rule I long disagreed with has slipped out of the book without my notice.
The old entry on Labor Party said "Not labour, even if British."
I never could figure out why we'd Americanize the spelling of a proper noun. And now future generations won't have to try.
The AP Stylebook online doesn't have the Labor Party entry. But, under spellings, it says, "British spellings, when they differ from American, are acceptable only in particular cases such as formal or composition titles: Jane's Defence Weekly, Labour Party.
A thread at Testy Copy Editors goes over the ins and outs of why it is a good or bad call. You know my opinion on the matter.
(And note Paul Wiggins' comment: "Whatever side of the fence uncomfortably straddle on this - Austrailian Labor Party please, even though labour is used here for every other use. The reasons are horribly historic and fully functional."
Wages vs. rages
The latest CJR Language Corner, for May and June, is up. It covers the oft-seen mistake of a battle waging on instead of raging on.
“Wage” means to engage in, conduct, carry out. It’s a transitive verb, meaning it must have an object, meaning we have to “wage” something — a battle, a campaign, war. “Wage,” by itself, just doesn’t work, with or without “on.”
“Rage,” by itself, does. It’s an intransitive verb, not allowed to have an object. Whatever or whoever is raging just does what “rage” means — proceed or spread violently, or blow off steam — without doing it to anything else. No one can rage war or a campaign or a battle or a storm. Those things (among others) just “rage.” Or sometimes “rage on.”
Thursday, May 05, 2005
Prescriptivism, or linguistic creationism
Linguists boycott Kansas intelligent design hearings (Some whimsy from Language Log)
The state board of education in Kansas plans to hold hearings in May on the "intelligent design" theory of the origin of English, which claims that the language was constructed in the early 16th century by a committee of unknown experts guided by a Supreme Grammarian. But professional linguists are mostly boycotting the hearings.And there's plenty more where that came from, including this kicker:
Six years ago, when conservatives previously held a majority of seats on the Kansas board of education, they established guidelines encouraging schools to give equal time to the theory of linguistic creationism, which claims that English was created directly by God five hundred years ago at the start of the Great Vowel Shift so that the King James Bible could be translated into it. But this triggered a backlash, and they lost control of the board, which repealed the guidelines. Now that conservatives are back in a majority position, they are instead promoting the teaching of the intelligent design theory. But linguists are not willing to appear at their scheduled hearings on the subject.
And one Language Log staff writer who declined to give his name, speaking briefly with a reporter while waiting in line at Language Log Plaza's café, the Latté Linguistica, snapped: "Intelligent design my ass. Have you looked at the lie / lay situation? It's a total disorganized mess. One thing I'm sure of: we're not looking at the product of a perfect mental organ created with the guidance of a higher grammatical power."
The hits just keep on coming
An esteemed writer at USA Today, Tom Squitieri, resigned under pressure today after he got busted for lifting quotes from the Indianapolis Star.
And how did he get busted?
The inquiry began after a copy editor found a sentence in Squitieri's Humvee story in March that was almost identical to one on another Web site. The editor killed the sentence and reported the finding to Adele Crowe, the paper's standards editor -- a position created in the wake of the Kelley debacle -- who began an examination of Squitieri's work. The single sentence was "enough to raise suspicion," [Editor Ken] Paulson said.That's from a Howard Kurtz column in the Washington Post.
Noticing more people signing off e-mails with "cheers"? (If you get e-mails from me, you probably have.)
A story from the Chicago Tribune (that I read at OrlandoSentinel.com) has a story about the "trend."
So is cheers a trend?Why is it gaining in popularity? Here's an idea:
"If you notice cheers, and I notice cheers, it's a trend," confirms New York Times language czar William Safire. "My guess is cheers is a Britishism allied to 'cheerio' that we've picked up, but I wouldn't necessarily call cheers an affectation. It's more the globalization of language.
Cheers is a British form by way of Canada, originally voiced as a salutation before drinking. At some point, though, our Canadian neighbors turned cheers into a friendly, all-purpose exit line.
Wednesday, May 04, 2005
Gawker plugs some numbers, and the result is depressing (more so for those j-students than for me, of course, but still):
Total daily newspaper circulation, 2005: 47,374,033
Total daily newspaper circulation, 2001: 55,578,046
Decrease in daily newspaper circ in four years: 15%
Total Sunday newspaper circulation, 2005: 51,073,104
Total Sunday newspaper circulation, 2001: 59,090,364
Decrease in Sunday newspaper circ in four years: 14%
Total number of newspaper jobs, 2005: 54,134
Total number of newspaper jobs, 2001: 56,393
Decrease in newspaper jobs in four years: 5%
Tuition at Columbia J-School, 2004-5: $34,104
Number of students scheduled to graduate from the Columbia J-School in two weeks: About 210
Number of j-students right now realizing what a colossally dumb career choice they made, running across West 116th Street, and hurling themselves into the Hudson: About 210
Tuesday, May 03, 2005
CNN.com makes my heart hurt
CNN.com, that bastion of journalistic integrity, is making my eyes cross today. First, it has a headline about the BTK case: "Accused BTK serial killer pleads not guilty." No, no, no! An accused serial killer is still a serial killer, not a man accused of being a serial killer. (Then I start thinking, what on earth could a serial killer be accused of that warrants such big play?)
As the New York Times stylebook says: "
Just as an accused stockbroker is a stockbroker, an accused forger is some type of forger. Avoid any construction that implies guilt on the part of someone merely accused, charged or suspected.Then, a little less egregious but equally grating, it has a headline about climate change that says, "Clues to future may lay in past."
