Sunday, October 31, 2004

Just in case ...

... You're running a story on this: The British paper that is switching to a tab Monday is known as the Times of London. But its official name is simply the Times. So watch what you italicize (if you do such a thing to newspaper titles).

May you never pause

In his language column this week, James Kilpatrick covers constructions that give readers pause -- and how to avoid them.

He touches on one of my pet peeves, using "while" to mean "although." I agree that readers pause (at least I do) with "while," expecting some sort of time element to be involved. Consider: While the girls flock to the clubs, the women stay home knitting. Is "while" setting up a point of difference here, or is it pointing out that these events happen at the same time?

Kilpatrick also gets a mention of John Bremner in while discussing "any more" and "anymore."
The adverb "anymore" was coined in the 14th century. Should we put "anymore" to work today as one word or two? The gurus at Merriam-Webster say the one-word spelling is more common, especially in negative and interrogative constructions: "We never go there anymore." "Do you eat broccoli anymore?" The late John Bremner, journalism professor at the University of Kansas, felt strongly au contraire. ... Especially in negative constructions he insisted on two words: "Annie doesn't live here any more."
And have a drink Monday to toast Kilpatrick's birthday. He turns 84.

When not to make a mistake

A note you don't want to see from the typesetting company handling your book on grammar:
Please find enclosed one set of page proofs for the book:
"A Student's Introduction to English Grammer".

Count me in

I really enjoyed this column from Ruth Walker at the Verbal Energy blog. She covers mass nouns vs. countable nouns and how she is noticing a trend of mass nouns morphing into countable nouns.

What's the difference? You use them "to distinguish between 'stuff' and 'things,' she says.
"Stuff" is a mass noun. You may have more or less stuff, but there isn't a plural, as there is with "thing": If you have more than one thing you have "things." Since "things" can be individually counted, "thing" is a count noun.
But she gives several examples of words in the middle. E-mail is a good example. Many would say that it must follow the mass noun mail from which it is derived. But you'll regularly hear people saying they have 200 e-mails to go through after their vacation.

Most of us after happening across some cash would say we had more money. For some reason, politicians and businessmen tend to have more monies. (Walker's theory is that the plural makes it sound more abundant.)

She even brings up the -- avert your eyes, Bill -- "10 items or fewer" debate.
The mass vs. count distinction matters in terms of articles ("an e-mail" or not), and the often prickly distinction between "less" and "fewer." "Less" goes with mass nouns, "fewer" with count nouns. That's why grammar vigilantes like to see signs that say "10 Items or Fewer," rather than "10 Items or Less," at the checkout lanes of the supermarket. (The rest of us just want to know the people ahead of us have no more than 10 items.)
There are plenty more examples. And they remind me of a lament I once read on a grammar-geek message board. The writer was begging dictionaries to include a citation on whether nouns were countable. Before that, I'd never considered how difficult it would be to determine which was which.

Saturday, October 30, 2004

Layoffs and new jobs

When Dallas Morning News employees knew the time for layoffs was nigh, we breathlessly checked two sources for the latest news: Frontburner (the blog of D Magazine) and SAGA (the blog of the alt-weekly Dallas Observer's media writer).

In addition to the rumor-void they filled before the layoffs, the sites have become de facto job boards for the people who were laid off.

And, to my surprise, the job openings that piled up were mostly for copy editors. The Wisconsin State Journal was first. Then the Orange County Register. Then the Lawrence Journal-World in Kansas. Merrill Perlman wrote in about openings at the New York Times, as did someone from the Bakersfield Californian.

I'm not sure exactly what this says about the copy editing job market, but it can't be bad. Go get 'em, kids!

Friday, October 29, 2004

A milestone

I logged my 25,000th visitor this week. Thanks, everyone.

How to be a good editor

Stephen Wilbers, who gives writing tips every week in the Minneapolis Star Tribune, penned his last column. He used it to thank and praise his copy editor -- and give others advice based on their great working relationship:
• Show respect for the person who created the copy. Remember that writing is hard work, and writers often feel sensitive or defensive about changes in their copy.

• Know the rules and conventions of language. You owe it to your writers to know your stuff. Don't move a comma or change a word as a matter of personal preference. Base your revisions on what you know to be correct, as supported by a standard reference guide.

• Distinguish between grammar and style. Be more definite when you recommend changes involving grammar and usage; be less definite when you recommend changes in idiom and style. Don't present your notion of style ("It's wrong to begin a sentence with and or but") as a rule of grammar.

• Don't over-edit. Remember, there's more than one right way to do something. If you tend to be overly zealous in your editing, first read the copy from beginning to end without making any changes. This approach will allow you to tune your ear to the writer's voice before you begin altering the copy.
Good points, all.

Thursday, October 28, 2004

See you in Topeka

This is the cover of the Chicago Tribune's WomanNews section (via Newsdesigner via that caused such a stir this week. And you can see why.

It's been called the last word that offends. And though even "cunt" doesn't make me see red -- what does it take to offend my generation, anyway? -- I could have guessed this would cause a firestorm.

The section editor and the AME for lifestyles approved it, but they never got the OK from higher-ups, it appears. Some people were concerned when the story came up at the 10 a.m., but no one moved to replace the story until 4, when editor Ann Marie Lipinski got wind of it. But by then, the section had been printed and inserted.

So, what do you do? You order employees to help you remove the offending section. In five hours, they almost got them all out. The paper said a "very, very small number might have slipped through." The Wall Street Journal put the number at hundreds of the 500,000 or so printed.

Like I said, I'm not offended by the word. And I'd guess that had it not been for such a provocative headline, this wouldn't have been such a big deal. The story never even uses the word.

