Wednesday, June 30, 2004

He reports; you decide

Could Bill Walsh be a usage apologist?

He says the thought first came to him when he found himself arguing that "10 items or less" is just fine, rather than "10 items or fewer." (I disagree, but I'm not the successful author.)

Bill's inviting you to come up with examples of rationalization, and he starts us off with some fun ones:
* I could care less vs. I couldn't care less
* Try and vs. try to
* Let me alone vs. leave me alone
He gives some fun excuses why all of the above could be acceptable. See what you think.

When will it end?

The campus paper for the University of Central Florida reveals that a former reporter plagiarism and fabricated stories.

As a result, the paper has increased the staff size to hire fact checkers.

The media hack

Wired News is starting a weekly column on the media and how it relates to the Internet.

The reporter is Adam Penenberg, who helped break the story of fabricator Stephen Glass.
In the coming months, I'll study how traditional publishers are approaching the Internet, and analyze the ways politicians and corporations spin the news and how info consumers process this information. I'll dissect blogs, which some believe could lead to a democratization of news (although in my opinion they merely represent the democratization of punditry) and report on trends.

Whenever possible, I'll try to point out when reporters distort facts or advance personal agendas (it happens). Mostly, I'll take a good hard look the evolving state of media in the online world, where more and more people are spending their time and money.
Should be an interesting read.

Big news in the Big Apple

Merrill Perlman has been named the director of copy desks, a new position, at the New York Times. She has been managing editor of the NYT News Service since 1999.

Does her name sound familiar? It should. She has been a mainstay at the newspaper since 1983. And she's active in ACES.

Read a synopsis of a presentation she gave at the last ACES conference here. (It's great advice on pinpointing holes in stories.) There's a nice picture of her there, too. Put a face to the name.

Tuesday, June 29, 2004

Verb appeal

If everyone's reading grammar books, does that mean that elitist copy editors and bookish types will lose their panache?

On Language and on Safire

William Safire writes about the phrase "gone missing." There are many who would say the usage is incorrect, and there was a time it grated on my ears, as well. But what's a good replacement? I feel the same about "gone missing" as I do about "proactive." Here's what Safire had to say:
No other term quite encapsulates "to become lost inexplicably and unexpectedly," which connotes suspicion of trouble. From the most serious loss (a person kidnapped, or a soldier unaccounted for or absent without leave) to an irritating minor loss (an object is mislaid), to go missing -- always in its past tense, went, or past participle, gone -- conveys a worried, nonspecific meaning that no other word or phrase quite does.
There's a nice discussion (not just a post; they've added comments!) over at Language Log about the article. Read the whole thing, but here's my favorite part: when they break down Safire's use of the idiom panacea.

Safire says:
because gone missing has acquired the status of an idiom, which is "an unassailable peculiarity," it is incorrect to correct it. As the fumblerule goes, "Idioms is idioms." Relax and enjoy them.
Language Log says:
Safire seems to completely buy the idea that usage can trump what would otherwise be good grammar. All you have to do is find an excuse to label your preferred usage idiomatic, and it's just fine and dandy with the relaxed Mr. Safire. For idioms may be peculiar, but as everyone knows, they are unassailable.
This reminds me of the debate over "on condition of anonymity" vs. "on the condition of anonymity." That basically boiled down to: "One the condition" is grammatically correct, but omitting the "the" has become idiomatic.

Too bizarre

The woman who lied to the Topeka Capital-Journal about her experiences on the Bataan Death March, Juanita Smith, is involved in another mystery: A decomposing body of a woman was found in her house.

The C-J's story implies that the dead woman (who may have been there since March) is Smith's daughter and that an "unresponsive elderly woman" at the home is Smith. But police aren't releasing names.

Very, very strange.

Monday, June 28, 2004

Lesson learned

An assistant news editor learns the dictionary definition of decimate. And so does the copy desk.)
I learned recently that this word does not mean what I thought it did.

