Friday, July 30, 2004

A new job for Michael Moore?

Surprise! Moore is catching more flak from "Fahrenheit 9/11," this time from the Bloomington Pantagraph in Illinois.

The paper says the movie shows a Pantagraph headline, purported to be from Dec. 19, 2001. But the hed didn't run then; it ran Dec. 5. And it wasn't a news headline; it was over a letter to the editor.

A story in the paper says, "If he wants to 'edit' The Pantagraph, he should apply for a copy-editing job." (I assume this is a column, although it has a news category on the top of the Web page.)

The paper wants an apology, an explanation, and compensatory damages of $1.

I'm seeing Moore with green eyeshades at the computer, a la Mark Cuban scooping ice cream at Dairy Queen.

Thursday, July 29, 2004

Keep it clean

Bill Walsh offers some advice on editing down convention copy.

Hoard vs. horde

A word I've seen used incorrectly a couple of times lately:

A horde is a teeming crowd or thong, a swarm, a horde of people. The Columbia Guide to Standard American English says the term is pejorative: "A horde of this sort is probably dangerous."

A hoard is a supply or fund stored up and often hidden away, a stash, a hoard of Halloween candy. It can also be a verb, to keep (as one's thoughts) to oneself, he liked to hoard his money.

Whored just doesn't come up too often in my work.


Take some time to check out the latest Verbal Energy. Ruth Walker writes about the abundance of the "co" prefix.
And my point here is? Keep an ear out for the "co" prefix, and you'll hear it everywhere. It's a sign of the way language changes in response to changing patterns of thought and activity.

The "co" prefix derives from the Latin "cum," meaning "with" or "together." It's long been established, with variations, in Latin-derived words like collaborate (to work or to labor together) or connect (from words meaning "to fasten together"). More recently it's been stuck rather awkwardly onto Anglo-Saxon terms, as in, "Over the weekend, I co-wrote a song with my boyfriend." This is the verbal equivalent of mixing stripes and checks: not an absolute no-no, but you've got to know what you're doing. And note, by the way, the insistence on the redundant "co-wrote," even with the "with my boyfriend." It's as if "co-writing" were materially different from "writing."
You'll also get a peek into the style of the Christain Science Monitor:
I have a professional interest in "co" words: As the copy desk chief of my newspaper, I have to pay attention to whether we hyphenate them, as with "co-creator," or close them up, as we say in the newsroom, as we do with "coauthor," for instance. We generally close them up. We've made some exceptions, such as for "co-workers": Closed up, "coworkers" sound like the people who ork the cows. And that is orksome indeed. But nowadays "co" coinages are coming so thick and fast that I'm not sure readers can keep up with them. I'm inclined to hyphenate them until they become more familiar.

Wednesday, July 28, 2004

AP style update

The Associated Press has added an entry to its online stylebook on the interim prime minister of Iraq:
Ayad Allawi   Interim prime minister of Iraq. The spelling Ayad is his preference.

Monday, July 26, 2004

Behind the Democratic convention

The Democratic National Convention begins today. Here are some style notes that might come up:
  • Democratic National Convention, Democratic convention
  • FleetCenter (One word, and "er," not "re")
  • Teresa Heinz Kerry (No H in her first name, no hyphen in the last two)
  • Boston Mayor Thomas Menino
  • Ron Reagan, not Ron Reagan Jr. (He's a Ronald Prescott, not a Ronald Wilson)
There are 4,353 delegates and 611 alternates, despite some of the other numbers that have been floating around. It includes delegates from all 50 states and D.C., in addition to the American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands -- and more than 20 representing Democrats abroad.

(A few are getting it right, and a few wrong: The Buffalo News says 4,350 here. The Detroit News says 4,341 here. The New York Times says 4,322 here. AP is playing it safe here with 4,300-plus.)

Now, this is not to be confused with "delegate votes," which is a more important number. There will be more delegates on the floor than the votes allotted, meaning some delegations will use fractional votes: American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands and Democrats abroad. The total delegate vote: 4,322.
John Kerry will need 2,162 (half plus one) votes to secure the nomination, not 2,163.

Official convention Web site

Today's political note [A Capital Idea, 02/12/04]
Democrats' nominating process [The Green Papers, a font of information]

Saturday, July 24, 2004

Having trouble with who vs. whom?