Copy editors did raise red flags there, I'd bet. Anyone know?

UPDATE: For a good laugh, read this article on "earlier headlines snatched off the trucks by zealous editors" at Newcity Chicago.

>Chicago Tribune Tries to Stop Publication of Feature Story [Wall Street Journal]
>Four-letter words fly at Tribune's Freedom Center [Chicago Sun-Times]

Wednesday, October 27, 2004


The Dallas Morning News laid off more than 50 people in the newsroom today. On top of that, even more were laid off in the business side of the paper. We lost about 150 people.

Thanks to everyone who sent notes to see if I survived. I did, but it's still been my least favorite workday ever. (And I used to work at a restaurant called the Catfish Hole.)

I've never been in such a somber work environment. It's a sad, sad day at the DMN.

Program swapping

Real people compare Quark and InDesign at Ask MetaFilter.

Some representative comments:
The paragraph styles are just incredibly thorough. You can adjust nearly every possible aspect of a paragraph imaginable. When laying out books, I usually have about 6 major styles (title, heading, subheading, normal text, list text and quote text). Then you can dump your text from wherever. Copy, paste. Copy, paste. Then just highlight the areas and apply the styles. BAM! It's all consistent. K-rad.
I second the InDesign recommendations. Quark definitely has a lot of staying power since it was so dominant but with the CS version of InDesign I've witnessed an enthusiastic shift (though of course what I witness and what is happening industry wide could be completely different.)

Tuesday, October 26, 2004


Recycled from last year: Halloween style reminders.

Halloween is always capitalized. (It's short for All Hallow Even, or All Hallows Eve, and is sometimes written Hallowe'en. But not in newspapers.)

Trick or treat is the noun. It's hyphenated for the verb and trick-or-treater.

Jack-o'-lantern has an apostrophe after the O. Note the two hyphens.

Don't forget: Frankenstein was the doctor, not the monster.

Bats are mammals, not rodents.

There will be a full moon Wednesday (Oct. 27). That's not Halloween.

Lowercase devil, but capitalize Satan and Lucifer.

Now, is it candy apples or candied apples? I like candied, but I think candy is winning out over time. It's definitely candy corn.

And waxed lips means something entirely different from wax lips.

Any more?

Back to the real world

I'll be back in Dallas today after a quick trip to Wichita to visit my sister, who is in the hospital. Expect good-time posts to resume soon.

In the meantime, check out this guide to Florida elections by Poynter. It's useful, yes, but what is really impressive is its design.

Monday, October 25, 2004

Hit the big time

Looking to get your foot in at the Washington Post? This might be a good opportunity.

Sunday, October 24, 2004

Evolving language: icon

James Kilpatrick's language column this week deals with the changed meaning of the word "icon." No longer is it just a painting of a saint. It has come, to Kilpatrick's regret, to refer to any object of devotion: music icon Carole King, political icon Che Guevera, insurance icon AIG.

But he accepts that the meaning has morphed. I think we all should, too. (Of course, we probably already have.)

Saturday, October 23, 2004

Should we allow readers to go to the theatre?

An article in the Chicago Sun-Times -- about the nuances of spelling theater or theatre -- has sparked a riveting discussion on the Testy Copy Editors site that is worth reading.

The great debate started like this:
Nearing the final lap of my stylebook overhaul, I'm going to suggest taking "Theatre/Theater" out of the name of each venue, lowercasing it and making it "-er" every time. Still considering alternatives. (Thus, the Biloxi Theatre would be the Biloxi theater. Or just the Biloxi if clear in context.)
I disagree with the move, opting to let companies choose among accepted alternate spellings. (Hell, if they want to name their business the Biloxi Theeeter, I wouldn't say peep.)

But there are intelligent arguments coming from both sides of the fence. And this is the type of style change that can be broadly applied and should be decided before deadline.

By the way, the TCE board has been hopping lately. Other good threads to check out include one on decreasing time edit copy because of paginating duties, three things a starting reporter should know and whether copy editors -- or the news desk -- get the last say.

ACES member a spelling bee winner

A team from the New Jersey Star-Ledger won a spelling bee to benefit a literacy campaign.

The team included a writer, an editor and two copy editors, spelling such not-seen-in-newspaper words as toponymic, zarzuela and velleity. The wining word? Dystocia.
"I think The Star-Ledger's on a streak, they're excellent spellers and that takes a lot of work," said a member of the losing team.
(Maybe next year they can include a workshop on comma splices before the bee.)

One of the copy editors, Joel Pisetzner, is a member of ACES. He won an ACES headline contest in 2001. Read his tips on headline writing, too.

Friday, October 22, 2004

Naming rights

A copy editor with Florida Today, Jeff Navin, writes his ideas for renaming the Expos when they move to Washington. Most are bland (although I do like the Washington Mints).

But his note in this suggestion made me smile:
5. The Washington Corruption. Whether it's fighting corruption or creating corruption, Washington D.C. seems to be the home for it. Sports departments in newspapers around the country won't like the singular nickname since it creates the debate about using a singular or plural verb.

Thursday, October 21, 2004

Kudos to a former copy editor

Congratulations to former copy editor Sherry Chisenhall, who has been named editor of the Wichita Eagle.

She started her journalism career on the copy desk at the Biloxi, Miss., paper in 1985. In less than a year, she had moved to the copy desk at the Charlotte Observer. She went on to be copy chief there before switching to reporting.

Let Sherry (who was my managing editor when I worked at the Eagle) be an example that copy editors can move up at newspapers. At only 41, she's proving that the desk can be the perfect place for an ambitious journalist to start her career.

