Monday, February 27, 2006

How much do you want that interview?

Not only can blogging get you fired, it can also prevent you from getting hired.

Randy Cohen, in his Ethicist column at the New York Times, responds to a woman upset after she was Googled before a job interview. She had written in her blog that someone on the search committee was a belligerent jerk; when he read the blog, he canceled the interview.

Was he ethical? Cohen says that although there are problems with Googling potential employees (accuracy, questions of sex and race, information about your personal life), ethics isn't one of them.

Even if her lack of tact hadn't kept her from being hired, her lack of common sense should have.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Pointless distinctions

[This post from a week ago was eaten by technology at some point, so I'm reposting.]

John McIntyre makes excellent points in this You Don't Say post -- about changing copy that doesn't need to be changed.

He includes over vs. more than. The AP rule says:
over It generally refers to spatial relationships:

More than is preferred with numerals: Their salaries went up more than $20 a week
John points out that over has been used this way in English since the 14th century. We should get over it already, he says; I agree.

Next on John's list is attorney vs. lawyer. The AP rule says:
In common usage the words are interchangeable.

Technically, however, an attorney is someone (usually, but not necessarily, a lawyer) empowered to act for another. Such an individual occasionally is called an attorney in fact.

A lawyer is a person admitted to practice in a court system. Such an individual occasionally is called an attorney at law.
The first sentence of the AP entry really says it all: The words are interchangeable. Not even lawyers maintain the distinction; why should we?

The third example John gives is like vs. such as. He writes:
Another editing tic is that like must be used only to indicate resemblance and that such as must be used to introduce an example. An error like that would likely be changed to an error such as that, to little purpose.
There is a lot of disagreement on this rule. Most people ignore it, but Bill Walsh, for one, thinks it is a distinction worth observing. (See the Capital Idea post here.) But John makes the point that such widespread disagreement "suggests that editors might have better things to do with their time than to make these substitutions."

I have a few other rules I'd like to see copy editors question more:

Another vs. an additional
AP says: "Another is not a synonym for additional; it refers to an element that somehow duplicates a previously stated quantity." If you have $5, you can be given another $5, but not another $6. I can't see how this distinction serves any purpose, and I think it's lost on almost all readers.

AP says: "It usually means no single one. When used in this sense, it always takes singular verbs and pronouns: None of the seats was in its right place." I'd say it's quite the contrary, usually used as a plural these days. But it can be either, depending on what's being stressed. Let your ear be your guide.

Last vs. past
AP says: "Avoid the use of last as a synonym for latest if it might imply finality. The last time it rained, I forgot my umbrella, is acceptable. But: The last announcement was made at noon may leave the reader wondering whether the announcement was the final announcement, or whether others are to follow." Many copy editors' solution is to always change last to past. But when you review the AP rule, you can see that that's not what was intended. Just be cognizant of the possibility of confusion.

An interesting side note: I had been used to changing last to past early in my career. But when I came to the Dallas Morning News, I was surprised to find this entry in the local stylebook: "'Last five months" is preferred when referring to that period immediately preceding. Of course the months are past." So ... many copy editors here changed past to last by rote, instead of the other way around. And that shows you just how ridiculous a rule it is. The desk chief, Joel Thornton, has since gotten rid of the rule with a memo titled "Last or past? I don't care."
The DMN stylebook prefers last, but there are conflicting opinions on whether the last four days or the past four days is more correct. Use either one; it's not something we should waste time on.
That pretty much sums it up. But it also underscores another important point: Make sure there is unity on the desk before you start ignoring AP style rules willy-nilly. The stylebook is there for consistency's sake, and if we all ignore the rules we don't agree with, we defeat the stylebook's purpose.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

For free

Have you been taught to never allow for free? That it's too wordy, the for isn't necesssary? Omit needless words? Read this piece from Arnold Zwicky at Language Log.

His best argument against automatically replacing for free with just free or without charge or for nothing is that for free often sounds better. Consider: I shoveled the neighbors' snow free vs. I shoveled the neighbors' snow for free. For free is much better.

