Thursday, December 30, 2004

Big-band leader

Artie Shaw, who died today at 94, was the last remaining figure of the big-band era. And he was a renowned bandleader.

He was a big-band leader. Or a big band leader, if you're so inclined.

But he was not a big bandleader, as NPR idenitifies him in a cutline here.

This is the same concept that requires us to write "small-business man" instead of "small businessman."

Thursday, December 23, 2004

Trib changes style

I just read a style note that I missed when it came out in November. (Thanks to Common Sense Journalism for mentioning it.)

Last month, the public editor at the Chicago Tribune wrote that the paper was changing its style on fetus.
A new edition of the stylebook, scheduled for publication shortly, will permit the use of "unborn child" when the fetus is in the third trimester of gestation.
The Associated Press stylebook does not have an entry.

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Work at home!

Interesting copy-editing news coming out of the Washington Post's purchase of Slate:
About a dozen of the magazine's 30 employees remain in Redmond. Of those, "several" will move to the East Coast and several copy editors will work from home.
I'd love to know how this works out. Anyone know a Slate editor?

Innocent vs. not guilty

Both of the dailies I have worked for ignored AP's policy on using "innocent" rather than "not guilty" in trial stories, even before AP changed its policy last year.

Old AP rule:
innocent Use innocent, rather than not guilty, in describing a defendant's plea or a jury's verdict, to guard against the word not being dropped inadvertently.
The rule now says:
innocent, not guilty In court cases, plea situations and trials, not guilty is preferable to innocent, because it is more precise legally. (However, special care must be taken to prevent omission of the word not.) When possible, say a defendant was acquitted of criminal charges.
So why were papers ignoring the old rule, and what made AP change?

There's a discussion going on about whether to make the change at the ACES message board. (The Atlanta Journal-Constitution stuck with the "innocent" rule, it seems, and some people there are arguing for a change.) David Sullivan, the AME for copy desks at the Philadelphia Inquirer, explains it the rationale nicely:
If memory serves, part of the reason the AP had the rule was that it was so easy for the word to be dropped by printers (or by the people retyping things for the AP feed) and not be caught in the composing room proofing process. When printers became redundant (so to speak) the trend favored using not guilty because we have no idea if someone is actually innocent, and if an error was made it would be a newsroom error and not one foisted upon us by the allied trades. For those of us who remember how many errors were caught in the composing room, whether that makes sense or not... In the event, The Inquirer has used "not guilty" for many years.
So, use "not guilty." It's legally correct, and technology has rendered the reasoning obsolete. (You don't see people complaining about using "not" in any other construction, many of which could be just as important legally.)

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

The worst headline I've seen in a while

On Headline News' ticker (a remarkable source for poor heds) over news about hundreds gathering at Stonehenge for the winter solstice:
It's Not the Heat, It's the Druidity

Friday, December 17, 2004

Your job questions answered

Newspaper job site Ask the Recruiter answers a copy editor's question:
I work on a news copy desk and hope to move to a new paper in a year or two. When I move, I would like to get on with a features copy desk. A spot on my paper's features copy desk is about to open.

Would working on it improve my chances of getting a features job when I decide to move? I have the wide range of cultural knowledge necessary to work on a features desk, so would further news desk experience help more?

Read Joe Grimm's response here. (He's the recruiting and development editor at the Detroit Free Press.)

Thursday, December 16, 2004

But there's no time to edit!

An Arizona novelist's books are so in demand that the publishers are skipping the editing process.

From a story in the Arizona Republic on Diana Gabaldon:
Her publisher is so eager to get them into print that the whole editing process has been done away with for Gabaldon.

She said her last book, The Fiery Cross, "went right off the disk I sent them and straight to the typesetter; there wasn't a copy editor. They sent me the galleys on a Tuesday, and I figured I'd spend about a month copy-reading them, but they said, 'We want them back Friday.' I spent four days with no sleep going over about 500,000 words."
And while I'm pulling that section, let me tell you how irksome I find that the writer introduced a partial quote and fused it onto the longer quote. (What's a more elegant way to say that? Bill?)