The Immigration Daily has a lesson, better written than most, on telling the two apart, including many examples and a quiz.

It also shares the rule most of us use:
If you can substitute him, then use whom; if you can substitute he, then use who.

Consider this statement: The salesperson whom you requested is away. (You requested him, so use whom.) Note that whom is the object of the verb, not the subject, in the subordinate clause whom you requested. Let's change the sentence slightly: This is the salesperson who won the award for most cars sold this month. Who is now the subject of the clause who won the award. Substitute he for who, and the sentence makes sense.

I never thought I'd see the day

A restaurant is apologizing for the mistakes in its menu.

Now, before you get too excited, the error is bigger than "fried rice without the rice." Ajisen Noodles, a popular fast-food Japanese noodlery in China, calls Taiwan an independent country in the menu.
"We are sorry. It is by all means a serious mistake with the copy editing of the menu," said Miao Tianfu, a spokesman for the Japanese-based company.

He said all of the company's outlets have stopped using the controversial menus and the person responsible for the mistake has been fired, according to Shanghai Daily.

Friday, July 23, 2004

Political cliche watch

Just what is Kerry's "secret weapon"? Agence France Presse reports that it is Teresa Heinz Kerry.

But CJR's Campaign Desk notes that the phrase is already sounding stale.
Just how many "secret weapons" has the eagle-eyed campaign press uncovered in the candidates' stockpiles this election season? We were willing to bet there were many.

We bet correctly. And wives, our research tells us, are in fact the least secret of all "secret weapons" the press has discovered this year. Among the press outlets "in" on the alleged Heinz Kerry "secret": the Boston Herald, the Boston Globe, the Los Angles Times, the New York Times, MSNBC, and CNN (and they went public with it twice).

Laura Bush, being a wife, is also a "secret weapon" for her husband, reporters report. The following journalists have let this particular cat out of the bag so far this campaign season: CBS's Dan Rather and Bill Plante (on separate occasions), ABC's Diane Sawyer, NBC's David Gregory, and CNBC's Gloria Borger and Sue Herera (each on their own). Paula Zahn, of CNN, actually called Mrs. Bush "the president's not-so-secret weapon" in June -- apparently, the word had gotten out by then.
Secret weapons include wives, children, siblings, the swing demographic, minorities, radio hosts ...

Really, enough.


No one likes having their faults paraded in front of them. But copy editors constantly find themselves doing this -- tracking down errors, trying to keep them from being repeated.

So what's the best way to do it diplomatically? Alex Cruden, chief of copy desks at the Detroit Free Press, offers this advice on the ACES board:
Begin by considering why they should care. Not everyone is as idealistic as the typical first-rate copy editor, particularly about matters of style and consistency. So put yourself in the place of the person about to be given the feedback, and try to figure out what she or he would think worthwhile in whatever is to be discussed. If, for example, a reporter cares more about exposing facts than writing well, shape the dialogue toward how revelations have little impact when they're unclear, imprecise and/or scattered about.

And yes, make it a dialogue, not a lecture. Whenever you feel a statement coming on, try to turn it into a question. (Or: Wouldn't it produce better results to ask a question than make a declaration?)
You may have heard it before, but it's good advice.

And where newsroom leadership is concerned, I've enjoyed reading Edward Miller's "Reflection on Leadership" essays. I don't always find them applicable to what I do every day, but I do more often than not. The archive is here, and you can subscribe to his weekly e-mails here.

Behind the Times

The New York Times ran a correction today apologizing for a manipulated photo.

See the image at, including a zoom of the offending change.

Thursday, July 22, 2004

I always knew he was good with words

Stephen Merritt, of Magnetic Fields fame, was once a proofreader at Spin magazine. How did I not know this?

The band's song "I Don't Believe You" (off its most recent release, "I") is on a mix that's getting nonstop play in my car now, and it lingers in my head because of such lyrics as 
  • "So you quote love unquote me; well, stranger things have come to be. But let's agree to disagree."
  • "You tell me I'm not not cute. Its truth or falsity is moot. 'Cause honesty's not your strong suit."
  • "I had a dream and you were in it; the blue of your eyes was infinite."

OK, back to being on topic.

Anyone for a little word botching?