Some people argue that for free isn't just wordy; it's wrong -- because it combines a preposition and an adjective. Zwicky comes up with plenty of other examples of prepositions and adjectives that no one rails against (for sure, in short). And then he plays the trump card: It's an idiom. Even if there were rules for free was breaking, it gets a pass. Idioms get to break rules.

Does this mean you should always leave for free? Not necessarily; there may be times when plain old free sounds better. But no more knee-jerk deleting just because a journalism teacher once told you to.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Copy editor salary vs. lawyer salary

A magazine copy editor who loves her job writes in to a Salon advice columnist:
How do I get my husband to stop telling me that I make too little money? I am a full-time copy editor at a magazine, making what copy editors make when they first start out in their careers. I love my job and feel that I am well suited for it; unfortunately, the pay is crap (you're well aware of this, I believe). ...

He associates with a lot of attorneys whose wives are also attorneys or hold high-paying positions, and these people live it up in a way that we can't. This frustrates my husband and sometimes when we're confronted with this, he'll ask me why I can't get a better-paying job, perhaps go to law school and become an attorney myself. ...

Do I need to suck it up, start bringing home half the bacon? Am I being a slacker? My heart tells me no, but maybe that's just because my mind is screaming, "I don't want to work any harder than I have to!"
Read the response here. It has little to do with the tribulations of a copy editor's salary and more to do with solving relationship problems, but you may easily be dealing with both.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

More Olympic speak

The Sacramento Bee has a story about podium as a verb, complete with a nod of approval from Geoffrey Nunberg.

"I like 'to podium,' " says Geoffrey Nunberg, a linguist at the School of Information at the University of California, Berkeley, and the chairman of the American Heritage Dictionary's usage panel. "About 20 percent of the verbs in English began their lives as (nouns), and most don't encounter much resistance on the way in."

In these Games alone, you can hear such verbal cousins of the word podium as ski, bobsled, skate, lap and slalom.

"Not to mention the old reliable 'He nailed it!' " Nunberg says. "Nouns in French, Italian and German can't pinch-hit as verbs with such abandon. Think of it as a sign of the versatility of the English language."

Language Log also has a bit on podium as a verb, and Benjamin Zimmer cites an example as far back as 1992.

In a separate piece, Zimmer nicely sums up the Turin/Torino debate, pointing out that USA Today is one of the few news outlets using Torino. He also shares part of a Wall Street Journal Article on the history of the area:
Italians cringe at English names for their cities, such as Florence for Firenze and Leghorn for Livorno. The irony is that Turin isn't an anglicized form of Torino at all. The area around the city was first settled by Celtic tribes in the third century B.C., and the name Turin derives from the Celtic word "tau" for mountains. Torino is the Italian derivation, and happens to mean "little bull." The city was known as Turin when it became the first capital of the Kingdom of Italy in 1861.

David Kertzer, a professor of anthropology and Italian studies at Brown University, notes that, in the fading dialect of the local Piedmont region, the city is still known as Turin, with the accent on the second syllable. Historically, he says, the region "is closer to France than Italy linguistically and geographically."

English's millionth word?

A Harvard-trained executive and language lover, president of the Global Language Monitor, has some predictions about English.

The English language had precisely 986,120 words at the time of this interview, Paul Payack said. And it should incorporate its millionth word sometime in June. (The OED, in contrast, includes about 600,000 words.)

What are his qualifications to make such predictions? Nil, it seems. Linguists say he's full of it.
Mr. Payack's word count is hotly disputed by linguists, who cannot even agree on what a word is, much less count them. Are IBM and CNN words? Are color and colour two words, or one? What about Latin scientific words, or the million words for species of plants and insects?
Payack would say yes. He also counts text messaging shorthand as new words (I CN for I can). And he has people sending in entries from around the globe (drinktea, for what a Chinese shopkeeper puts on the door to explain why he's closed for business, or fundoo, an English word for cool among Hindi speakers).