It's good to be right, but not that right

I guess it's no surprise that this would be right up my alley ... but I love Regret the Error, a blog on newspaper corrections. Today, a great correction from the Dallas Morning News:
"An Oct. 19 article on songwriter John Bucchino incorrectly stated that he doesn't read. The sentence should have said he doesn't read music."
And you should definitely check out this entry on the Washington Times trying to pick a fight with the Washington Post after the Post had a mistake in a 1A headline (a misattributed quote). The Times called the headline writer its knave of the week, according to the blog. (Of course, the headline writer just took what was in the story; it's ridiculous to blame him.)

Here is the Times story slapping the Post on the wrist. And here is the Post's corrected story.

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

101 years of buzzwords

I enjoyed this Guardian article on each year's buzzword. It discusses the "it" word of each year, starting in 1904 with "hip." (Link via Languagehat)

Some fell into obscurity (1924's lumpenproletariat and 1909's tiddly-om-pom-pom). Some are decidedly British (1914's cheerio). And some are drug-related (1936's spliff, 1966's acid, 1975's detox).

But it's a fun list to go through, wondering whether these were headline words at the time or considered too cutting edge to reach a wide audience. Think of a time when "sacred cow" meant nothing metaphorical (before 1910) or when Watergate was just a hotel (1972).

A little white fib

Ruth Walker writes in Verbal Energy about the great lengths we will go to to avoid saying that someone is lying.
Politicians dare not hurl charges of "Liar, liar, pants on fire" across the partisan divide willy-nilly. Readers and viewers expect the mainstream media (is that term beginning to sound quaint or what?) to show "respect" for an incumbent president. Then the news organizations, in the interest of nonpartisanship, extend that courtesy to presidential challengers. (Chatroom types, talk-show callers-in, and for that matter most bloggers, have no such inhibitions, however – and no advertisers or corporate shareholders to please either).
So what are papers saying instead? That the candidates exaggerated, stretched the truth, misled.

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

About face

I enjoyed this profile of typographers Tobias Frere-Jones and Jonathan Hoefler in the New York Times.
"Tobias and I were probably the only two people under 14 who subscribed to U&lc," Mr. Hoefler said, referring to a magazine, Upper & Lower Case, published by the International Typeface Corporation.
I love it!

And, yes, Tobias Frere-Jones is related to Sasha Frere-Jones, the New Yorker music critic. They're brothers. (Do not confuse them.)

And although the type designers were born six days apart, I don't think they have anything to do with Six Apart.

Why does something so wrong feel so right?

Check out Blogslot. Bill Walsh writes:
Some common errors hint at gaps in the language. Host as a verb and gender meaning "sex" are two examples that filled those gaps so well they can no longer be considered errors.
He also includes bemused, officious and monger in this category. Find out why here.

The finances of a journalist

I love reading these money makeover columns that newspapers are running. And here is one in the Miami Herald that shows the finances of a student journalism adviser, writer and editor. His wife works for a child advocacy agency.

I would love to be in their shoes.
The Koretzkys have developed some great financial habits. They save 20 percent of their income at all times and they avoid debt. They paid cash for her car and his truck, both new....

When they arrived for the Makeover, they had $55,000 in checking accounts and certificates of deposit. That was more than enough for everything on their wish list:
A down payment on a $150,000 condo for Michael's mom; a new air conditioner ($3,500); Michael's dream computer ($4,000) for his home publishing work; Renata's vacation to Malta with her sister ($3,000); $6,000 on hurricane shutters; and, a $4,000 investment in Renata's hobby of composing and recording music.
He's going to take on more copy-editing work to give them extra income.

Monday, October 18, 2004

On headlines

The Campaign Desk takes USA Today to task for a headline on its latest poll story: Poll: Bush leads by 8 points.
Wow! Eight points! That sure does seem like a lot. There's one problem, though -- and it comes in the fourth paragraph of USA Today's own piece: "Even [Bush's] lead among likely voters is on the cusp of the survey's margin of error."
They point to CNN's headline on the same poll as the way to do it right: Poll: Presidential race still tight.

Brian at the Olive Press blog points out a headline gaffe on ABC News' site: Winslet Scoffs at Rumors About Her Wait.
Come on, ABC News. So you picked up the story from the Associated Press. The least you could do is read the headline all the way to the end before running with it.
Hear, hear! (The head is fixed now.)

And Matt at Low Culture has beat the punny headline writers to the punch before NBC premieres the reality show "The Biggest Loser."
Since most TV critics are filing their reviews with their editors right about now, I thought I'd offer them some help with their inevitable shitty puns and fat jokes. Feel free to use any of the following phrases in your articles or headlines, or um, become a better writer:
·Fat Tuesday
·Weighty Matter
·Light-Weight Entertainment
The list goes on. (But I do like "well-rounded cast.")

For fun

Here's a linguistic explanation of Bill O'Reilly's substitution of falafel for loofah during phone sex.

Ammo to keep those overzealous editors in check

I had no idea that the editors of Merriam-Webster's had a newspaper column. It's called Wordwatch, and this week's includes some great fodder if you know a too-hard-core editor who insists that "loan" cannot be a verb.
"Loan" as a verb has been around at least since the time of Henry VIII. It was brought to this country by our earliest settlers, and it continued to be used here after it fell out of use in England. Its use was first criticized by English visitors to America. In its continued use it is a sturdy Americanism. Many people have been taught to dislike it, but there is no question that "loan" is entirely standard as a verb.
Also, learn about "divers," a variation of "diverse" that has nothing to do with snorkeling; and the origin of the phrase "bringing down the hosue."