Today is Spooner's Day, named after William Spooner, for whom "spoonerisms" is coined. (Via Languagehat)

Fact-check to your heart's content

Need to check those stories on the 9/11 commission's findings tonight?

Jason Kottke has made an HMTL document available of the executive summary. (Feel like blogging about some of the contents? Use his handy dandy permalinks to each paragraph.)

The Washington Post put a PDF of the summary online here. It's 31 pages long.

Cleverly, it's initialism stays the same

The General Accounting Office became the Government Accountability Office on July 7. Just in case you  missed it.

We can relate

Sometimes, this is how I feel on just a normal day.

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

What's my name?

I can add another book I'd like to read this summer but probably won't get to: "Wordcraft: The Art of Turning Little Words Into Big Business."

I read about it at Verbal Energy, where Ruth Walker eloquently puts it like this: "A lover of language looks at a new coinage the way a fan of architecture will look at a new building: Is it aesthetically pleasing? Does it fit well on the site, into its surroundings? Does it do the job it's supposed to?"

I often think about the origin of product names and wonder how the planning sessions went, like anything that starts with an X. "Guys, I'm just not sure this is really going to resonate with today's youths. What can we do to give it some kick?" "I've got it; let's start the name with an X." And we get Xhilaration and X Box and Xtreme this and Xtra that.

Walker offers a peek at one company's thoughts:
My favorite chapter in "Wordcraft" discusses the naming of BlackBerry, the handheld messaging device produced by the Canadian firm Research in Motion. "Blackberry" is an actual word; it was modified by "intercapping," the internal capitalization so common nowadays in corporate names. BlackBerry was a distinctive name that wouldn't confine the company to a narrow definition of the product. Because berries grow on vines, it suggested "networks," but in an accessible sort of way. And you can be sure that something called a "BlackBerry" is not going to come with a 200-page manual.
It's like writing some headlines, only with so few parameters.

Tuesday, July 20, 2004

What once was lost has now gone missing

James Kilpatrick's language column this week deals with idioms -- namely "went missing," recently used in a Washington Post Headline.
"Went missing"? What kind of English is that? Idiomatic English, ma'am, and our language is the richer for it. Here the meaning is perfectly clear. Certain checks and balances had been provided at one time, but in recent months they had disappeared. The phrase cannot be easily parsed or diagrammed, but it crops up everywhere.
For a look at some of the hand-wringing "went missing" can spur, check out this thread from the Vocabula Review message board.

It's not a phrase that bothers me, but I think "disappeared" can usually work just as well. It's a matter of choosing the option that best fits your work. But it's certainly nothing to get worked up about.

Monday, July 19, 2004

Ah, that everyone cared so much

Jason Kottke repeats his impassioned plea to newspapers and magazines to quit using "web logs" instead of "weblogs."
When dealing with words generated by the Internet, where people stick bits of different words together with reckless abandon, I can understand the need for high-quality newspapers and magazines to use the proper grammatical approach in dealing with compound words, hyphens, etc. At first blush, "weblog" appears to be a shortened version of "web log" which is in turn a shortened version of "World Wide Web log", in which case the usage the media has adopted would be more or less correct ("Web log" would probably be more correct). But the evidence doesn't support this.
He says the original term was coined by Jorn Barger in 1997 as "WebLog" and then, subsequently by Barger, "weblog."

That explanation ignores the etymology of Barger's WebLog, though. It was his log on the Web, whether he scrunched the two words together or not. And newspapers sticking to Web log on first reference are simply following the style of Web site that was set long before blogs were on their radar.

"Weblog" has other problems, namely that, for the uninitiated, it looks like "we blog" as much as "web log."

But making the transition from "Web log" to "blog" in one small step is a stretch, too.

So what's the solution? "Blog" on first reference. Describe what that entails, of course. But you'd probably have to do that with "Web log" or "weblog" anyway. And no one calls them Web logs anymore. (Did they even to begin with?)

Start early

The Financial Times has an interesting story on language and children with fascinating facts.
The auxiliary system in English, including words such as can, should, must, be, have and do is notorious among grammarians for its complexity. There are about 24 billion logically possible combinations, such as "He might have eat" or "He did be eating" but only 100 are grammatical. Amazingly, one study showed that children made none of the possible errors. As Stephen Pinker observed in his book, The Language Instinct, this seems particularly astonishing when you consider that young children are notably incompetent at most other activities.
It underscores the importance of interacting with children at the youngest of ages to stimulate later language development.