The story also includes some fun facts:

50,000 to 60,000
Number of words in Old English

20,000 to 24,000
Number of words found in the complete works of Shakespeare

Number of words Shakespeare invented

Approximate number of words in the vocabulary of a baby aged 18 to 24 months

10,000 to 50,000
Estimated number of words in the vocabulary of an average adult

Number of words an educated adult understands but doesn't actively use

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Hoping to podium, despite feeling all Olympic-y

Bob Wolfley, a sports columnist at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, complains about the snowboarding world saying they hope to podium at the Olympics.

And several bloggers have made the same complaint. Even classic descriptivists find the usage grating.

Is this a term just invented by snowboarders stoked at making it to the Olympics? No.

A skier was quoted in the Aspen Times last month saying he had been "hoping to podium." And in March 2004, a skier told the Calgary Herald the same. A cyclist used the phrase in December here. And a motocross rider used in here it in 2004.

From a Washington Post story about swimmer Michael Phelps in June, 2004:
He quickly got the attention of the corporate world, betting that he would podium often in Athens, as one executive put it, and eager to bask in the halo of his fame.
I get it, I get it: As keepers of the language, we must abhor such verbing. And podiuming is worse than even contacting and impacting.

But let's lighten up. I found the California slang of the Flying Tomato and other snowboarders endearing. Most of these guys are kids, after all. I wouldn't endorse the phrase for reporters. But it's exactly the kind of color reporters should look for in quotes.

And that Shaun White, he's full of color. Language Log has a post about his saying he screwed up on his first halfpipe qualifying round because he felt all "Olympic-y."

No substitute for professionals

Craigslist founder Craig Newmark (faulted for costing newspapers much of their livelihood -- the classifieds) talks about a personal interest in some citizen journalism (emphasis mine):
If you've read my blog lately, you'll notice I've been emphasizing recently a balance and merging of professional and citizen journalism. The deal is, there's no substitute for professional-level writing and fact-checking and editing. One of the tenets of the effort I'm involved with is to drive more traffic to professional news sites. People have gotten too excited about citizen journalism, and they're not addressing the balance well.
(Via Romenesko)

Your first copy editing job

Joe Grimm, recruiter at the Detroit Free Press, offers advice to a student on how to get a copy-editing internship:
Copy editors are in high demand at newspapers, but newspapers typically value experience above all other qualifications. We even want intern applicants to have some experience. The hands-on experience you crave will be critical to seeing whether you really like the work and to ultimately getting a job. As you are still in school, I suggest you start with a campus publication.

Once you have enough experience to decide that you love the work, many newspapers will rely on that and a copy editing test to see whether you're employable.

What will be on that copy-editing test? You'll have to edit stories -- answer questions on AP style, fix errors with spelling, grammar and punctuation, and write headlines and cutlines. You may also be quizzed on current events.

Here's a good place to get started.

Buckshot fun at the Post

From NewsDesigner: Check out the Washington Post's treatment of the Cheney shooting in its Style section.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Podcasts for word nerds

Slate shares some amateur podcasts appropriate for word lovers:

Podictionary is an audio word of the day (iTunes feed).

The Word Nerds looks especially promising. The weekly episodes are about 30 minutes long and have such intriguing titles as "Games Nerds Play," "Insidious Idioms" and "Our Linguistic Pet Peeves" (iTunes feed).

And while you're getting hooked on podcasts, may I suggest On the Media's? (The programs are available Fridays, and transcripts are available the following Tuesday, if you're not into the whole podcast thing.)