Had I been paying a bit more attention in Magistra Vernon's ninth-grade Latin class, I would have known that "decimate" comes from the word "decimatus," meaning the killing of every 10th person, a punishment used in the Roman army for mutinous legions.

The Centre Daily Times used this word in a headline recently to refer to the effect of the Abu Ghraib prison scandal on the U.S. military. The torture at the Iraqi prison may have undermined the credibility of the Army, but obviously, the scandal has not killed every 10th U.S. soldier.
But in the process, readers discover some of the hardships of life on the rim.
A reader may never know, for example, that in one story, a reporter had misidentified a local township supervisor, had credited Kurt Vonnegut with writing "Catch-22" and had misspelled "misspelled." Each of those mistakes was caught by a vigilant copy editor who that same night also had to lay out five pages and write a headline for a story about the governor of California without using the name of the actor-turned-politician because "Schwarzenegger" wouldn't fit on one line.

I took a hike

I've been camping outside Wichita, the outdoors mecca that it is. Regular posts will now resume.

Friday, June 25, 2004

Dropping the F-bomb

The Washington Post chose not to censor Dick Cheney's remarks when he, arguing with Patrick Leahy about Halliburton, said, "Fuck yourself."

I don't think that's a bad call. Their article does not use the word gratuitously. And, really, what *is* the real difference between writing "Fuck yourself" and writing "F--- yourself"? The news is the word. If people are worried about children reading it, fine. Even children will be able to figure out the story is there because people were upset he used the word. It's not a bedtime story, but it's a fine lesson in appropriate behavior nonetheless.

But is it really news? I'd say yes, especially given the administration's chiding of Kerry when he used the word in a criticism of Bush's policies in Iraq.
"That's beneath John Kerry," Chief of Staff Andrew H. Card Jr. said. "I'm very disappointed that he would use that kind of language. I'm hoping that he's apologizing at least to himself, because that's not the John Kerry that I know."
And just think about some of the "inappropriate" topics that made it into the paper during the impeachment hearings.


More chicanery at newspapers that could have been avoided:

At the Topeka Capital-Journal, an 86-year-old sex educator said she was a survivor of the Bataan Death March. A reader's e-mail that something sounded fishy went unheeded, and more than a month later the truth was discovered. The managing editor, who fielded the reader e-mail, has resigned.

And it appears a copy editor has caught nationally syndicated financial guru Dave Ramsey making up names (Why stop there? Maybe he didn't?) for the submitted questions he answers in his columns. Although Ramsey blames an underling, five Gannett papers have dropped his column so far.

Thursday, June 24, 2004

When a photo isn't worth a thousand words

Ever see a newspaper photo that missed the mark? Perhaps this could be the culprit: Morning News photographer Mark Hancock explains the tradition of sucking at the shoots you don't like:
Don't get good at what you don't want to shoot. ... A seasoned shooter told me this truth: if a particular kind of assignment is repulsive to one photojournalist, the PJ should not kill her/himself on the assignment.
And next time you're editing a story that's worse than death itself, just write a shitty headline. Maybe your boss will figure out you deserve only the plums.

UPDATE: Mark has updated his site to clarify:
We do our best at every assignment. However we don't rent a helicopter to take a photo of a "For Sale" sign in a field during a lightning storm.

Wednesday, June 23, 2004

Quick -- find a longer title!

This is the longest title I've seen in a while: Charles Abell, the principal deputy undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness.

My fellow-punctuation-fans

Language expert Mark Liberman (of Language Log) admits: He is uninterested in punctuation:
Give me a choice between reading about the order of quotation marks and commas or perusing a random phone book, and I'll dive right into the A's.
But then he dives right in to whether "fellow Americans" should be hyphenated.

The New Yorker, he points out, hyphenates fellow constructions consistently. But most other American publications do not, including the New York Times, the Washington Post and the Atlantic.

There are some rules to back up the hyphenation. This list of rules, for example, says you "use a hyphen to unify most compounds having brother, father, mother, sister, etc. as the first element." It gives such examples as brother-workers, sister-cities and fellow-workers.