Presidential prelection

The excessive magnification of President Bush's speech problems is nothing new. But I had no idea that debonair Tony Blair was being similarly criticized -- only for excessive suaveness. He sounds fantastic but says little.

Simon Hoggart gives examples in a column for the Guardian.
Early on I began to notice the distinctive signs. One was the verbless sentence. "Hope. Opportunity. For our young people, a brighter future..." If a verb is a "doing word" as we learned in school, then these sentences contained no promise of action, but a great deal of pious intention. By 1997, and his first speech as prime minister, there were 97 sentences without verbs; by the early years of the new century the number routinely climbed to 120-plus.
Hoggart uses this example, and many more, to discuss accusation of Blair's being a liar about the Iraq war. But until he gets there, the column offers a lot of fodder for head-of-state comparisons.

Sunday, July 18, 2004

On cutlines

"A photo says a thousand words but sometimes you need a thousand twenty to get the meaning across." -- Photo editor at New Mexico Magazine

The Albuquerque Tribune Online has a commentary on the importance of good caption writing.
At New Mexico Magazine, all the editors pitch in to write the cutlines. Captions identify what's in the photos. They also create a parallel story. Ideally, the captions and the photos are able to stand alone if necessary. To that end, editors sometimes will use these small nuggets to expand the story - to enhance it - adding facts that may not have made it into the article itself.

Not so at The Albuquerque Tribune.

"Newspaper tradition doesn't let captions stray outside the story," says Jim Montalbano, assistant news editor and chief copy editor.
Perhaps that is newspaper tradition. But know any newspapers that are famed for their cutlines?

I don't. But I can name a few magazines that are. There's no reason newspapers shouldn't do more with captions, considering how well read they are.

If we don't, we're missing a valuable entry point, one more tool to grab readers.

(An aside: This is the most important reason copy editors should be writing captions. Readers will take in the headline, any secondary heads and then the cutlines. This display type should be layered in a way that makes each element build on another. Make it compelling. It's nearly impossible to do this if the headline writers aren't writing the captions, too.)

It's a regular zoo around here

I do believe we're being taken over by pandas. (And dare I suggest ... another made-up question?)

Ah, were it elephants instead.

Saturday, July 17, 2004

Headline contests, watch out

This is a born winner: Research points to link between thinking, doing (CNN, via Language Log)

Knock of ages

I have a 4-year-old niece who has a one-year-old toy. Why isn't it a 1-year-old toy? Because AP recently changed its mind. Common Sense Journalism dissents (despite Norm Goldstein's and Bill Walsh's reasonings of clarity and animate privilege):
Balderdash. I like a little more substance to my style decisions. And if you're going to be intellectually honest and follow that logic, you shouldn't make possessives either (you can't say the law's effect, for instance) because the law really doesn't deserve that "respect," seeing as it's not a person or animal. So it's the earnings of General Motors and the effect of the law -- and that's just silliness, despite what some of the stricter grammarians would say.
And you know what? I agree. The simpler we keep rules, the better.

Getting it right

Writing coach Paula LaRocque offers some thoughts on malapropisms, which are always good for a laugh.

Recently, a newspaper reporter covered a speech I gave on writing – during which I said that we sometimes fear the clarity of simplicity, either because of timidity or because of blindly emulating the wrong writers.

Here's what the reporter wrote – or, in any case, what was published:

"Ms. LaRocque spoke of the 'fear of simplicity, which sometimes comes from timidity or from blindly immolating the wrong people.' "

Malapropisms in quotes present even more problems for readers: Was it the speaker or the reporter who screwed up? We know it's generally the reporter. But do readers?

Another error she mentions:
While some wrong words can make sense, they more often distort meaning, as in this gaffe from an entertainment reporter: "She knew the director and wrangled an invitation to audition for the movie." Wrangle means to quarrel, squabble or bicker, while the reporter obviously meant wangle, which means to get or arrange through contrivance or finagling.
But Merriam-Webster includes this definition: "an instance of intense bargaining." And a Google search shows five U.S. stories that use "wangle" in that meaning, and many more (it's hard to say) that use "wrangle." Is this a word in transition?

