Friday, October 28, 2005

Plame and Scooter

I knew that if I looked long enough I could find bad Scooter puns (updated Saturday afternoon):

Scooter Crash []
Scooter Broke Down [AlwaysOn]
Scooter rides out of White House [Jossip]
'Lies' about Iraq intel put a revved-up 'Scooter' on the warpath [New York Post]

So far so good for all print sources. Holla if you find something different.

And I'm not exactly sure what Michael Kinsley's getting at here, but I'll share anyway:
You can't knock the names, though. Above all, there is the wonderfully Pynchonesque Valerie Plame. Plame: headline writers and copy editors seeking a short label for this saga were drawn like moths to this mysterious beauty, a one-syllable word of only five letters. And yet the eponymous heroine of the Plame Affair or Plame Controversy has actually been off-stage the entire time. Except for a brief appearance in Vanity Fair, posed rakishly with her husband in a sports car, it's been Hamlet without the Prince of Denmark.
Any ideas?

Linguistic legacy

Language Log discusses the linguistic legacy of Harriet Miers:
Now that she has withdrawn her name from the Supreme Court nomination process, what will the linguistic legacy of Harriet Miers be? Will she be remembered as a supposed stickler in matters grammatical who ran afoul of subject-verb agreement in her first public statement as a nominee? Or will history record Miers' punctuation style, either her "trouble with commas" in written responses to Senate questions or her exuberant use of exclamation points in correspondence with President Bush when he was governor of Texas? ...

I note that one of the potential replacements for Miers, according to the New York Times, is Judge Diane Sykes of the Seventh Circuit. Is it too early to wonder if conservatives would be Syked about her nomination?
It's OK groan. I did, too.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Ready for a good laugh?

From an article on news mistakes from the Post & Mail of Columbia City, Ind., via Testy Copy Editors:
Newspapers are not allowed to make ANY changes to an AP story, no matter how glaring it may be. It's a rule we must follow and sometimes the story with an error is the only one on the topic, and if it's important enough we have to run it.

The only exception to changing an AP story is cutting off paragraphs at the bottom so the story will fit.

Harriet with one T, please

That's right, it's Harriet Miers, not Harriett.

Although that's the kind of name that if you look at it for any amount of time, every spelling looks wrong.

What happened to Harriet?

Is miered the new borked?

A contributor to The Reform Club, a right-leaning blog, wrote that to get "borked" was "to be unscrupulously torpedoed by an opponent," while to get "miered" was to be "unscrupulously torpedoed by an ally."

Grammar in the advice columns

Here are a couple of grammar-related advice-column questions. (If Phillip Blanchard were here, he'd tell you the questions are probably made up.)

From Carolyn Hax:
My friends and colleagues are highly educated people who greatly value intelligence and professionalism. My girlfriend, however, habitually uses double negatives when she speaks, and comes across as being ignorant and of low intelligence. ... Is there a way to gently coach her about how others perceive her?
The answer: Live with it.

And then one from Dear Abby:
I type a lot of handwritten drafts for my computer-illiterate boss. While typing, I have noticed that the grammar he uses for in-house correspondence is less than stellar. I correct small mistakes where necessary, but I'm uncomfortable with changing sentence structure or reshaping paragraphs, although my boss's writing could benefit from it. ... Should I bother to correct his mistakes, aside from spelling and verb tense?
The answer: Ask permission, then correct away.

The real estate bubble -- and America's lexicographical sweetheart

Hidden in this New York Times piece on whether bubble has any meaning anymore is a quote from America's lexicographical sweetheart:
For the average homeowner, though, a definition of bubble that avoids all these subtleties might be the best one of all. "Anyone who bought after you bought," suggests Erin McKean, editor in chief of the Oxford American Dictionary in Chicago, "bought in a bubble."
I also like this quote from Grant Barrett, lexicographer with Oxford University Press in New York:
"It's that weird behavior of trying to make a word mean what you want it to mean," Mr. Barrett said. "We call it the thesaurus defense: it's basically redefining a word in order to suit their own point of view and in order to make themselves feel right or sound right."
But back to McKean: She will be part of a Smithsonian seminar in D.C. next month on "Rich Resources for Successful Writing," along with Bill Walsh(!) and Michael Dirda. It's from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 19. Tickets are $80. They'll be signing books afterward.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Copy editor suspended

A part-time copy editor with the St. Paul Pioneer Press was suspended for three days without pay after attending a peace march in Washington with his church. He is also no longer allowed to edit stories related to the invasion and occupation of Iraq. (Thanks, Vince)

The case seemed pretty cut and dry. Copy editors should know that, just like reporters, we are required to give up most political activism when we take the job. And it's not as if this is an employer that has been shy on the issue. It's the same paper that suspended two reporters for attending a Vote for Change concert with R.E.M. and Bruce Springsteen a year ago.