That's it. I'm getting off the Internet for a while.
Editing science stories
Doug at Common Sense Journalism has a reminder on editing science stories:
If you do nothing else as a copy editor, stay abreast of the science stories out there. The embarrassment you save will never be repaid in full, but it will be worth it.Then he gives a few real-world examples of mistakes that should have been caught before publication.
For copy editors, science is math's equally scary and ignorable cousin. But it's hard to find the mistakes in these stories if we're not giving them a critical look. (Know something about everything and everything about something.)
Grammar? Not hot
Monday, May 02, 2005
New circulation numbers
New circulation figures for the six-month period that ended March 31, compared with comparable figures from a year ago.
1. USA Today, 2,281,831, up 0.05 percent
2. The Wall Street Journal, 2,070,498, down 0.8 percent
3. The New York Times, 1,136,433, up 0.24 percent
4. Los Angeles Times, 907,997, down 6.5 percent
5. The Washington Post, 751,871, down 2.7 percent
6. New York Daily News, 735,536, down 1.5 percent
7. New York Post, 678,086, up 0.01 percent
8. Chicago Tribune, 573,744, down 6.6 percent
9. Houston Chronicle, 527,744, down 3.9 percent
10. San Francisco Chronicle, 468,739, down 6.1 percent
11. The Arizona Republic, 452,016, down 3.2 percent
12. The Boston Globe, 434,330, down 3.9 percent
13. The Star-Ledger of Newark, N.J., 394,767, down 1.6 percent
14. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 391,373, down 2.4 percent
15. Star Tribune of Minneapolis-St. Paul, 378,316, up 0.33 percent
16. The Philadelphia Inquirer, 364,974, down 3.0 percent
17. The Plain Dealer, Cleveland, 348,416, down 5.2 percent
18. Detroit Free Press, 347,447, down 2.0 percent
19. St. Petersburg Times (Florida), 337,515, down 3.2 percent
20. The Oregonian, Portland, 335,980, down 1.8 percent
Four newspapers were not allowed to include their circulation figures as a penalty for misstating circulation in the past: Newsday, the Dallas Morning News, the Chicago Sun-Times and Hoy. The first three were among the top 20.
The Wall Street Journal takes a look at the newspaper industry's declining circulation. There are some good numbers to know in there:
Daily circulation of American newspapers peaked in 1984 and had fallen nearly 13% to 55.2 million copies in 2003, according to the Newspaper Association of America. At the same time, advertising revenue -- adjusted for inflation -- has barely budged. In 1985, newspaper advertising, adjusted for inflation, was $43.04 billion, not much less than the $44.94 billion reported in 2003. That's just 4.4% real growth over 18 years. During that same period, the gross domestic product, measured in current dollars, grew 161%.Also, there's a good discussion about the quality of circulation. The subscriber, who pays to read the paper, is much more valuable to advertisers than the hotel guest who gets a paper at his door whether he reads it or not. Makes sense.
Good stuff to sink your teeth into.
Apple released its new version of OS X, Tiger, and headline punsters were ready.
Jason Kottke compiled a few from Google News:
Apple Sets Tiger Free on PublicI'm somewhat disappointed I couldn't find a headline that depicted a battle between Tiger and Microsoft's Longhorn, something like "Apple's Tiger Slays Microsoft's Grazing Longhorn, Leaving Bloody Entrails Strewn All Over OS Marketplace". I mean, why even bother if you're not going to go completely over the top? Amateurs.
New Mac System 'Tiger' Roars
Apple's new Tiger springs into action
Apple lets Tiger OS out of cage
Apple unleashes Tiger in Taiwan
Apple's Tiger unleashed in San Francisco
Apple's Tiger earns its stripes
Longhorn on Tiger's tail
Apple unleashes Tiger
Apple users are likely to be on the prowl for Tiger
Apple takes Tiger by tail with free installation
'Tiger' roars into stores
Apple to let loose its sleek Tiger system, good at hunting down files
Apple Lets Tiger OS Out of Cage
Apple unleashes Tiger operating system
Apple's Core Supporters Roar Approval At Tiger
Apple aficionados grab Tiger X by the tail
Apple Unleashes Highly Anticipated 'Tiger'
Tiger roars onto the Mac mini
Apple's Mac OS 'Tiger' Ready to Pounce
Tiger is out of its cage.
Apple's powerful Tiger leaps to the forefront
Apple's Tiger stalks Windows market
Mac users will be happy to have a Tiger by the tail
Apple's "Tiger" aims to take a bite out of Microsoft
Apple's Tiger Leaps Out To Operating-system Fore
Apple's Tiger Begins To Prowl, Set for Release Friday
Sunday, May 01, 2005
We're famous! We're famous!
Well, at the very least, we're mentioned in a newspaper.
Testy Copy Editors showed up in the QT column in the Chicago Sun-Times -- from a post by ADKbrown.
It's raining cats and blogs(The weird thing is that the post is certainly not original Testy content. ADKbrown is just pointing out comments from Jay Rosen, which he saw in a Howard Kurtz column, which I saw in Romenesko's letters, and which was also on Rosen's blog. I'd hope a column devoted almost entirely to blog entries would pay a bit more attention to attribution.)
Testy Copy Editors, www.testy copyeditors.org, wonders, only slightly testily, if newspapers might cut it out with the headlines that include the phrase "blogged down."
Now that it is mentioned, we might reconsider, also:
"Blog cabin," "Blog rolling," "Throw another blog on the fire," "Blog of war," "A chip off the old blog," "My life as a blog" and "Let slip the blogs of war."
There have been no instances of "Man bites blog."