Blame the linguists!

Linguist Veda Charrow has a column in the Washington Times that tries to break down America's deteriorating grammatical skills.
Earlier in the 20th century, professional writers and educated speakers could be expected to make few, if any, grammatical errors. Newspapers and magazines were edited not only for content and length, but for grammatical correctness. This is no longer the case. Newspapers, magazines, newscasts and, of course, the Internet are rife with errors like the ones above.
She thinks linguists, and their training to not make value judgments, may be to blame. She discusses Noam Chomsky's theory of transformational-generative grammar (of which I know nothing about but sounds terribly interesting).

Her theory: People tried to incorporate the theory into their grammar lessons. Kids didn't really get it and therefore never really got a firm hold of grammar. And now those kids are the adults teaching students now. Trickle-down ignorance.

She ends with a call to action:
It's time again to formally teach traditional grammar in the schools. (And, yes, I know I split an infinitive, but English doesn't have true infinitives, so it's OK.)


Take a couple of minutes to read these stories on TiVo, one at the New York Times and one at Slate.

They describe how TiVo has unleashed the attack dogs on its trademark -- and is asking that "TiVo" not be used as a verb or even a noun. It should only be used as "a proper adjective," as in TiVo DVRs.

Of course, the company can suggest what it likes. But cap it, and you'll be fine -- whether you're quoting people who TiVoed their favorite show last night, who want to buy TiVo-like products, or who just use TiVos instead of TiVo DVRs.

And you should never use the registered trademark symbol.

Interesting, though, is that some of this comes directly from the rules of the International Trademark Association.
NEVER use a trademark as a noun. Always use a trademark as an adjective modifying a noun. ...

NEVER modify a trademark from its possessive form, or make a trademark possessive. Always use it the form it has been registered in.
As Slate points out, "So much for classic ad slogans like 'Coke is it' or 'Leggo my Eggo!'"

And, as usual, there's a conversation about the rules going on at Testy Copy Editors. It produced this classic response from Phil Blanchard: "Of course, I will use 'TiVo' as a noun or a verb whenever I please and TiVo can't do anything about it."

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Deadline for headline contest

Entries for ACES' headline contest must be postmarked today. Five hundred dollars will be awarded in each division (circulations over 250,000; from 100,001 to 250,000; from 50,001 to 100,000; and 50,000 or less). The award in the staff-work division is an engraved plaque. In the student division, it's $250.

The rules changed this year, so make sure you read them.

Good luck!

Monday, December 13, 2004

A misattribution up with which we should not put

Most of us have heard some variation on the great story about Winston Churchill, retold here at Language Log after being retold here at The Evangelical Outpost:
After an overzealous editor attempted to rearrange one of Winston Churchill's sentences to avoid ending it in a preposition, the Prime Minister scribbled a single sentence in reply: "This is the sort of bloody nonsense up with which I will not put."
Well, someone wrote in to Language Log to try to prove that the attribution is apocryphal. The first reference found is in the Wall Street Journal in 1942, quoting from Strand Magazine.
When a memorandum passed round a certain Government department, one young pedant scribbled a postscript drawing attention to the fact that the sentence ended with a preposition, which caused the original writer to circulate another memorandum complaining that the anonymous postscript was "offensive impertinence, up with which I will not put." —Strand Magazine.
The writer to Language Log says, "Churchill often contributed to London's Strand Magazine, so it seems unlikely that the magazine would fail to identify the unnamed writer as Churchill if he were indeed the source of the story."

Further citations show that the quote started being attributed to Churchill only after the end of the war.

Regardless, it's as good a story (perhaps better) as quoted in strand as it is coming from Churchill. At the very least, it's easier for me to relate to.

Courtesy of SpongeBob SquarePants

Copy editors around the country are discussing style points related to a talking yellow sponge. And if that doesn't sound strange enough, their discussions certainly will.