A love of the language

"How we learn to speak English, to me, is just as amazing as learning how we bring forth the miracle of life."

-- from a commentary on language in the Benton, Ark., paper.

Sunday, October 17, 2004

Easily double-check trademarks

This trademark list is a handy tool all copy editors should have bookmarked. Find out in seconds whether Baskin-Robbins has a hyphen (it does) and how many Z's are in Cheez Whiz (two).

But ... you don't need to follow its capitalizations, necessarily. For example, no need to cap every letter in Botox and Pez or lowercase every letter in O.B.

One thing I learned: Tater Tots is trademarked. You ought to be ashamed, Ore-Ida. (But thanks for not harrassing newspapers every time they use it lowercase.) (And what's a generic term for them, then? Tater toddlers?)

Saturday, October 16, 2004

Melancholy vs. melancholic and injury vs. wound

Should we avoid melancholy as an adjective? A reader hopes James Kilpatrick will agree that melancholic is preferred. But Kilpatrick does not. He notes that melancholy the noun was first recorded in 1303, melancholy the adjective just a few years later. And the use of both has been recorded regularly since.

He also touches on the difference between wounds and injuries, preventative and preventive.

I'd never heard the wound-injury distinction. Here's what Kilpatrick says:
Gary Clem of Granger, Ind., moves for a declarative judgment on "injury" and "wound." He offers a news photo of a young woman who died "of wounds she suffered in the crash." His point is that she wasn't wounded, she was injured. The court agrees. There is a substantial semantic difference.

True, a man's ego may be metaphorically "wounded," and a woman's feelings may be "injured." Considered literally, a "wound" implies some act of bloody violence, committed on purpose. Alexander Hamilton died not of injuries, but of a wound. The victims of last month's hurricanes died not of wounds, but of injuries.
The BBC's "Learning English" feature has more here. To sum up: Injuries are generally the result of accident or fighting. Wounds are generally damage to the flesh from a weapon, often in battle.

Here's Merriam-Webster's definition of injury:
1 a : an act that damages or hurts : WRONG b : violation of another's rights for which the law allows an action to recover damages

2 : hurt, damage, or loss sustained
And the definition of wound:
1 a : an injury to the body (as from violence, accident, or surgery) that involves laceration or breaking of a membrane (as the skin) and usually damage to underlying tissues b : a cut or breach in a plant due to external violence

2 : a mental or emotional hurt or blow

3 : something resembling a wound in appearance or effect; especially : a rift in or blow to a political body or social group

The fate of the copy desk

Tom Mangan has started an insightful thread on the Testy Copy Editors board. He begins:
Yesterday we had a big meeting of all the copy editors in which we were told that no hiring is in the picture regardless of who leaves ... we are shortstaffed on every desk and have taken to reassigning reporters to the copy desk. This is at the San Jose Mercury News, for those who don't know me ... not exactly a small-town rag, if you get my drift.
There's a hiring freeze at the Dallas Morning News, as well, as the paper decides which 150 of its employees it will lay off.

Tom asks two important questions that we should be thinking about.

First, with demand for copy editors so high and good people fleeing the profession, why aren't we demanding more money?

Second, is this hegira indicative of copy editors' seeing no future on the desk, of working in a dying business?

On the money angle, I'd say that, in large part, people aren't asking for money because newspapers aren't acting like they're worth it. With some of the best people leaving the industry -- and papers doing little to keep them -- copy desks seem happy to replace their talent with cheaper labor. These copy editors right out of college don't lack talent, of course, but they do lack experience. And when a paper values a small salary over a wealth of knowledge, good people often feel as if bosses would just as soon replace them as give them a raise.

On the exodus angle, can't we all feel this? I don't like to be a doomsayer. But with circulation continuously declining, I think it's in the back of all of our minds. Most news Web sites are published without professional copy editors. As more of our news moves to the Web and away from print, will our jobs slowly die? Thirty years from now, I'll still be working, but will there be a newspaper job for me to work in? And wouldn't it be better to find a lasting profession now than in 25 years?

Very cool

Academics compile pan-Hispanic dictionary

Friday, October 15, 2004

Fun errors in copy

The church hosts a monthly support meeting for anyone going through a transition in life from 1 to 2:30 p.m. the third Saturday of each month ...

I guess you'd better make that a quick transition.

Flexibility can work. Really.

Bill Walsh offers his characteristic common-sense approach on commas in his latest post at Blogslot.

Commas are situational, he says.
With the hyphen, I'm generally a fan of consistency. ...

But when it comes to punctuation's other most confusing critter, I like flexibility. Do I use a comma to introduce a quotation? It depends. Do I use a comma after an introductory clause? It depends -- and not only on the length of that clause.
And he offers the perfect example of a situation in which you should lose the commas you'd generally use.

AP style reminder

Don't forget AP's easily forgettable rule on congressional districts:
Use figures and capitalize district when joined with a figure: the 1st Congressional District, the 1st District.
Yep, that's 1st Congressional District, not District 1 or Congressional District No. 1 or anything else.

Thursday, October 14, 2004

Are you a pedant?

I enjoyed reading this article in the Guardian defending pedants. Chances are you will too.

AP style refresher 2

I had to look this up yesterday, in the hyphens entry in the punctuation section:
Many combinations that are hyphenated before a noun are not hyphenated when they occur after a noun: The team scored in the first quarter. The dress, a bluish green, was attractive on her. She works full time. His attitude suggested that he knew it all.