But a story about the copy editor's punishment in the City Pages raised some questions.

First, the Guild rep said he was flummoxed:
"He was exercising his beliefs -- religious, as well as social and moral -- and the paper is saying he can't do that. And he's a part-time copy editor, for Christ's sake. I was speechless when I heard this."
Shouldn't this policy be clearly stated in an employee handbook, common knowledge?

Granted, a Guild rep might be prone to piling on. But even if you ignore that quote, what about this one from editor Thom Fladung, whom the paper paraphrases as saying he has no problem with employees participating in peace marches:
"The problem comes in when the employee doesn't communicate with us ahead of time. I have no intention of telling people what to do in their private lives."
What? So the activity was just fine, but the problem was the lack of permission? And if it's OK for a "peace march," what about a "war protest"? (What's the difference?)

And if a "war protest" is OK, what about a "protest concert"? The Vote for Change debacle certainly wasn't a permission problem. The paper told employees beforehand that they weren't allowed to go. (Two reporters went anyway and were suspended. The Guild filed a grievance, and the parties settled, with terms kept confidential.)

One last huh?: If the editor wouldn't have cared if he'd gone as long as he'd gotten permission, why is he no longer allowed to read Iraq stories?

If I worked at the Pioneer Press, I'd be pretty confused right now.

Corrections all around

I found out from Punctuational that at least some of the copies of People magazine containing a photo caption error were corrected.

How? I found out from Media Orchard that People stopped the presses to fix the gaffe.

But wait, there's more, from the New York Post gossip pages. (Try to stay with me here.) New York Daily News columnist Lloyd Grove reported that People stopped the presses, which pissed off People.

The magazine complained to Grove's boss, Martin Dunn. Dunn responded with "Lloyd Grove is a [bleep]ing idiot. His page is stupid."

One source says that Dunn, intending to forward the original People complaint to Grove, instead forwarded the insulting response, as well. Ouch.

But Dunn said he did it on purpose:
"I was trying to convince Larry [from People] I was really mad at Lloyd. It was duplicitous diplomacy," he says.

That may be true, but it doesn't make Dunn look much better. Even so, "duplicitous diplomacy" is gold.

Arlen Specter

The Republican at the helm of the Senate Judiciary Committee is Arlen Specter. Two E's. It's not Spector with an O.

Another blog on editing

Clay McCuistion has been blogging at Copy Massage about editing for about two years now. He took a hiatus while moving from Florida to New Hampshire but is picking the posting back up again.

Check out his post on grammar vs. style, or his take on three of the easiest mistakes to correct in copy.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Copy editors catch photo errors, too

At least, they're supposed to.

Click to enlarge

That's Jennifer Aniston's body double, not Jennifer Aniston.
(Via Gawker)

Proofreading Harriet Miers

Much has been said about Harriet Miers' great attention to detail, to the point of extensively proofreading (an egregious sin, to be sure). Take this from the Washington Post:
"As Bush's staff secretary, she was known to correct spelling, grammar and even punctuation errors in memos to the president. But she has no judicial experience and not much appellate experience."
And then this rundown from Slate:
But wait -- the president already put a stickler for spelling, grammar, and punctuation on the bench: John Roberts. At Hogan & Hartson, Roberts stuck clients with enormous bills by asking associates to rewrite briefs over and over until they were free of typographical and grammatical errors. In the Reagan administration, his snide memos mocked others' grammar. During his confirmation, he made sure journalists reported that as a youth, he never lost a local spelling bee.

In almost every respect, Miers would seem to be no John Roberts. But when it comes to spelling, grammar, and punctuation, Roberts may have met his match.