Friday, July 16, 2004

File this under "No Kidding"

A PR firm's annual media survey shows: Thirty-four percent of journalists do not care if information is presented in AP Style.
(Also revealed: "While the number of journalists who do not care if information is presented in AP style [34 percent] was surprising, the majority did agree that following AP writing guidelines is important [66 percent]." I think this is called simple subtraction.)

Fun with typos

Or why copy editors matter.

Red alert

The newest cliche-to-be: dialing in.

Thursday, July 15, 2004

What lies ahead

Ruth Walker has posted another stand-out entry to the Verbal Energy blog, this one about the evolution of language. She wonders how long it will be before the Declaration of Independence becomes as difficult to parse as Chaucer is to us now.
Her bets on change to come? She sees the naked intransitive, the transposed gerund, and the morphed transitive. Here, in English:
The naked intransitives are verbs that used to need help but now stand on their own -- recreating (back formation of recreation), caving (instead of caving in).
The transposed gerunds include fund raising (instead of raising funds), problem solving (instead of solving problems).
And the morphed transitives allow verbs to switch their objects and subjects. Her big example is a person "graduating high school" (vs. his graduating from high school or the high school graduating him).

Looking for a job?

You could work in Slovakia: The Slovak Spectator, an English-language weekly, is looking for a native English speaker to work as a copy editor. No knowledge of the Slovak language required.

Fixing this takes more than a red pen

Why artists need copy editors:
Professional artists don't have anyone reviewing their work before its unveiled, but since numerous spelling errors were discovered in the ceramic tile mosaic in front of the new Livermore Public Library, Gail Shearer thinks maybe they should.

So much style that it's wasted

Any questions on NARAL Pro-Choice America's name? This should clear that up:
The following guidelines should be adhered to when the name appears in print:
* Use all-caps when writing NARAL as part of NARAL Pro-Choice America
* Always refer to NARAL Pro-Choice America when referring to the organization and not any combination of the four name elements
* Always hyphenate and capitalize Pro-Choice
* Always use a non-bold, non-italic font
* Do not lowercase letters when spelling NARAL Pro-Choice America
* Do not use periods when to separate the letters of the name NARAL
* Do not use bold or italics in any part of the name
* Do not separate the four name elements to refer to the organization in shorthand format
No bold?! No italic?! No simple "NARAL"?!

Really, I appreciate their trying to clear up some of the stickier issues of a tough name (especially the pro-choice-hyphen rule). But there is such thing as taking it too far.

Wednesday, July 14, 2004

Like it's going out of style

The makers of the anti-Fox docu "Outfoxed" have released memos on which they based the movie. While a lot will be made of the memos' politics, I thought the style notes might be of interest to a few of you. (All caps are theirs, not mine. Fox is serious about these rules, people.)

On June 2, 2003
We have good perp walk video of Eric Rudolph which we should use. We should NOT assume that anyone who supported or helped Eric Rudolph is a racist. No one's in favor of murder or bombing of public places. But feelings in North Carolina may just be more complicated than the NY Times can conceive. Two style notes: Rudolph is charged with bombing an abortion clinic, not a "health clinic." and

On March 23, 2004


On April 6
For consistency, the town is Ramadi, not Al Ramadi.

"Fierce" is a good word, but let's find a few synonyms.

On April 8
Army troops are "soldiers." Marines are not; they're "Marines."

On April 9
With hearings and bureaucrats getting a lot of air time, don't slip into their language, e.g. a person is given or assigned a project, not "tasked" with one.

On April 21
If Michael Jackson is indicted on sex charges, it's a big story for us, but PLEASE don't turn it into a nonstop circus. Please also remember that an indictment is NOT the same thing as a conviction.

On April 26

On April 28
Also, let's refer to the US marines we see in the foreground as "sharpshooters" not snipers, which carries a negative connotation.

On April 29
The president and VP are MEETING with the 9/11 commission. They are NOT testifying before it as did witnesses last week. It is an important distinction that we need to make.

Tuesday, July 13, 2004

Link roundup

A novel about a tough-guy copy editor. Yes, there is such a thing.

They're "white-bread" politicians, not "white-bred."
Although the latter is probably just as true as the former.

Watch those Jeopardy leads about Ken Jennings. Remember, it's answer, then question. And one had better answer the other.