I would never hyphenate such a construction, though. And I find it just as jarring as Liberman.

Homicide bombers

Bill Walsh provides further evidence that "homicide bombers" is an overblown reaction to "suicide bombers."

He's presented with the assertion that the term is necessary to differentiate from the friendly bombers who take care to target buildings and property, not people. He replies:
My view is that if "homicide bombers" were necessary, the term would have been invented long ago -- not just recently and just in reaction to one political wing's objection to "[something else]-icide bombers."
And then he does a little research to prove it.

Also, take a look at the type of civilized letters he receives from readers. Truly shocking!

How to survive as a copy editor

Feeling stressed? Burnt out on the job? Considering stealing your assignment editor's parking spot?

Tom Mangan has come up with the perfect solution to keeping your mind and body at peace, always spry for the day of editing that awaits.

Move to the country and enjoy peaceful strolls. Get to know the mildlife.

What do you mean, crappie?

Copy-editing mistakes in the great outdoors.

Tuesday, June 22, 2004

Free the peeves

Barbara Wallraff has a new copy-editing pet peeve for you to free at her Web site.

Not a good headline

I suppose it's time to remind everyone: Sex adjectives do not belong in Clinton headlines.

Those who can't, teach?

"Bad Comma" in June 28's edition of the New Yorker skewers Lynne Truss' "Eats, Shoots Leaves." Author Louis Menand points out inconsistencies and downright errors that are hard to ignore.
“Eats, Shoots & Leaves” presents itself as a call to arms, in a world spinning rapidly into subliteracy, by a hip yet unapologetic curmudgeon, a stickler for the rules of writing. But it’s hard to fend off the suspicion that the whole thing might be a hoax.
Titles are missing hyphens (although Menand doesn't mention this problem), nonrestrictive clauses are missing commas, semicolons are sprinkled about willy-nilly.
The main rule in grammatical form is to stick to whatever rules you start out with, and the most objectionable thing about Truss’s writing is its inconsistency. Either Truss needed a copy editor or her copy editor needed a copy editor. Still, the book has been a No. 1 best-seller in both England and the United States.
So, why did someone "who is not just vague about the rules but disinclined to follow them" write a book about punctuation? Menand chalks the book's popularity up to the "I'm mad as hell" act. Truss is so disturbed by missing commas that she takes to vandalism, "criminal damage." From Menand:
Some people do feel this way, and they do not wish to be handed the line that “language is always evolving,” or some other slice of liberal pie. They don’t even want to know what the distinction between a restrictive and a non-restrictive clause might be. They are like people who lose control when they hear a cell phone ring in a public place: they just need to vent. Truss is their Jeremiah. They don’t care where her commas are, because her heart is in the right place.
There are enough errors in the book to be annoying but not enough to do real damage among people looking to learn more, I'd say. I'm happy with raising punctuation consciousness, as silly as that sounds.

But the armchair editors who call copy desks about every misplaced comma, the would-be experts who'll quote this like the Bible == these people, I fear.

Monday, June 21, 2004

Pitchfork regrets the error

Want to make sure everyone sees your correction? Make it your homepage.

Per usual

Mark Liberman of Language Log breaks down the use of "Per Usual" in Eric Umansky's "Today's Papers," which appear on Slate.
Umansky appears to have written 550 of the 2481 Today's Papers pieces in Slate's archives (can the feature really have been running for 2481/365 = 6 years and nine months? I guess so!). Each of these pieces is around a thousand words long, so Umansky has used per usual 4 times in 550,000 words, or about 7.27 per million words, whereas the other Today's Papers writers have used the same phrase 0 times in about 1.93 million words (and yes, I know that it is silly to use three significant figures when my estimate of article length has only one...). If the other writers had the same propensity to use per usual that Umansky does, we would have expected to see about 14 instances. Without doing the statistical calculations in detail, we can guess that 0 is significantly different from 14, over this span of time and text.
I'm not sure what it signifies, but it's interesting to note.