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Olympic notes

AP style calls for:
Olympics, the Olympic Games, the Winter Olympics, the games
ski, skis, skier, skied, skiing, ski jump, ski jumping

And it is Turin or Torino? Most papers seem to be going with Turin (as the city), with some mentions of Torino 2006 as the official name of the event. Plenty of people are explaining their decisions to readers. Here's but a sampling:

Italian Englished [You Don't Say]
Why isn't it Torino? Because it's not Italia [San Jose Mercury News]
Turin or Torino? [Houston Chronicle]
Aahh, Torino: Turin is a turn for the worse [San Francisco Chronicle]
As the world Turins, or Torinos? [Fort Worth Star-Telegram]

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Good spelling, bad judging

An eighth-grader was ejected from a spelling bee -- after spelling her word, "discernible," correctly. She finished in third place.

Her parents -- trying to be respectful, they said -- waited until the bee was over to double-check the spelling in a dictionary and alert the judges. But by then it was too late. The rules stipulate that the judges' decision must be challenged immediately.

I'm with the mom, Cindy Beckman, here: "Spellers and academic children don't get all the accolades that the sports kids do. This is one of their few chances to shine, to get attention -- and look what happens."

But I'll have to part ways with her here: "I'll take this to the U.S. Supreme Court. I will take this to the international court of law to fight for my baby's rights."

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Around the Web

>The" irritating" verb opt and Norway's Benedict Arnold [M-W Wordwatch column]
>Red diaper babies and the many meanings of soldier [Richard Creed column]
>Note to high school English teachers: Splitting infinitives is OK [James Kilpatrick column]
>"The Electric Company," with all its grammar lessons, is out on DVD [Newsday]
>Scientists find ability for grammar hardwired in humans [University of Rochester]
>Brain aneurysm kills longtime copy editor after shift [Editor & Publisher]
>Paper pays respects to State Journal copy editor [The Capital Times of Madison, Wis.]

Monday, February 06, 2006

For comparison's sake

The Washington Post's ombudsman, Deborah Howell, solicits feedback from D.C.-area readers in her column this week and offers some insight into the paper's resources for local news.

Out of the 700 full-timers in the newsroom, a fourth (170) work on local news, and 25 of them are copy editors.

"More than 90 percent of The Post's circulation comes within 50 miles of the U.S. Capitol," she writes. "That's about 678,780 copies a day on weekdays and 965,900 copies on Sunday."

He's got your cornerback

Still scratching your head over some of the Super Bowl terminology you heard (or, more likely, slept through) last night? William Safire has your back.

And he includes a bonus grammatical gripe:
Announcers and analysts tossing around the jargon should beware the press coverage of the Nitpickers League. When players of one team trail by one field goal, they will be said to be "within three points of a tie." Patrick Sullivan of The Lakeville Journal of Connecticut writes: "No. If they were within three, they'd be behind by two." That grammarian has found his point of attack.
I hear this in basketball a lot more than in football, and it drives me to drink (or maybe that's just the excitement of the game): "Braeuer makes a free throw to pull the Shockers to within two." They're always talking about being two points away from a tie; it's ridiculous.

Language as tectonic plates

I like how John McIntyre summed up the changing of language in this post on You Don't Say.
Like the tectonic plates in geological theory whose shifting and grinding explain volcanoes and earthquakes, the language we speak and write is moving beneath our feet, sometimes slowly, sometimes explosively. ... But since we cannot tell with any certainty where the language is going, it is left to us to exercise judgment, individually and collectively, about what constitutes clarity and precision. We resist when we judge it right to do so, and we surrender when it is prudent.
Just last week, I was saying the same thing, much less eloquently, in a discussion of blogging for copy editors. The benefit of online conversations that I cherish the most is seeing where other copy editors stand on some of these languages changes -- and becoming aware of arguments I'd have never thought of on my own.

Friday, February 03, 2006

MTV hiring a copy editor

Here's the job post, from MediaBistro:
MTV News is looking for a copy editor to work with online news, features and other editorial projects in our Times Square headquarters. Responsibilities include:
* Day-to-day editing of news stories, features and reviews, which includes line editing, copy editing and fact checking on a tight deadline.

* Crafting smart and engaging headlines, subheads, promotional copy, etc.

* Working with newswriters to help shape larger features.