But now that bloggers are getting a look atsomem of the papers Miers has written, they may be ready to take it all back.

The Volokh Conspiracy points out some bad writing -- and especially poor use of commas -- in Miers' questionnaire (emphasis added by the VC):

My experience on the City Council helps me understand the interplay between serving on a policy making board and serving as a judge. An example, of this distinction can be seen in a vote of the council to ban flag burning. The Council was free to state its policy position, we were against flag burning. The Supreme Court'?s role was to determine whether our Constitution allows such a ban. The City Council was anxious to encourage minority and women-owned businesses, but our processes had to conform to equal protection requirements, as well.

My City Council service and working in economic development activities afforded me with special insight into the importance of a stable, respected, and fair judiciary in which the public can have confidence.

Looks as if Miers is no Roberts in this arena, either.

Some pundits are even joking that it might be the misspellings helping sink her nomination. The National Review has another example here. (And when a reader wrote in to say that was piling on, that this should be about "substance, not style," Jonathan Adler responded with this: "Of course typos are of minimal relevance to whether Miers should be confirmed. However, I do think they are further evidence that the White House, if not the nominee, is falling down on the job with this nomination. After all, the White House tried to sell Miers as "detail oriented" -- to the point of noting how thoroughly she would proofread others' work -- and one would have expected the questionnaire to be thoroughly proofread before it was submitted.")

As one VC commenter responded: "What is the aptitude for strict construction, if there is no aptitude for construction."

Thursday, October 20, 2005

AP style update

The AP Stylebook added a new entry:
home schooling (n.) home-schooled, home-schooler (adj.)
Although the entry doesn't mention them, it's safe to assume that the verb is home-school and the noun home-schooler.

This follows the entry in Webster's New World College Dictionary.

Apostrophes in descriptive phrases

In Barbara Wallraff's syndicated column this week, the focus is on the apostrophe.

Someone wrote in asking why he sees "Veterans' Day" so often written as "Veteran's Day." Surely we're talking about a day for more than one veteran, no?

Barbara responds:
Veterans Day is a federal holiday, so the grammatically correct way to write it doesn't really matter. The U.S. government calls it "Veterans Day," with no apostrophe. Thus the apostrophe-free version is standard.
She then uses this as a launching pad to rail against AP's stricture against the apostrophe in descriptive uses, such as citizens radio and teachers college.
Forgive me, AP, but I disagree. The possessive case in English -- words ending in an apostrophe plus "s" or "s" plus an apostrophe -- isn't used only when someone or something is literally in possession of something else. For the possessive case to be correct, the citizens don't have to own the radio band or the teachers own the college. (If you're inclined to argue with me, first ask yourself what's going on in a phrase like "a day's work" or "a week's pay.")

The AP seems to know this: It admits that a term including a plural word that does not end in "s" needs an apostrophe plus "s" -- "a children's hospital," for instance. That's a hospital for children, just as the college is for teachers and the band of radio is for citizens to use. If the AP's logic about the use of the plural word in a descriptive sense held up, we'd say "a children hospital."

I can't say I disagree. I've seen more copy editors wring their hands over this rule than most others. (And remember the debate about the Scholars Walk?)

BBC cracks down on TV grammar

Officials with the BBC are worried that poor English grammar on children's shows will create a generation of kids who can't master the language. Presenters are being asked to respond to the concerns and will be given a grammar lesson, and their language will be monitored.

The move comes after a government-commissioned reported criticized programs' "tastelessness and cruelty," a Times of London story says. "The report criticised the frequent use of bad grammar, citing 'ain't' and 'you was' as examples."

At the heart of the matter seems to be the show "Dick & Dom," the top-rated program for 6- to 12-year-olds. The Professional Association of Teachers said this summer that it "undermines attempts to maintain standards of spoken English," according to the story.
Joyce Watts, a retired teacher, complained of "fast, loud speech" where "all the words run into one and cannot be understood". Ms Watts said interviewers would ask guests, "What d'ya like best" and, "What's ya faverit number?" Children's written work suffered as they began to spell words as they believed they should be pronounced.

She said: "One student once said to me, 'R dun wanna talk posh, miss'. My response to her was, 'I'm not asking you to, but I am asking you to speak properly'."