But when a modifier that would be hyphenated before a noun occurs instead after a form of the verb to be, the hyphen usually must be retained to avoid confusion: The man is well-known. The woman is quick-witted. The children are soft-spoken. The play is second-rate.
This came up in a discussion of a sentence like "Compared with Bob, he is less-understood." The hyphen looked awkward to me, but it certainly follows that AP rule.

Any thoughts?

AP style refresher

Doug Fisher at Common Sense Journalism notes an AP change that may have gone unnoticed in the last update:
DVD -- Now uses disc instead of the odd disk used previously. So it's digital video disc or digital versatile disc if you must spell it out somewhere.
When would you spell it out? Hardly ever, AP says: "The acronym is acceptable in all references in most stories, but spell out somewhere in a story in which the context may not be familiar to readers."

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Who is reading blogs?

APME did a survey on how readers use blogs:
Newspaper readers who follow blogs remain cautious as they judge bloggers' credibility, but they say a willingness to challenge traditional journalists makes the network of personal sites a vital newcomer to the media scene.
About 20 percent said they sometimes read blogs. But that means 80 percent aren't. Why?
Those skipping out on the sites offered a variety of reasons; for many, the question didn't even make sense: "What the heck is a 'blog'?"
And a couple of interesting quotes:
"Bloggers that are talking about something in their field of expertise are much more trustworthy than mainstream media," said Jason Hartney of Pullman, Wash. "A news reporter talking about guns is a prime example (they generally know very little). Likewise, it is easy to tell when a blogger is outside his area of expertise."

"I cull through them until I trust them. I believe you can read a blog to reinforce your beliefs ... or you can read a blog and learn something," said Sydney Cardner of Lakeland, Fla. "If a blogger never varies on his opinion on a topic, I become suspect."

A vocab expander

James Kilpatrick takes a fun turn through the dictionary in his language column this week.

Learn how to fossick, a good trait for any copy editor.

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

I'm not even sure how to comment

Uhhhm, wow.

Start reading at the end of Graf 3.

Headline bloopers

Dave Barry includes headline flubs in his latest column. They're always fun to read.

"Volunteers needed to help torture survivors."
"Midwest storm blamed for Wisconisn."
"Homeless man improves after car runs into him."

He also mentions an obit that included: "To Everone and Anyone who was in any way involved in my husbands passing, a Heart Felt Thank You."

And this correction: "A story in Friday's Herald incorrectly quoted a biologist as saying salmon were among Vermont's roadkill. The quote should have been 'salamanders.' "

C'mon, language evolves

This is an article for anyone who ever thought that the word "sucks" should have stayed in that story. Or who doesn't think "used condom" when they hear the word "scumbag." Or who can read the word "crap" without throwing a tantrum.

Shock of the day

Apparently, they do still teach AP style to public relations students. I had no idea.

That logo doesn't belong in your story

Yet another ridiculous example of why we can't let logos determine newspaper style: A new musical is playing in New York, and its name is styled [title of show].

That's right. They want no caps. And the brackets.

It's a perfect example of why this kind of stuff shouldn't be allowed. You can't tell if that's a reporter's note to herself (like [fix this later!]). It also shows how errant punctuation marks and lack of capitalization make it tough to distinguish nouns from the rest of the muck.

In my copy, this musical is Title of Show. It doesn't make the name much better, but at least you can tell it's a name.

Monday, October 11, 2004

Does everyone need an editor?

Anne Rice believes she is above editing:
"I have no intention of allowing any editor ever to distort, cut, or otherwise mutilate sentences that I have edited and re-edited, and organized and polished myself. I fought a great battle to achieve a status where I did not have to put up with editors making demands on me, and I will never relinquish that status. For me, novel writing is a virtuoso performance. It is not a collaborative art."
She wrote that in a response to people's critiques of her work on The criticism was harsh enough that she was moved to answer.

She expanded on that topic to the New York Times:
"People who find fault and problems with my books tend to say, 'She needs an editor,' '' Ms. Rice said. "When a person writes with such care and goes over and over a manuscript and wants every word to be perfect, it's very frustrating.''

She added: "When you take home a CD of Pavarotti or Marilyn Horne, you don't want to hear another voice blended in. I feel the same way about Hemingway. If I read it, I don't want to read a new edited version.''

Link via Bookslut.

>The People Have Spoken, and Rice Takes Offense [The New York Times]
>From the author to some of the negative voices here []

Copy-editing tools

Need to double-check quotes from the debates? Use AP's transcripts, from its Washington In Depth site.

You can also use it to check Supreme Court opinions, among other features.

Sunday, October 10, 2004

Our misdeeds will live on forever

Gene Weingarten of the Washington Post shares his emotions as he waited to be called as a "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?" lifeline.

He was especially nervous, he said, because he knows only three subjects: the New York Yankees, diseases and exudates of the human body, and presidents of the United States.

I'll let you read how it worked out for him, but I will share an amusing anecdote about copy editors that he includes at the end:
And however she did on the show, things could always be worse. For example, she could have been the copy editor at The Washington Post in 1915 who missed a typo in a story about President Wilson and his fiancee, Edith Galt. The story was supposed to say that the president spent the previous evening "entertaining" Mrs. Galt, but the letters "t-a-i-n" were dropped.

Saturday, October 09, 2004

A true artisan wouldn't care

I wrote in July about a library in California that commissioned a ceramic tile mosaic that, when finished, included several spelling errors. (See a picture of one here.)

The Livermore City Council voted last week to pay the misspelling artist $6,000 plus expenses to come back and fix her mistakes.

Let it be known that they could have hired me for half that price to edit the design before it was set in tile.