* Developing and maintaining an appropriate voice and tone to correspond with our audience's interests and attitude; also working directly with writers to develop and maintain that voice, stressing the importance of connecting with our target audience.

* Contributing to daily content meetings and brainstorming gatherings.

* Staying on top of what's happening on MTV as well as the greater issues, trends and personalities that are important to our audience.

Basically, are you a wiz at writing engaging headlines? Do you know your AP style guide inside and out? Can you turn 1,200 words from a wet-behind-the-ears freelancer into 800 words that sing? And can you keep your cool on a deadline that's measured in minutes, not hours or days? Then we're looking for you.
They want you to have two years' experience, preferably in magazines or online news.

Apply at MTV.

Lesson learned?

A Chicago Tribune blog covers the firing of Matt Donegan:
Repeat after me: If you wouldn't say it over dinner with adult members of your family, don't say it in a blog. Because the tricky part of this Internet deal, people are beginning to understand, is that everybody can access it. That means mom, dad, the screw-up cousin whose repeated life mismanagement you and your buddies on Friendster find so hilarious.

It also means, yes, your boss. And Dover, Delaware, newspaper reporter Matt Donegan was the latest to find this out. He got Dooced. His blog is too offensive and, how to put this, moronic to link to here, but if you really want to see it (of course you do), check out the Romenesko coverage. Even putting aside the parts where he thinks repeating racial stereotypes qualifies as humor writing, I'd have fired Donegan for micro stupidity (the postings themselves) and macro stupidity (not understanding the implications of a blog).

Thursday, February 02, 2006


Does anyone know of copy desks, besides the Dallas Morning News', that have four-day workweeks?

I'm curious, and I'm sure others would be, too.

Update: Thanks for the inquiries, but, no, I'm not looking for a new job. Just wanting to share information on a great job perk.

Internet access in Cleveland

Reading this story about why some hotels charge for Internet access and some don't prompted me to check out the rules at the Renaissance Cleveland Hotel, where the ACES conference will be held.
They charge -- $9.95 a night for a high-speed connection (with free local and long-distance calling thrown in). There's wireless access in the public areas; I assume that's free.

AP style update

Speedskating is now one word, to follow the usage of the sanctioning organization.

No copy-editing Pulitzers yet

Roy Peter Clark sang the praises of copy editors yesterday in a piece on NPR's "Day to Day."

With the Feb. 1 deadline for print journalists to send in their work to the Pulitzer committee, NPR tied the two together with the headline "A Pulitzer Prize for Copy Editing." (Copy editing as two words!)

But Clark's essay is really just a cute story about a memory from childhood -- a 10-year-old's crush on a bad-ass older girl with a spelling problem. Since, he's had "a romantic attraction to copy editors, a writerly fetish if there ever was one."

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Correct punctuation wins!

The punctuating public in San Jose is incensed over a new plaque at Stanford that says "the Stanford's purchased 'the farm' from the Gordon's in 1876."

The Mercury News story says the wording is "historically accurate," and I'm not sure what that means. (Is the plaque quoting something? Or is the reporter just saying that the Stanfords did indeed purchase land from the Gordons? It's not clear.)

In any case, the uproar persuaded Stanford to change the plaque.

(Link via Regret the Error)

And what is that?

Editor & Publisher's managing editor has a column calling for the eradication of the phrase "it is what it is." Here's the headline:
'It Is What It Is'? Well, Not Actually.
Beware the phrase that doesn't pay: "It is what it is," one of the most deflective, idiotic phrases ever to creep into the vernacular, is being heard from pro football coaches, film directors, and, amazingly, the president's press secretary. It's time to draw the line.

ACES conference reminder

Today is the last day to send in early registration (at the cheapest rate) for the ACES conference. Here's the registration sheet (pdf). Here's the tentative schedule.

Doug Fisher and I will again present a session on blogging for editors. Let me know if there are any new topics you think we should cover this year -- or any subjects from last year that deserve to be mentioned again.