In the "I wish I'd done that" category

There were signs up throughout the newspaper directing people to the photo department that had been secretly bothering me for days:
I longed to see Steve Nash or Vince Carter somewhere so I could send them up. Or a random Little Leaguer or gymnast or tee-baller in full uniform. Perhaps one of the numerous runners in the newsroom would bring in their marathon numbers for a shot?

But two days later, I noticed, someone had added the much-needed hyphen after all.

High-school standouts only, from there on out.

And now for something completely different

I love this language note in the middle of an article.

Really, I'm not joking. (Well, OK, it would work better to the side instead of interrupting the story. But work with it.)

It's like sidebars to a really interesting story. You can move your eyes a couple of inches to find fascinating background without interrupting your flow; you only drift when you're ready.

It reminds me of some of the better textbooks in school, which isn't bad. People read papers because they are curious. And everyone likes to learn new things now and again.

Care to share?

Any comments on this headline?


A newspaper boss has banned a designer from posting on the Visual Editors board and mentioning his or her place of employment.

Another champion of a free press quashes information he's not in control of.

Reads, Chortles, & Smirks

Timothy Noah of Slate, curious about the fuss over "Eats, Shoots, & Leaves," bought a copy. He learned little and decided the popularity was American smugness;
Truss wants you to read her book not to learn the rules of punctuation but to join her in bewailing, as you review these rules, the sorry ignorance of those who don't know them. It's to feel superior, and smug, and, well, almost … English. This last doesn't explain its success in England, but don't underestimate its appeal in America. Truss' book should be titled Reads, Chortles, & Smirks. Rather than read it, I recommend you pick up a book about something you don't know much about. Everyone is ignorant about something.

Like vs. such as

James Kilpatrick takes the New York Times to task in his column this week. His gripe? Like vs. such as.

He makes two points. First, briefly, he considers possible confusion:
For example, "Contemporary writers like Norman Mailer and Annie Dillard have worked in Provincetown." The "like" in this construction creates an IH - an Infinitesimal Hesitation. For the nanosecond, we wonder which of five "likes" we confront. Is it the verb? Is the Times saying that certain writers "are fond of" something? No! This "like" is a preposition! This "like" means "such as."
Second, he points out that, often, writers are making no comparison at all, rendering "like" nonsensical.
Questions: Who are these masters like Picasso, industrial towns like Birmingham, officials like Governor Pataki and scholars like Warren Zimmerman? What are these movies like "Gladiator," these classics like "Swan Lake"? Where are communities like Veronawalk and Grandezza? A Times critic commented in March on Super Bowl TV commercials "featuring characters like a flatulent horse." Aaargh!
He then points out that no matter how many times the Times gets it wrong, the Washington Post is sure to get it right, "a model in this field."

Saturday, June 19, 2004

Looking for a job in magazines?

Automobile Magazine, in Ann Arbor, Mich., is hiring a copy editor. They want someone with "at least one to three years of experience." I think they need you.

Men's Health in Emmaus, Pa., (near Allentown) wants a temporary part-time proofreader. Apply here. They're also searching for a fact-checker. Apply here.

Friday, June 18, 2004

Spell check doesn't have all the answers

Here's another "Word Wars" review, complete with spelling error in the headline.
To the uninitiated, Scrabble might seem like a genteel, spinsterish parlor game. This audience-pleasing new documentary exposes high-stakes, thrill-a-minute competitions in which passionate rivalries abound, temper tantrums are thrown and herbal brainstimulant pills are consumed with abandon.

My kind of summer reading

The Chicago Tribune reviews two books that are great for word mavens. One, Barbara Wallraff's "Your Own Words," I should have mentioned here long ago. It's a usage manual -- and I have way too much fun reading usage manuals.

The review says:
While Wallraff has a healthy appetite for lengthy lexical hunts, she doesn't lose sleep over violations of minor rules or antiquated standards. To a reader who is distraught about the prevalence of "proactive," Wallraff replies that the word has been around since the 1930s, and advises, "I'm not saying you have to use it or even like it, but good grief, lighten up!"
Funny how these topics all cycle back through here.