The Dick & Dom duo of Richard McCourt and Dominic Wood were nominated yesterday for the best Presenter and Entertainment show awards at the Children's Baftas. They have been reprimanded by Ofcom for wearing T-shirts with a sexual slogan and provoked further complaints from parents after acting out a graphic childbirth scene.

Asked if their anarchic show sets a poor example, Wood said: "In Da Bungalow doesn't educate children at all. They get educated during the week with programmes like Blue Peter and Newsround. The good thing about our show is that it is complete escapism."

Wait, there's more. The story has a list of "what not to say" (mistakes theirs, not mine).
  • "R dun wanna talk posh, miss" instead of "I do not want to talk in a posh way, Miss"
  • "Yeah" instead of "yes" and "nar" instead of "no"
  • Sarah should "of" revised more thoroughly instead of "have"
  • "He's gotten much better at tennis", instead of "become"
  • She "learned me" hot to drive, instead of "taught"
  • "Wassup?" instead of "What are you doing?"
  • "I were" instead of "I was" and "we was" instead of "we were"
  • "What are you doing Tuesday?" instead of "What are you doing on Tuesday?"
  • "Wotcha want?" instead of "what do you want?"
  • A lot of this sounds like they just don't want their children to talk like Americans.

    Wednesday, October 12, 2005

    Oh, wah

    Copy editors get the usual treatment in this Freep article about an Elmore Leonard novel being serialized in the NYT Magazine.
    It's the first time Leonard has written serial fiction for a newspaper. It's the first time he's written a serial, period. The work took him all summer and really cut into his tennis playing.

    And that was before the Times copy editors got it. Now, the idea of Elmore Leonard and his expletive-spouting bad guys being edited for a newspaper that still identifies women as Mrs. So-and-So is hilarious. In time, Leonard will probably think it's funny, too.

    Right now, though, he's listing the things that the detail-oriented Times editors said were no-nos. "Getting laid." The Gray Lady's gatekeepers X'd that one.

    "Arkansas." Arkansas? In newspaper style, it's abbreviated Ark.

    But what if a person is saying "Arkansas"? You still abbreviate, because it's in the stylebook. Even if you're writing fiction, it seems.

    Sutter fought the Times' copy editors on that one, and you can see his victory in Chapter 2. But Sutter's still hot about it.

    "They don't realize this guy's got a sound. Every word. Ar-kan-saw. That's a big word for Elmore," Sutter says. "He sweats every word."

    True? Some copy editors have their doubts. I'd guess it's exaggerated. We're such easy villains.

    Tuesday, October 11, 2005

    Catching up on reading

    William Safire engages in guy talk in his latest On Language column. Want to make men OK with their erectile dysfunction? Call them guys. Not comfortable to black as a noun? Call him a black guy. Not comfortable with the hick-sounding y'all? Switch to you guys. (Bonus quote from Geoffrey Nunberg included.)

    Safire also covers the verb to ankle -- to leave, exit, depart. It's a Variety favorite.

    The Detroit Free Press has Barbara Wallraff answering some language questions. (Does anyone know if this is part of another feature? Is it the same as her Atlantic Monthly feature? I'd never seen her in the Freep before.) The topics: rendering up to and as little as meaningless and irregular verbs.

    In Barry Wood's language column in the Rockford Register Star, I learned to origin of "moot," and learned of a separate definition meaning a point "hasn't been decided and is therefore an ideal candidate for dialogue and debate." Of course, as this isn't the way the word is commonly understood in the States, that definition is best avoided.

    Saturday, October 08, 2005

    I'm back!

    Camping in Colorado was canceled by snow. So I followed a band halfway across the U.S. instead. But my days as a roadie are over, and I'll start having live posts (I had someone else posting for me this week) and answering e-mails (goodness, everyone has been busy) this weekend.

    Friday, October 07, 2005

    Quit making it so difficult

    Proper nouns are capped.

    And that means that iPod's Shuffle and Nano are capped, too, no matter what they want to do on their Web site or with their logo.

    Nano on its own and lowercase means one billionth.

    Yes, I know, you feel like you've heard this one before.

    Thursday, October 06, 2005

    More on Texas Hold 'em

    I received a response from Norm Goldstein on Texas Hold 'em:
    First, the full term, Texas Hold 'em, is the more common usage, including that of the World Series of Poker.