Monday, July 12, 2004

Five minutes?

A peek into the life of a copy editor at the San Luis Obispo Tribune.
Copy editors write headlines. They do that typically in five minutes or less.
So ... five minutes for a typical headline. Think that's high or low for you?

Previews of reviews

James J. Kilpatrick gets around to reviewing "Eats, Shoots & Leaves." He arrives at the en vogue conclusion that it is "grammar-lite" and then lists some of the book's grammatical flaws. "A greater regret," he says, "is that the author provides neither an index nor even a table of contents."

He then gives an account on Strumpf-Douglas' well-indexed "Grammar Bible."
The authors offer sound advice in saying, for example, that the dash "is a mark of punctuation that the conscientious author should use sparingly." Their discussion of "who" and "whom" is short but simple. On the other hand, I believe they are quite wrong in saying that a question mark is "not required" in rhetorical questions. How can they say that.
And note the errant CQ marks at the end of the work. Intended for publication? I'd guess no.

And we should give a big nod of approval to William Safire for finally giving Bill Walsh his props on "The Elephants of Style." (Perhaps people are moving from "grammar-lite" to something with a bit more weight?)
His "gray areas" are stimulating. On the singular of data, he rejects the traditional datum, holding that "itÂ’s time to pull the plug and acknowledge that data is a collective noun, like information." I agree. But Walsh also accepts as "useful linguistic evolution" the word gender to mean "sex." I say it's feminese, shying from the blunt word sex, and resolutely limit gender to treating nouns in foreign languages as masculine or feminine. He'll win on this.

We really part company on "news media." He holds that it is usually used by people as a collective singular: "Change 'The media are restless tonight' to 'The media is restless tonight,' because obviously the reference is to the communicators, not the modes of communication." It's good to hear an intelligent argument for "media is," but I think it lumps together each medium (radio, TV, blogs) when it is important to recognize the multiplicity of communications voices. I'd stick with "media are" (unless I forget, which is often, and the copy editor saves me).
I'm with Safire on gender, and I'm with Bill on media, but beware: Your publication probably isn't.

Safire looks at two books on presidential linguistics, including Geoffrey Nunberg's "Going Nucular." And he offers a glimpse of the new American Heritage Collegiate Thesaurus:
Take the noun "hello"; its synonyms are "hail, greeting, salutation, salute, welcome." (A noneffusive Damon Runyon character offered "a medium hello.") The AHCT, which I pronounce as the first syllable in "achtung!" also provides hello's alternatives as an informal interjection: "aloha, hey, hey ho, hey there, hi, hi there, howdy, howdy do." Then as slang: "yo, 'sup." Finally, as idiom: "how do you do, what's up." (No, AHCT does not include "what's buzzin', cousin," which is out of date. Send the latest salutations to onlanguage@nytimes. Com.)

Splitting hairs is instructive and fun. AHCT is proud of its "core synonym" feature for abrupt, in the sense of "rudely informal." It notes that while brusque "emphasizes rude abruptness," gruff "implies roughness or surliness but does not necessarily suggest rudeness," and blunt "stresses utter frankness and usually a disconcerting directness."

Thesauri open new semantic worlds to wordnerds. Let us stop worrying about the meaning of life and start enjoying the life of meaning.
Hear, hear.

Stranger than fiction

Dispelling some newspaper myths in Tucson:
Myth: Reporters write the headlines on their stories.

Fact: Specialized journalists known as copy editors write headlines, based on their readings of the stories. Headline writing is a combination of skillful art and science. The art is in the use of succinct, accurate and interesting words; the science is in making them fit a defined and limited space.

Sunday, July 11, 2004

What sets a linguist off?

Try using the word "grammar" too broadly. Arnold Zwicky of the Language Log
takes issue with this letter to the editor in the New York Times:
To the Editor:

Re "A 9/11 Cornerstone, Chiseled With a New York Accent," by David W. Dunlap (Blocks column, July 8):

The section of the 9/11 cornerstone inscription depicted in the accompanying photograph clearly shows that the grammatically necessary comma after "2001" ("on September 11, 2001") is absent.

As a longtime editor, I hope that the artisans will be able to correct this omission in the handsome Gotham typeface.
Zwicky says: "Now, this is a mind-numbingly inconsequential issue. Nothing would be lost or confused if we wrote, printed, or chiseled 'September 11 2001', and, indeed, the other order of month and day normally appears without a comma: '11 September 2001'."