The artist is unforgiving:
Reached at her Miami studio Wednesday by The Associated Press, Maria Alquilar said she was willing to fix the brightly colored 16-foot-wide circular work, but offered no apologizes for the 11 misspellings among the 175 names.

"The importance of this work is that it is supposed to unite people," Alquilar said. "They are denigrating my work and the purpose of this work."
OK, that's funny. And a bit pathetic. But it doesn't hold a candle to this part:
The mistakes wouldn't even register with a true artisan, Alquilar said.

"The people that are into humanities, and are into Blake's concept of enlightenment, they are not looking at the words," she said. "In their mind the words register correctly."
Here's to not being a true artisan, I guess.

And here's a list of the names she misspelled and how she spelled them.

Vent ...

... with other testy copy editors.

Friday, October 08, 2004

It would be my privilege

This Jack Shafer piece reads more like one of Slate's Explainer columns than a Press Box article. But that's a good thing, the best of both worlds.

Shafer writes about Judith Miller's rebirth from press pariah (bad reporting on Iraqi weapons) to media martyr (willing to go to jail rather than reveal CIA leak sources).

But he also delves into the history of journalists' privilege -- how it doesn't really exist under federal law. The precedent-setting case, Branzburg v. Hayes, actually found that there is no special privilege for reporters under the First Amendment.
But even though Branzburg found no special privileges for journalists, most prosecutors and courts have continued to extend various privileges to reporters on a daily basis. As First Amendment scholar Eugene Volokh writes in his blog, the courts have mostly followed Justice Lewis Powell's concurrence in Branzburg to carve out a qualified privilege for reporters to keep their sources confidential, but that privilege can be "overcome by a showing of sufficient government need." Volokh notes that "it's a bit odd" for lower courts to follow Powell's concurrence rather than the majority opinion, but "that's what the courts have done."
Shafer also answers a question that has been running through my mind: What about Novak's subpoena?
The most mysterious aspect of the Plame investigation is Novak, who has refused to say whether he's been subpoenaed. If he's been subpoenaed and talked, shouldn't prosecutor Fitzgerald be signaling "game over"? Or, if he's been subpoenaed and refused to speak, shouldn't Judge Hogan want to jail him first? Or are is the prosecutor squeezing the tube down to Novak and saving his subpoena for last?
Fascinating all around.

Errors that defy explanation

Bill Walsh, national copy chief at the Washington Post, addresses mistakes of the desk in a post on his editing blog, Blogslot. Here's betting that you've felt this way before:
Even under the best of circumstances, there's a pretty good chance that a daily-newspaper copy desk of any significant size is going to screw something up in every edition. "Make sure everything is right, and clear, and not misleading" is a pretty challenging mandate, and daily deadlines are a bitch. Book publishers have months to get things right, and when is the last time you read an error-free book?
Bill doesn't exactly offer an explanation on how the "Old and Gas" headline made it into the paper. But sometimes there isn't an explanation (although you shouldn't try to tell management that). Sometimes, things just slip through.

AP Stylebook update

The AP Stylebook has changed its entry on sewage, sewerage.
sewage Use this term, not sewerage, for both the waste matter and the drainage system.
And now I can honestly say I was not familiar with the old entry:
sewage, sewerage Sewage is waste matter. Sewerage is the drainage system.

Thursday, October 07, 2004

Double-check those Web addresses

We've all heard horror stories of papers accidentally publishing a dot-com (porn) or dot-org (spoof) address for the White House instead of the real dot-gov address.

But what happens when the vice president messes up during a televised debate?

Dick Cheney meant to direct people to, a public service run by the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania.

Instead, he sent them to, which was a for-profit advertising site. The company got about 100 hits a second and figured it could relieve its servers and help Democrats at the same time. It automatically redirected visitors to a site run by George Soros, a billionaire working hard to unseat Bush.

A company lawyer said the firm picked Soros' site because of politics and because it knew he could afford to pay for the hits.

But Soros knew nothing about it. His Web site now has a message saying: "We do not own the domain name and are not responsible for it redirecting to We are as surprised as anyone by this turn of events. We believe that Vice President Cheney intended to direct viewers of the Vice-Presidential Debate to"

Worth way more than $10

If you don't have the cash for the Poynter seminar I mentioned, consider ACES' Northeast Conference. It's all day Saturday, Nov. 13, and will only set you back $10 (that's $25 and a wrist slap if you're not a member of ACES).

It includes sessions from some of the industry's heaviest hitters: Bill Walsh of the Washington Post, John McIntyre of the Baltimore Sun, Merrill Perlman of the New York Times, and William Connolly once of the New York Times.

Find out more here.

Also coming up: ACES workshops in St. Petersburg (Oct. 3), Detroit (Oct. 9), Raleigh (Oct. 23) and Cincinnati (Nov. 7).

On numbers

A grammarian complains about the grammarian stereotypes played upon in John Allen Paulos' "Innumeracy: Mathematical Illiteracy and Its Consequences."
Oh, yes! That's us grammarians, stuffy old bores who drone on about lexical differences and can't tell when to add percentages and when to divide them by the number you first thought of! But hey, at least when we grammarians go to a party it doesn't involve first standing around distinguishing adverbs and then sitting down to watch the TV news!
And NPR's ombud, Jeffrey Dvorkin, complains about "innumerate" journalists:
One of the rarely admitted secrets about journalists is that many of us are functional "innumerates" -- another way of saying "mathematically illiterate." Oh sure, we can add and subtract reasonably well. But with some exceptions, journalists generally don't know, understand or aren't interested in numbers. As for more complex subjects such as statistics and probability, well... many journalists would be hard pressed to tell the difference between "average" and "mean."
What, praytell, is the difference between "average" and "mean"?