The second book, "Going Nucular: Language, Politics, and Culture in Confrontational Times," is by Stanford linguist Geoffrey Nunberg. It's more linguistic sampler than usage manual -- but covers topics just as important for copy editors to think about. C'mon, we are the keepers of the language.
Nunberg is content to describe the history and constantly changing character of words and their meanings. Since the selections in "Going Nucular" date back to 2001, the book serves as a map of the lexical landscape after Sept. 11, with commentaries on "patriotism," "infidel," "evil" and the lyrics of the national anthem.
Nunberg also poses some questions on topics of less gravity. Why do we speak of African-American or working-class Democrats but never of African-American or working class liberals? It's as though "liberal" connotes not only politics but also privilege, he writes.
I'm looking forward to reading both of these. It'll be a nice change from the good but fluffy "Good in Bed" and "In Her Shoes" by former Inky reporter Jennifer Weiner that I just finished.

Any other suggestions, word-related or not?

Wednesday, June 16, 2004


A documentary about the Scrabble-obsessed.
There is a dedicated community of people for whom SCRABBLE is more than a domestic nicety – it is an obsession. They devote years of their lives to mental and physical preparation and travel the country – some full-time – competing in cutthroat tournaments. The dictionary is studied with religious devotion, each obscure word another weapon for the ultimate battle. For some, the game keeps them teetering on the safe side of sanity. For others, it has pushed them just over. Some scrape by on the meager winnings alone.
And here are screening times.

Tuesday, June 15, 2004

Could we? Should we?

The question was presented: Could we have a top 10 list of the nation's best copy editors? (With Phil Blanchard's response: "We're above all that. The best copy editor is someone we've never heard of.")

Well, "best of" lists like this seldom include the best. It's just impossible for us to know the very, very best. But that doesn't mean, on it's face, that we couldn't try.

But what realistic criteria could you use for good editing? What we do depends on what we get. The exception there is headlines, which we create.

So we could make a list of the 10 best headline writers in the nation. That would be feasible, if I had any idea who they were.

Designers have sites such as News Page Designer, where you can view and comment on portfolios, admire your favorite talents, and get ideas for your own pages.

So is it time for a site for copy editors? Where we can load headline examples, see what others did for breaking news, offer advice on what works and what doesn't?


Sunday, June 13, 2004

Getting back in the game

Read a copy editor's story on Poynter.

Change of pace

A day in the life of the OED (Link via Languagehat)

Saturday, June 12, 2004

The nation's best news designers ...

... as named by fellow designers. (On the Visual Editors board.)

The subtlety of word choices

Confused about compose vs. comprise? James Kilpatrick tries to help: Comprise is always active (One should never use "is comprised of.")

And he touches on the importance of choosing the better word in context.

Friday, June 11, 2004

Time for congratulations

The National Fellowship for Copy Editors has announced the 2004 fellows for its Summer Institute for Midcareer Copy Editors. Know anyone on the list? Send a note of congratulations:

Eric Adams of the Providence Journal
Mary Bauer of the St. Paul Pioneer Press
Paul Corbran of the Erie (Pa.) Times-News
Clarke Crutchfield of the Richmond Times-Dispatch
Vijayalata D'Mello of the Des Moines Register
Linda Gilmore of the (Junction City, Kan.) Daily Union
Vincent Kuntz of the Charlotte Observer
Stacey Myers of the Cape Cod Times
Lori Myrland of the (Colorado Springs) Gazette
Rebecca Parr of the San Jose Mercury News
Suzie Remilien of Newsday
Michael Roehrman of the Wichita Eagle
Kerry Schmidt of the Kansas City Star
Allison Stormo of the Tri-City (Wash.) Herald
Lynne Terry of the Oregonian
Ellen Wager of the Tampa Tribune
Jessica Wilcox of the (Lakeland) Ledger
Daniel Wine of the Orlando Sentinel

On pet peeves and proactive

Bill Walsh has created a companion blog to The Slot. And already it is paying dividends.