Quite true. But even more interesting is his protest of her use of "grammatically."
What should Betsy Wade have written, instead of "grammatically necessary"? "Orthographically necessary", I guess. Would her readers have understood that? Probably not. She would have done fine with the wordier "the comma that written English requires after..." But it's likely that neither of these possibilities occurred to her, because for PITS (People in the Street) the written language is the real language. So she had to reach for something that referred to the language system as a whole and to norms, and that word seems to be "grammar".
And who is to responsible?
Still, it's hard for a linguist not to feel that the profession has failed to get across the idea that the conventions for punctuating written English have a different status from, and much less significance than, say, SVO as the default word order for the language, or, for that matter, the injunction to avoid pernicious ambiguities in pronominal reference.

Well, we've fallen down on other fronts as well. For example, we haven't done well in getting PITS to think of the word "linguist" as ambiguous, referring either to someone with a practical interest in language (in learning languages, teaching them, interpreting, or translating), or to someone with an analytical interest in language.
OK, that last problem isn't really earth-shattering. But I think there's a message in here for nit-picking copy editors (and, really, that should be most copy editors) -- and it's not that small errors aren't worth fixing. We must be able to tell the difference between the commas we'd change on our own time and the commas worth writing a letter about.

Saturday, July 10, 2004

We're some wild and crazy guys!

I've enjoyed this thread on the Visual Editors board, people sharing their crazy newsroom stories.
A few years ago -- at a paper I won't mention by name -- our sports editor was advertising for a clerk to handle calls on high school sports nights.

You know that that little box, buried in all job applications, where it asks "Have you ever been arrested for anything other than a traffic violation? If 'yes' explain below." ...

Well, this young lady checks "Yes." The sports editor was almost afraid to read the next line. Sure enough, the lady was arrested for prostitution.

"Well, at least you know she doesn't mind working nights," he told us.
I'll share that one, even though the lewd one is my favorite. (Paging Wonkette!)

Find a different kind of stimulation

The past tense of "whet" is "whetted."

So: "The speech whet his appetite" is wrong. "The speech whetted his appetite" is technically correct.

But it sounds terrible and is cliche to boot. Here's your chance to do humanity a favor.

And I'll take this opportunity to issue a reminder: If your interest is "piqued," it's not spelled "peak" or "peek."

Friday, July 09, 2004

A varied lede

Phil Blanchard points out some fun on the Testy Copy Editors site. Compare:

WASHINGTON, July 9 — The government's 17-year effort to bury nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain in Nevada suffered a significant setback today when a federal appeals court said that the rules on radiation leaks could not be limited to the site's first 10,000 years, as the Environmental Protection Agency had decided. (New York Times)

A federal appeals court on Friday rejected Nevada's arguments against building a nuclear waste site in the state, but ordered the government to develop a new plan to protect the public against radiation releases beyond the proposed 10,000 years. (AP)


Read the third (and last) item on this page. Just some fun reading.

Go on, it's short!

Thursday, July 08, 2004

Love letters

OK, new game time.

This is for people who love to type -- or can at least do it fast.

Fair warning: It does not keep faithful high scores. I nearly went blind playing the longest game ever and ended up with a pride-puffing 37,570, only to see it never show up on the all-time highs list.

Let this serve as my record.

Think big

"Typos can make you look foolish, but they aren't really the signs of an intellectual or ethical deficiency. It's the difference between a sentence that expresses an idea badly and a sentence that expresses a bad idea."
That's from linguist Geoffrey Nunberg, talking about Bush's use of "nucular" instead of "nuclear." But I think it says something about copy editing, too.

As easy as it is to get caught up in the minutiae of things, the bigger picture is always more important. Readers forgive a typo. They may call in and complain because it looks sloppy, but they'll forgive.

But people don't call when a story is incomprehensible. They get frustrated and move on to the next story. They think about newspapers being written over their heads. They cease caring.

Wednesday, July 07, 2004

That's a tough one

Could you date someone with poor grammar?
I've been dating a wonderful, warm, caring man for five months. He has many positive qualities, enjoying cultural arts and dancing as much as I do. I care a lot about him. The problem is his poor grammar.