And Dvorkin also gives an example of journalists' being confused by the "by the 'plus or minus 4 percent' mantra." I think that should be "plus or minus 4 percentage points," unless there's another "plus or minus" mantra in polls that I'm not aware of.

Deadline approaches

The deadline for Poynter's Advanced Copy Editing seminar is Monday.

Advanced Copy Editing: Words & Visuals (G416)
Date Starts: 12/5/2004
Date Ends: 12/10/2004
Deadline: 10/11/2004
Tuition (includes hotel): $575.00
Who will benefit: Copy editors with at least five years of experience. Applicants must include five samples of appropriate work with other application materials.
Seminar Description: If you've been on the desk for half a decade or more, it's time to build on your current skills and develop new ones that will help you advance in your career. Participants will sharpen skills in content editing, writing headlines, using design and visual elements, editing for story, and building collaborative relationships throughout the newsroom. You'll also develop strategies for personal growth and learn how to play a leadership role in the newsroom.
Application Materials: N/A
Contacts: Jacqueline Davidson,
Poynter Faculty: Sara Quinn


A copy editor at the San Antonio Express-News has died.
Mark Alan Mounger, 48, died at a local hospital early Tuesday, several hours after an insulin reaction that dropped his blood sugar precipitously and triggered what is believed to have been a heart attack.
He had also worked at the Bryan-College Station Eagle, the Texarkana Gazette, the Dallas Morning News, the now-defunct Dallas Times Herald and the North Texas Daily.

Wednesday, October 06, 2004

While vs. wile

Most people know the noun, preposition and adjective forms of while just fine. It's when we get to the verb that trouble crops up.

That's what we get in the phrase to while away the time. Because we don't often use while as a verb, we assume it must be a different while, like, maybe, wile.

But the verb while means "to cause to pass especially without boredom or in a pleasant manner."

We most often use wile as a noun meaning trickery, feminine wiles. Wile also has a verb form, which I have never read outside the dictionary. It means "to lure by or as if by a magic spell."

So, while away the evening by practicing your grammatical wiles.

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

For the financially inclined

Two openings you might be interested in:

The first, at, a leading multimedia provider of financial commentary, analysis, research and news, is seeking an experienced Copy Editor. This
position will be responsible for editing the content of our professional products, which provide our institutional customers with real-time investment ideas and market analysis.

Responsibilities include:
  • Copy editing and proofreading.
  • Seeing pages through to production.
  • Writing headlines and adding value to content.
  • Candidates must have 3-5 years of copy editing experience for a financial publication.
  • Thorough understanding of equities market required.
  • Able to work under deadline pressure. Experience at a real-time publication is a plus.
  • Excellent news judgment and solid grasp of grammar required.
  • Candidates must be extremely detail oriented.
To apply:
Please send your resume, cover letter, and salary requirements with "Copy Editor" in the subject line to or fax to 212-321-5015.

About us:, Inc. (Nasdaq: TSCM) is a leading multimedia provider of proprietary, timely, independent and insightful financial commentary, analysis, research and news. brand is built on our best-in-class editorial team of experienced financial commentators and journalists. On the Internet, our premium, subscription-based website, is accompanied by our professionally oriented subscription sites, RealMoney Pro and RealMoney Pro Advisor, and our free, flagship site, In addition, our content is available across diverse media platforms, including the internet, print, radio and conferences, giving us more opportunities to generate revenue from the content we produce. Our strategic relationships with leading companies in the media, technology and financial services sectors help us create brand awareness and increase subscription and advertising revenue.
The second is at Kiplinger's:
The Kiplinger organization, one of America's most respected financial publishers, is seeking a chief copy editor to manage Kiplinger’s Personal Finance magazine copy department, supervising two full-time copy editors.

The position requires a thorough command of grammar and style, organizational skill, an affinity for detail, and grace under pressure. Duties include tracking copy flow and coordinating electronic production with art and research departments; monitoring copy for grammar, style, accuracy and consistency; and arbitrating questions of style and usage.

Qualified candidates should have at least five years’ experience on a magazine or newspaper copy desk, excellent copy-editing and proofreading skills, and expertise in Windows and Macintosh applications, particularly Microsoft Word and Quark Xpress.

A terrific opportunity at a prestigious journalism organization that is one of the best employers in Washington. The Kiplinger organization offers excellent benefits, including pension, profit sharing, 401(k), health and dental coverage, & more, plus competitive salaries and terrific growth opportunities.

If qualified, send resume with cover letter and salary requirement to:

Personnel Department - Kiplinger’s Personal Finance Magazine - 1729 H Street, NW - Washington, DC 20006 or FAX: 202-496-1817

Monday, October 04, 2004

Analyzing the Post

Copy editors should check out this week's article by Washington Post ombud Michael Getler. He discusses mistakes in headlines on 1A.

Readers were baffled that this headline could have gotten past the many layers at the Post: "Old and Gas Hold the Reins in the Wild West." That should have been "Oil and Gas." Getler said he tried to find out what happened but had not received an explanation.

The second problem: a headline and sig -- discussed at length on the Testy Copy Editors board -- on a story about being "Young and Gay in Real America." Many readers and testy copy editors wondered what that meant: What is real America? If there is one, then what is the unreal America?

The writer of the series, Anne Hull, said this in an online chat: "The title 'real America' was subject to lots of debate by editors. We didn't mean to condescend. We meant to suggest the large swath of land and opinions beyond the metropolitan areas. Politicians are forever using the term 'real' to demonstrate goodness or pureness. There are many ways to read 'Real.'"