    Also, the last word is a corruption of "them" and would be lowercase in any use (as in "sic 'em").
    I'm not sure I agree that 'em would be lowercase in any use. What about in a title? What about at the beginning of a sentence?

    That argument makes sense to me if the words are forced together, as in Hold'em. But not when 'em stands alone.

    AP style preview

    In the October-November edition of the Copy Editor newsletter, Norm Goldstein rails against went missing, "most grammarians would strongly advise writers to avoid" it and its variations. (See related Capital Idea posts here and here.)

    He also says AP is toying with Texas Hold 'em as the style for the newly ubiquitous poker game. I don't get that. If 'em stands as a separate word, why is the E not capped? I'd vote for Texas Hold 'Em. Anyone have a good reason to convince me I'm wrong? I sent the question to Goldstein; I'll let you know if he responds.

    (Goldstein also points out that the modifier no-limit is lowercase and hyphenated.)

    Wednesday, October 05, 2005

    New words in Merriam-Webster

    Merriam-Webster offers a peek at some of the words it is adding to the 11th edition of it's collegiate dictionary. Editors added nearly 100 entries but reveal only a few:
    New Entries
    1. amuse-bouche (noun) 1984 : a small complimentary appetizer offered at some restaurants
    2. battle dress uniform (noun) 1982 : a military uniform for field service
    3. bikini wax (noun) 1985 : a procedure for removing pubic hair from the skin near the edge of the bottom half of a bikini by applying hot wax, covering the wax with a cloth to which the wax and hair adhere, and then peeling it off quickly
    4. brain freeze (noun) 1991 : a sudden shooting pain in the head caused by ingesting very cold food (as ice cream) or drink
    5. chick flick (noun) 1988 : a motion picture intended to appeal esp. to women
    6. civil union (noun) 1992 : the legal status that ensures to same-sex couples specified rights and responsibilities of married couples
    7. cybrarian (noun) 1992 : a person whose job is to find, collect, and manage information that is available on the World Wide Web
    8. DHS (abbreviation) : Department of Homeland Security
    9. hazmat (noun) 1980 : a material (as flammable or poisonous material) that would be a danger to life or to the environment if released without precautions
    10. hospitalist (noun) 1996 : a physician who specializes in treating hospitalized patients of other physicians in order to minimize the number of hospital visits by other physicians
    11. metadata (noun) 1983 : data that provides information about other data
    12. otology (noun) 1842 : a science that deals with the ear and its diseases
    13. retronym (noun) 1980 : a term consisting of a noun and a modifier which specifies the original meaning of the noun ["film camera" is a ~]
    14. SARS (noun) [severe acute respiratory syndrome] 2003 : a severe respiratory illness that is caused by a coronavirus (genus Coronavirus), is transmitted esp. by contact with infectious material (as respiratory droplets), and is marked by fever, headache, body aches, a dry cough, hypoxia, and usu. pneumonia
    15. steganography (noun) 1985 1 archaic : cryptography 2 : the art or practice of concealing a message, image, or file within another message, image, or file
    16. tide pool (noun) 1853 : a pool of salt water left (as in a rock basin) by an ebbing tideÂ?called also tidal pool
    17. Wi-Fi (certification mark) Â?used to certify the interoperability of wireless computer networking devices
    18. zaibatsu (noun) 1947 : a powerful financial and industrial conglomerate of Japan

    New Senses
    1. advance (adjective) : going or situated before [an ~ party of soldiers]
    2. chatter (noun) : electronic and esp. radio communication between individuals engaged in a common or related form of activity; also : such chatter regarding future hostile activities
    3. neoconservative (noun) : a conservative who advocates the assertive promotion of democracy and U.S. national interest in international affairs including through military means
    4. workout (noun) : an undertaking or plan intended to resolve a problem of indebtedness esp. in lieu of bankruptcy or foreclosure proceedings
    A couple of comments: Wi-Fi is correctly capped; it's a registered trademark.

    I have no idea why hazmat isn'hyphenateded. But even before I read this, I let it go in copy without the hyphenation last week. Was I lazy, clairvoyant or just feeling generous? (I had to look up the spelling of clairvoyant, and I'm a bit surprised.)

    And if tide pool has been around since 1853, I wonder why it's just being added now.