Style abroad

The Guardian UK is publishing its style guide this week, an updated version of what's already online. Reader's editor Ian Mayes shares:
The style guide is to some extent a rod to beat the journalists with, but the benefits of reader participation more than compensate for the bruises.
What's included?
It suggests that a preference (which I share) for using a singular verb with "none" is simply deferring to "a (very persistent) myth". Plural, it says, is acceptable and often sounds more natural: "None of the current squad are good enough." Collins, the Guardian's default dictionary, says: "None is a singular pronoun and should be used with a singular form of a verb."
And on split infinitives:
"It is perfectly acceptable to sensibly split infinitives, and stubbornly to resist doing so can sound awkward and make for ambiguity." The authors suggest that George Bernard Shaw got it about right "after an editor tinkered with his infinitives", when he said: "I don't care if he is made to go quickly, or to quickly go - but go he must."
And diacriticals?
Subeditors, in fact, are now expected to place accents correctly on words in French, German, Spanish and Irish Gaelic (but not on anglicised French words such as cafe, "apart from exposé, résumé"). Consistency is an elusive little animal.
And, lest you think no Brits believe in important hyphenations:
It is not exactly a zero-tolerance manifesto.

Time to set off on your own?

Here's a story in the Miami Herald about a reporter who "helped her community" by starting a proofreading company. It's unremarkable, except for ... it has me wondering about freelancing and starting your own business. How many people actually make a (real) living this way?

Friday, July 02, 2004

Dropping the F bomb

Slate has a nice piece on when newspapers will print the F-word. And they include some interesting numbers:
The most recent use of the term in most newspapers came in 1998, when the Post, the New York Times, and other papers reprinted the complete Starr Report, including Monica Lewinsky's declaration that Bill Clinton "helped fuck up [her] life." The Los Angeles Times has used the word three other times since 1985. Before today, and aside from the Starr Report, the decorous Post had printed "fuck" only one other time since 1987, in a direct quote in a 1992 feature about a death-row inmate's final days. (The paper even puckishly directs Web surfers who search for profanity in the Post's archives to the Miss Manners column.) Other media outlets, typically more daring in their verbiage, are another matter entirely. A Nexis search for uses of "fuck" in the Village Voice yields more than 1,000 hits; a similar search through the archives of the Seattle alternative weeklythe Stranger yields 2,180, most of which involve Dan Savage directly. The wilting daisies here at Slate have used "fuck" on 185 occasions—oops, 186.
What about your paper?

A valued prize for some

D Magazine is offering a photocopied page of its stylebook for the person who can get the highest score on this game by 2:18 today.

That may be taking even my stylebook interest too far.

Thursday, July 01, 2004

More verbing (or bringing words back from the dead)

I have yet to hear anyone use the word "efforting." (And for that I'm glad.) But the Globe and Mail has an article on it:
A colleague passes along a sentence uttered in a television interview last year: "Just so you know, we are efforting to get an interview with General Tommy Franks in order to ask him that question, his reaction to Canada's position on this."
It says the OED cites the verb form in a passage from 1662 but says it is now obsolete.

There are a few Google News citations:
* "Walker went out of his way to explain the reasoning behind the city's decision to have crews efforting to improve the sidewalk." -- Augusta Free Press in Virginia
* "That's when Barkley started efforting toward the formation of Kindred Spirits." -- Augusta Free Press (a certain writer's favorite new word, perhaps?)
* " has call in to both players and we are efforting interviews at present." --,
A regular Google search shows 1,600 citations for "efforting."

It's interesting to note that not one of those uses could be fixed in the same way. You can't replace them all with "trying" or "working" (although the latter seems the closest).

Copy Massage noticed it on the radio in St. Petersburg the other day.

The online Urban Dictionary, where people contribute their own definitions, says this:
The use of physical or mental energy to do something; exertion.
A difficult exertion of the strength or will: It was an effort to get up.
A usually earnest attempt: Make an effort to arrive promptly.
Something done or produced through exertion; an achievement: a play that was his finest effort.

Don is efforting that task as we speak.
I can't come up with a good reason to use "efforting" instead of reworking the sentence. But I'm feeling rather descriptivist today after reading this article a couple of times, so I'll just say: I wouldn't commit felony assault if I heard it, but I'd remove it from any copy I was editing.