And the writer of the head and sig, David Maraniss, wrote in to TCE:
The criticisms are fine, and I understand them, but many are also making a false assumption about the dreaded word - real - applying only to the Bible Belt. The next two parts of the series are about a young woman in the inner city of Newark, about as far away from rural OK as one can get. If there is some discussion about "real" - great, that is how I looked at it. The sig sparked something...and all we wanted it to do is signify that there is more to gay life in America than middle-aged, middle-class people wanting to get married.
This sparked a great discussion on words' literal and implied meanings and the concept of "the poetic sig line." Fascinating.

Getler, the ombud, understood the criticism: "I also thought this headline was a mistake, a needless red flag that immediately distracted some readers from the story."

He also talks about a poll story that led the front page and the Post getting beat by the Washington Times on its baseball hed. The whole column is worth reading. It should get your copy-editing juices flowing.

Credibility watch

From the New York Times:
Plenty of news media analysts thought Senator John Kerry looked good at Thursday night's presidential debate, but Fox News went a step further, posting a made-up news article on its Web site that quoted Mr. Kerry as gloating about his fine manicure and his "metrosexual" appearance.

Fox News quickly retracted the article, saying in an editor's note on its Web site that the article "was written in jest and should not have been posted or broadcast.'' It said, "We regret the error, which occurred because of fatigue and bad judgment, not malice."

The made-up quotes:
  • "Didn't my nails and cuticles look great? What a good debate!"
  • "Women should like me! I do manicures."
  • On Bush: "I'm metrosexual - he's a cowboy."

Fox wouldn't say how the reporter, Carl Cameron, would be reprimanded or whether other people involved in the story's editing would be punished.

Sunday, October 03, 2004


First the NYT's "On Language" column covered Snoop Dogg and the "izzle" phenomenon.

Now, it's language maven James Kilpatrick's turn. His column this week is on the inclusion of "bootylicious" in the Oxford English Dictionary.

Kilpatrick was flummoxed, so he found out more.

And where do you think the word's origin led him? Straight to Snoop. He first used it in a song in 1992 that most people my age are familiar with: "Fuck Wit Dre Day," with Dr. Dre. He says: "Your bark was loud, but your bite wasn't vicious/And them rhymes you were kickin' were quite bootylicious."

But the meaning there, "bad" or "weak," is now obsolete. By Kilpatrick's next example, in a Idaho paper on new slang in 1994, "bootylicious" was being used in its present sense, to describe someone as sexy, someone with a nice ass. This is how it's being used in the Destiny's Child song with the same title in 2001.

Kilpatrick talked to the OED's Jesse Sheidlower to figure out how the word's addition to the OED came about.
Sheidlower's team rounded up 25 examples of "bootylicious" in print, the minimum number required for Oxford's consideration. Other citations came from Vanity Fair, People magazine, Newsweek, Variety and the Washington Post. He wrote:

"I could easily get far more, and from even a more varied (yet mainstream) range of publications, if I went to Nexis or ProQuest or some other database. Of course, none of this means that `bootylicious' is a `good' word, or that you should be using it, or anything like that. It just means that it's certainly common enough that it would pass the inclusion policies of most dictionaries, and certainly for OED."
And there you have it.

>Bootylicious? C'mon! [Charlotte Observer]
>My favorite headline of the night [A Capital Idea]
>What's the origin of izzle? It's eezy [International Herald Tribune]
>The origin of the izzle [A Capital Idea]

Saturday, October 02, 2004

Your job questions answered

What does it take to be a copy editor at a major metro? Joe Grimm, the recruiter at the Detroit Free Press, answers at his "Ask the Recruiter" page.

Also check out this thread on how to move from copy editing to line editing -- without experience as a reporter.

Friday, October 01, 2004

A sticky situation

You know all those important lead headlines we write every day? The ones that grab people's attention and, hopefully, sell newspapers?

What if we covered them with ads?

A huge problem -- I mean, really big, massive

Bill Walsh has decided that "massive" has turned into a massive cliche. Why?
I'm not going to hit you with a geeky copy-editor rule that says "massive" means only "having great mass." It can also mean "larger or greater than normal," "large and imposing or impressive" or "of considerable magnitude," according to Webster's New World.

My problem is that the word has become a cliche. Writers seldom opt for "huge" or "extensive" or any other word when "massive" is an option, and, as when any quirky fashion choice becomes the standard (see mid-1970s ties and lapels), it looks silly.
And, as with many cliches, there is probably a more descriptive adjective to use.

From a Capital Idea entry last year:
"Massive" is being used to describe
* Things that are really bad (massive hurricane clean-up).
* Things that are widespread (massive job cuts).
* Things that are really big (a massive lead over Team X).
* Things that are severe (massive injuries).
* Things that are wonderful (massive compliment).
Fight the urge, and be exact!

These examples should make your head hurt. And all should make your fingers fly -- as you delete "massive" or, if necessary, type in a precise adjective that actually tells readers something.
As usual, Bill's explanation is more elegant than mine, but the sentiment is the same. Watch out for this word.

Copy-editor gossip

OK, which one of you Paris Hilton detractors leaked this?
The N.Y. Daily News also reports a copy editor from Hilton's tome was chastised for "trying to make the book sound smart.'' The editor dished to the newspaper she was required to dumb-blonde it down because the honchos wanted it "to be realistic.'' Just like Paris, natch.

Check yourself

The Minneapolis Star-Tribune published a quiz on grammar in a column. See how you do.

Here's the first question to get you started: "My collection of fall leaves are beautiful."

Yes, they are all that easy.

The paper published a punctuaction exercise a couple of weeks ago. You can find that here.