First I read this thread at Testy Copy Editors: "In this review, the NYT has officially gone overboard with its insistence on using honorifics on second reference (or else A.O. Scott is having some fun with the style police):
In my ideal cinémathèque, "The Life Aquatic" would play on a permanent double bill with "The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie." Mr. Anderson and Stephen Hillenburg, Mr. Squarepants's creator, share not only a taste for nautical nonsense, but also a willingness to carry the banner of unfettered imaginative silliness into battle against the tyranny of maturity.
(Personally, I find the honorific delightful. Papers that are silly enough to use honorifics ought to be consistent -- even when the results point out how silly they actually are.)

Then I read in the Anderson (S.C.) Independent-Mail that AP style requires a two spaces in SpongeBob SquarePants:
We had a rather detailed discussion over the name usage. Since our newspaper uses courtesy titles, did we refer to the abductee as Mr. Pants or Mr. SquarePants? The Associated Press puts a space in between "Square" and "Pants" while Google doesn’t. In accordance with AP style, we’re going with Mr. Pants.

First, Google doesn't "put" spaces in anything. It just tells you where other people have put them.

Second, Google shows 61,400 hits for "SpongeBob Square Pants." It shows 1.23 million for "SpongeBob SquarePants."

Third, I don't know Norm Goldstein personally, but I hope I would have heard if the AP Stylebook came out with a rebellious ruling on SpongeBob SquarePants. Clearly, Nickelodeon has it as two words. Why would AP require three?

My guess is that a reporter saw it wrong in an AP-written story. But that doesn't make it AP style. That just makes it an AP mistake.

Numbers game

The new crime drama scheduled to premiere Jan. 7 on CBS is "Numbers." Do not fall into the "copy our logo" trap and style it "NUMB3RS." That's ridiculous.

And while we're on the topic, the 1995 movie by David Fincher was "Seven," despite the logo of "SE7EN."

Sunday, December 12, 2004

Weekend reading

This week's Word Watch column from Merriam-Webster's has the origins of some fun words: bumpkin, josh, spelunker and scallywag.
Some theorists suggest that "Josh" was once considered by certain people to be a homely or unrefined name, similar to "Rube," which is a nickname for "Reuben" and also (like "bumpkin") a term for an awkward and unsophisticated rustic.
The Charlotte Observer's feature "Inside the Observer" seeks to demystify the role of copy editors. It also shares details about the desk there, and it's always fun to me to read how other desks work. (For example, the story says the Observer has 25 copy editors.) Several copy editors are mentioned -- recognize Amy French, Shelly Shepard, Chip Wilson, John Nalley?

We all know how easily homophones can slip past writers and editors alike. So having James Kilpatrick tell us how to avoid them (read carefully, read aloud) may not be so helpful. But his column this week is worth reading anyway just for the examples.
"Experts say Arizona's drought-like conditions are exasperating an ongoing problem."

A reader in Pensacola commented that prisoners in the local jail should thank God they're not in "a Third World penile system."
Enjoy your week, everyone.

Saturday, December 11, 2004


Ruth Walker devotes her latest "Verbal Energy" to the perils of transliteration, after readers of the Christian Science Monitor complained about the spelling of Kiev.

It's a problem you've no doubt come across at your own newspaper -- Falluja? Fallujah? Fallouja?

In most instances, the way you write it won't matter as long as your paper is consistent.

But Walker tells a story of when politics can come into play as well -- and why news outlets usually stick to the middle.

There's nothing "co" about this "coed"

Bill Walsh points out at Blogslot that "coeds" seems to be making a comeback.
I've used the word as a throwaway inclusion in copy-editing tests, including my contribution to this year's test for Washington Post copy-editing internships. This time it wasn't such a throwaway, as almost all the applicants let it stand. Only one flagged it with the red-pencil equivalent of the gasp it deserved. When I saw these results, a day after hearing a television reference to "coeds" that further eroded the original meaning by referring to students of both sexes, I started to think the word might be making a comeback.
Help him (and humanity) by making sure this doesn't happen in the copy you edit.

Monday, December 06, 2004

On slang

William Safire covers slang in his latest On Language column.

I'd say I use about half the words. A quarter I've never heard of. And the rest: They're either old or wrong, or else I'm so far out of it I know no better. (Is it really new to be saying "ba-a-ad" means "good"?)