He points out Barbara Wallraff's site Free the Peeves, a great place for copy editors to test their chops.
Our goal is tolerance – tolerance of legitimate language eccentricities. The English-speaking world has unjustly adopted countless language and punctuation peeves as pets. Our work won’t be done until all peeves are set free.
Try out the four quizzes challenging your ability to differentiate between actual rules and pet peeves.

Bill Walsh did, and missed one. A couple of people pointed out in the comments that they missed one, as well. So, which one was it? The quiz on proactive. (It should be noted that Barbara has slightly edited the wording of the correct answer to be more obviously correct.)

So what's the hang-up on proactive? Bill calls it "an annoying buzzword." Phil Blanchard says "I've never seen a sentence with 'proactive' in it (except a quotation) I couldn't make better without it."

But how? What's the magic acceptable word that means "acting in anticipation of future problems, needs, or changes"?

If there's a quick and elegant fix, I'm OK with it, I guess. But most of the time, I find that proactive works just fine. Even if it was coined by annoying people.

Read on the rim

Mr. Bush declared today a national day of morning. (Pancakes and eggs all day! And we'll have none of that high-falutin' afternoonin'.)

Six Iraqis were killed in the fighting, which erupted a week into a cease-far... (Southern writing taken too far?)

Thursday, June 10, 2004

Sounds pretty nice

The Miami Herald is looking for a copy editor:
The Miami Herald is looking for a copy editor who speaks fluent English and Spanish and has at least 3 years of newspaper copy-editing experience. Candidates should be strong in the basics, have a fanaticism for accuracy and a passion for dynamic headlines. The editor we hire will be working on stories about Latin America and on Hispanic issues in South Florida. Please send a cover letter, resume and clips via e-mail or snail mail to:
Douglas Backstrom
The Miami Herald
Universal copy desk
1 Herald Plaza
Miami, Florida 33132

Dow Jones brings back the spell-check

Dow Jones Newswires sent out a memo today announcing that reporters and editors would be getting back their spell-check. (The news service had banned the use Feb. 16.)
This modified version will identify presumably misspelled words, but it won't permit automatic replacement of challenged words and won't offer suggestions to manually do so. Instead, the checker will move through copy and individually challenge words by highlighting them. It will then be up to the editor or reporter to decide whether to change the word by typing over it or to ignore it by hitting F7 to proceed to the next challenged word.
While I thought the move to ban the spell-check was silly, this seems to me a good compromise. The program can still flag questionable words, but you'll need to change them yourself.

Never go to bed angry

When a husband and wife disagree about the serial comma. (I just love finding people conflicted about this since it can still be such an issue at newspapers that all use the same stylebook. For my views, see this.)

Wednesday, June 09, 2004

The business of grammar

J.P. Morgan Private Bank gives its richest investors a reading list each summer. This year's includes "Eats, Shoots & Leaves."

A Chicago Tribune columnists writes:
The title demonstrates how faulty punctuation confuses a message--about pandas, in this case. But it also captures the muddled state of financial markets faced by J.P. Morgan's clients and all investors as summer rolls in.

We know the key terms of the market outlook, but we can't figure out the correct grammar and punctuation to tell the story.
Looks as if this book is even more pervasive than I thought it would be.

So is this helping or hurting the fortunes of copy editors everywhere?

This problem goes way back

Thomas Jefferson confused his its and it's.

Monday, June 07, 2004

Should we spell how we speak?

Bill Poser writes a thoughtful essay on spelling reform at Language Log, refuting some of the arguments against it.

It's a nice follow-up to this article that Vince Tuss pointed out: Spelling bee protesters 'thru with through.'
The protesters' complaints: English spelling is illogical, and the national spelling bee only reinforces the crazy spellings that they say contribute to dyslexia, high illiteracy and harder lives for immigrants.

Sunday, June 06, 2004

Any marketing experts out there?