    Tuesday, October 04, 2005

    Editing on Wikipedia

    Writing a story about Wikipedia? Why not open it up to Wikipedia editing?

    CNet (via Media Orchard) has a story on Esquire's experiment with open editing. Writer A.J. Jacobs wrote a story about Wikipedia. He then inserted errors, to see if they'd be caught, and posted it on the site, promising that Esquire would print the before and after versions.

    The result? The after is better than the before.

    Compare the leads.

    For those who haven't looked at Diderot's Encyclopedie recently, you should know that it is hopelessly incomplete. For instance, it lacks an entry on Exploding Whales. There's nothing on Troll Metal (rock music about goblins that eat Christians), autofellatio (a form of masturbation that be traced to the Egyptian creation myth) or Dr. Bombay (the physician warlock on Bewitched).

    No, you can only find those entries in one encyclopedia: The Wikipedia, the free online Encyclopedia that was launched in 2001 and has become the biggest, most wide-ranging, most untamed reference work in history.
    What is the legal status of dwarf tossing? Did people really worship Jesus Christ's foreskin as a relic? Where was crushing by elephant used as an execution method? And who is the mysterious galactic ruler Xenu at the heart of Scientology?

    You won't find the answers in the Encyclopedia Britannica. Only one place contains them all: Wikipedia. The free online encyclopedia has become the largest, most wide-ranging and most untamed reference work in history.
    And compare the endings.

    Wales's idea has become so powerful in fact, that it may not be too much to say that individual authors are in serious danger. Society is on the verge of reverting to the creative model of the middle ages, when the cathedrals were not the work of a medieval I.M. Pei, but were the result hundreds of anonymous people all laboring for a common anti-individualist cause.

    Put it this way: In ten years, this article wouldn't have a byline.
    As more people turn to wiki communities for research, news and study, the idea of "individual authorship" could quickly become a thing of the past. Put it this way: the byline for this article may be as long as the text itself.
    The article was edited 224 times in the first 24 hours after it was posted and 149 times in the next 24 hours.

    The original article was 709 words, with 14 paragraphs. The final draft had 771 words, with 15 paragraphs.

    And in between -- it got up to 857 words at one point -- is the real story, providing a look at the process Wikipedia entries take.

    The biggest complaint I've heard from editors is that we should all be against wikis: They allow anyone to change facts willy-nilly, making the result untrustworthy. That kind of stuff should be left up to professionals.

    The Wikipedians have a response:
    Yes, vandalism is common on Wikipedia, but Wikipedia heals quickly. That's because it never forgets Â? there's a record of every change made to every page, making anything undoable. Ruffians are quickly repelled by Wikipedia's volunteers, who watch the real-time list of "Recent Changes" like hawks. In fact, IBM researchers found that most vandalism on Wikipedia was reverted in less than five minutes. If more chaos ensues, individuals can be blocked or pages can be locked down.
    It's an interesting experiment, to say the least. And Wikipedia, though I wouldn't trust it enough to quote it in a newspaper, is often my first source when I'm looking for historical context or a research starting point.

    Monday, October 03, 2005

    Style & Substance

    The Wall Street Journal's Style & Substance newsletter for September is out.

    Paul Martin warns not to jump the gun on the real-estate bubble. That implies that we know it's going to burst. "In the present tense, we have a real-estate-market boom or surge," he writes.

    And he weighs in on the refugee-evacuee hubbub, choosing to allow refugees when referring to the surviving victims, "at least until they find permanent new homes or return to their old ones." He adds:
    But we reject the reasoning of a California emailer who suggested that those who fled to Texas "were certainly refugees, because that's like another country."
    Heh. I believe Texas is "like a whole other country," but point well taken.

    Other highlights: preserving the difference between healthy and healthful, a new capital of Kazakstan, and a particularly good quiz this month.

    Saturday, October 01, 2005

    Happy trails

    I'll be leaving for a camping trip to Colorado in about an hour.

    Expect a few posts here and there, but they may be sporadic.

    Spam in comments

    Sorry, guys, but I'm going to try out word verification for a while in the comments. It's a pain, but I can't keep up with deleting all the spam being posted.

    We'll see how this works.

    Also, if you come across any spam in the comments that I've missed, let me know, including the title of the entry.