A sports columnist tries to show why regular sports fans might be interested in the National Spelling Bee. It's because people are lazy.
In one of my races from A&E to "The X-Files," I come across the National Spelling Bee on ESPN2. And, naturally, I stop. Not just that, but I immediately start developing rooting interests, finding some rational grounds to stay on that channel and that couch.

Because that's what guys do. We can distract ourselves with anything if it means not actually admitting we're bored. Or, even better, if it's a way to avoid doing something productive, like cleaning out the garage.
There you have it.

Saturday, June 05, 2004

Notes on language

James Kilpatrick covers sneaked vs. snuck, awoke vs. awake vs. awakened, and a few other fun irregulars.

Bryan Garner discusses sagacity.

A mini rant

Public schoolchildren is not the same as public school children. Some may even call for a hyphen (gasp!): public-school children.

For checking facts

The Ronald Reagan Presidential Library

It includes bios of Ronald and Nancy, the president's papers, his major speeches, and his exit interviews.

Friday, June 04, 2004

Enough with the spelling, already

I bring you this story not just because I like to say Rancho Cucamonga but because it also pertains to grammar. And not getting to big for your britches.

A freelance writer writes in the L.A. Times about feeling awfully proud after using the phrase "set your sites on."
I was thinking that was clever because I knew this expression pertains not to vision but to weaponry. It's not about fixing one's gaze on something; it's about fixing one's AK-47 on something. So it's not about sight, per se.

I was so proud I knew this that I forgot that it should still be spelled "sight." The thingy you look through when you aim a rifle is called a "sight." So, if you're putting something in your aim, you could say you're setting your sights on it.
A copy editor saved her.


It's all spelling all the time here at A Capital Idea, folks.

Kottke links to Coudal Partner's discovery of a spelling bee scandal (or, more likely, a big coincidence). The winning word "autochthonous" was's Word of the Day a mere 36 hours earlier, on June 2.

What could it mean?

Can they be serious?

I think it's fun that Blogger/Google offers related advertising at the top of the page, based on what I'm blogging. But who are these people kidding?

The two ads now:

Proofreading Editing
Proofreading & Copy Editing affordable
prices 24/7 service


Get It Write
Editing - manuscripts & screenplays Try a
free sample edit now

At least the "Related Searches" shown at the bottom of the ad are for the "new york times newspaper" and "editor and publisher."

More spelling mania

Ashley of "Spellbound" was a hungry girl with a photographic memory, determined at 13 to break her family's cycle of poverty. But a few short years later she became pregnant.
"I was always someone who wanted to be different -- who wanted to work harder, who wanted to achieve more, who wanted to succeed," she said. Instead, "I was basically repeating my family history of teenaged pregnancy. I felt like a failure because everyone had such high expectations for me and thought that I would be the one who would break the cycle."
But a curious viewer of "Spellbound" looked up her up and found her with no more college plans, staying with relative after relative, caring for a toddler.

But help from her and other movie watchers has motivated Ashley to rekindle her own drive. She has enrolled at Howard University, struggled through six classes while living in a homeless shelter, and eventually rented an apartment.

She earned a 3.8 GPA.

Thursday, June 03, 2004

The introduction of eggcorns

Language Log takes a look at the prevalence of inclimate weather instead of inclement weather. The correct version is still 16 times as prevalent as the incorrect, but it's an interesting phenomenon and something to watch out for.

This is as good a time as any to explain the site's eggcorns, for example mistaking the word acorns to be egg corns. They are part mondegreen, part malapropism, words created by a trick of the ear. And they're fantastic fun to read about.

Spokesperson ... for the error sex

Ruth Walker makes a great point at Verbal Energy on the word spokesperson. Why not the more specific spokesman or spokeswoman?
It illustrates the way we seem to be losing an ability to discriminate intelligently between gender-specific language and gender-exclusive language; that is, between language that adds detail and language that excludes.

To be a spokesman or a spokeswoman for an official entity, or even a flaky celebrity, is literally to stand before the press and the public, as a presence with a voice and a gender identity, and to speak with authority for someone else. One who isn't upfront enough, and out front enough, to be identifiably man or woman isn't a spokesman or spokeswoman. He or she is at best a faceless, nameless, voiceless official; or an unnamed source, maybe a snitch.
Add this to the fact that people tend to remember to write spokesman for the men but render the noun sexless for women. What gives?

Spelling madness

I had no idea how huge the bee was. In addition to being on ESPN2, I saw it on ESPN over lunch. And I have been informed that it was also on ESPN Radio.

And read this blog.

Future copy editors of America?

... Because, if we're not the target audience, I don't know who is:

The National Spelling Bee is on ESPN2 right now, till noon Eastern. The final rounds will be on tomorrow from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Eastern.

RELATED: Angela from the documentary "Spellbound" has a blog.

Watch for backfiring gimmicks

The Miami Herald offers one more example of a paper trying to attract younger readers but alienating them instead. A local weekly skewers:
Anybody who is truly in the know,
Says the flea market is the place you gotta go.
Liberty City is where I'm talking about,
Listen up now; I ain't gonna shout.

Those are just four of the 66 wince-worthy lines the Miami Herald printed last week about shopping at Flea Market USA in Miami-Dade's Liberty City. You know Liberty City. Lots of black people there. Black people rap. Makes sense to cover the flea market in jerky meter and lame rhyme, no?

I'm sure I won't be the first to say this, but juvenile rhymes no more appeal to fans of rap than they appeal to fans of Shakespeare. And if papers keep trying to lure young'ns in such I-have-no-idea-who-these-people-are ways, newspapers are doomed. There, I've said it.

At least the paper's top two editors, exec editor Tom Fiedler and ME Judy Miller, realized something was off.
When we appropriate the language of the group we are writing about, we run a high risk of offending some. What was intended as a positive piece on hip-hop, came across to some as a mocking parody, a gimmick that was short on substance.
However, even they miss one critical point: The author of that piece did not appropriate the language of the group she was writing about. It was a failed attempt. Had she succeeded, the piece wouldn't have been nearly so offensive.

Wednesday, June 02, 2004

Bits and pieces

A 233-page book with no verbs.

And for all you language prescriptivists: An editor complains about slang -- in 1970.

The man behind skateboarders' ollie, which recently entered the OED as a noun and intransitive verb.
"Once you're in there," Alan "Ollie" Gelfand said one recent night, "they can't take you out. That's the funk, the definitive version of the whole language."
The public editor for Akron's paper says there is a liberal media bias and quotes a "liberal copy editor" who said she "tended to be overly conservative" in her headline writing to "guarantee there is no bias."


Home at last. Blogs TK.

Tuesday, June 01, 2004

Will you find the next Jayson Blair?

AJR has a story worth checking out that covers how copy editors can catch plagiarizers.
Every copy editor now knows of the "danger signs" of plagiarized copy--abrupt shifts in vocabulary or syntax, aspects to a story that don't seem like the writer's usual work, single-sourced stories.

One Sun copy editor recently found plagiarism in a staff-written story, McIntyre says. When checking the spelling of a place name online, the copy editor noticed a sentence on a Web site identical to what the Sun reporter had written. It turned out the story included six passages taken verbatim from two different Web sites. The story was spiked.

McIntyre says: "We want copy editors to be aware that this might crop up in virtually anything they handle."
Several newspaper managers discuss the importance of being receptive to corrections.
To make sure that bosses at the Charlotte Observer hear all concerns that need to be aired about the paper, they've laid down a little law. "Our main rule here," says Deputy Managing Editor Cheryl Carpenter, "is the only sure way to get yourself in real trouble is to blow off a reader or blow off a colleague that has a concern about your story." Some Observer reporters have even been disciplined for ignoring a reader. "We were trying to show the staff that not having a conversation about a reader's concern is a higher sin than publishing a correction," she says.

A gentle reminder

Watch what you quote in headlines.