Thursday, March 30, 2006

All together now

One of the stories I edited tonight contained this quote:

"There's definitely a synergy to having a streamlined corridor rather than having to navigate existing infrastructure."

That's when I took a coffee break. No cream this time.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Card resigns; what's your head?

There's a whole lot of shuffling goin' on:

Card goes as Bush shuffles his pack [Scotsman]
Bush shuffles aides, Card out as chief of staff [Reuters]
White House Shuffle: Bush Aide Resigns []
Shuffled Card [Slate]
Card shuffled [The Patriot Ledger of Quincy, Mass.]
Card shuffling [The Swamp, a Chicago Tribune blog]
The Card shuffle [The Oregonian]
Shuffling the pack won't make the big problem go away [Times of London]

And then there's this:
Card Folds, and Bush Draws to the Inside [The Nation, via Yahoo]
Andy Card Leaves a Stacked Deck [NPR]
Bush's Card trick [Salon]
Is a top auto job in the cards for Andy? [Automotive News]
White House chief Card folds [Daily News Tribune of Waltham, Mass.]

I'll add more as they come to my attention. (Last updated Wednesday night.)

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Style notes

The Washington Post is now hyphenating health care as a compound modifier. [Punctuational]

The Baltimore Sun does not clean up e-mail quotes: "Our practice in quoting texts is to present them as they were written, rather than correcting minor errors or making capitalization, abbreviations and other details conform to our house style." [You Don't Say]

The Virginian-Pilot's public editor has a column about the paper's style committee. Among the rules mentioned: Don't use prominent, as in prominent attorney or physician or citizen. In stories about civil suits, don't lead with the amount of money being sought. And then there's this puzzling rule:
Accident: Be careful about using this word. Its legal definition is an unforeseen event that occurs without anyone's fault or negligence. If the issue of fault or negligence is unknown, use 'crash' or 'wreck.'
That's not one I'll be following.

The new biz buzz words

The Wall Street Journal ran a story Monday on new business buzz words.
Don't even talk about "rightsizing," "digitization" and the "war for talent." The new business buzzwords are "delayering," "Web 2.0" and "knowledge acquisition."
Delayering: laying off managers. It's the new rightsizing or downsizing.

Knowledge acquisition: hiring someone with the skills to keep the company competitive. More en vogue now than the "war for talent."

Unsiloing: cross-department cooperation to boost the bottom line.

Network optimization: putting plants in the best locations to manufacture products around the world.

Execution: The buzz has shifted from strategy toward implementing that strategy, making it happen.

Sox, S-O, Sarbox: Sarbanes-Oxley, the law aimed at strengthening reporting rules for public companies.

I have a tendency to give more credence to stories on business buzz words than attempts at cataloging youth slang, so take this for what it's worth. (It is what it is.) But business slang is more likely to end up in stories on your business pages than such words as chillax and ridonculous.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Column roundup

You can be a rock star in politics without being Bono. William Safire explains the phenomenon in his "On Language" column. Hillary Rodham Clinton, Barack Obama, Alan Greenspan -- they've all achieved rock star status.

In "The Word" column at the Boston Globe, Jan Freeman discusses figurative and literal uses of literally. When literal definitions shift, so can figurative ones. Are soldiers literally peppered with shrapnel? Can a piece of paper literally fly through the air?

And, despite the uninviting display type, this story on the evolution of hot had some interesting tidbits. Find out how "He was hot for Miss Kitty" became "Miss Kitty is hot."

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

CNN, you are not forgiven

While I'm on the topic of shocking ... check out this shockingly bad headline at
FBI, you've got mail -- NOT!

FBI official says budget doesn't cover accounts for all agents
I will note here that CNN is hiring, so perhaps they're understaffed. Even so, it takes energy to write headlines that terrible. No excuse.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Shock waves

I've been swept in by March Madness, so please forgive the absence. And root for the Wichita State Shockers.

When I came into work Saturday after the Shockers' upset win over Tennessee, a colleague noted that the headline were easy to predict. He was right:
SHOCK AND AWE! Wichita State downs Tennessee
Shockers shock Tennessee
Shockers continue to shock
Another shocker by Wichita St.
SHOCK THERAPY Wichita State triumph gives Valley-dation
No. 2 seed Vols get Shock(ers) treatment

The LA Times tried to mix it up a bit with Shockers Do Just That by Beating Tennessee, 80-73. But they didn't quite pull it off. Shouldn't that be "Shockers Are Just That After Beating Tennessee"? The New York Times took a similar tack, but its headline makes sense: The Shockers Live Up to Their Name.

The New York Daily News eschewed the shock altogether. I can't say the results are any better, but at least it's different: Every 'Wich' way but lose

Monday, March 13, 2006

AP style updates: gay and Myanmar

The AP Stylebook has updated its gay entry. The new guideline:
gay Used to describe men and women attracted to the same sex, though lesbian is the more common term for women. Preferred over homosexual except in clinical contexts or references to sexual activity.

Include sexual orientation only when it is pertinent to a story, and avoid references to "sexual preference" or to a gay or alternative "lifestyle."
Here is how the entry used to read:
gay Acceptable as popular synonym for both male and female homosexuals (n. and adj.), although it is generally associated with males, while lesbian is the more common term for female homosexuals. Avoid references to gay, homosexual or alternative "lifestyle."
The lesbian, lesbianism entry (Lowercase in references to homosexual women, except in names of organizations) is no more. The old sex changes entry is now under the transgender heading.

Online, the transsexuals entry still leads you to sex changes, which directs you to transgender. I assume that's an oversight that will soon be fixed.

AP also added an entry on Myanmar, formerly called Burma:
Myanmar Use this name for the country and the language. Use Myanmar people or Myanmar for the inhabitants. (Formerly Burma.)
Before, you could only divine the style by seeing that Myanmar was listed in the Indochinese Peninsula and Southeast Asia entries. Interestingly, in one of my hard copies [2002, I think], Burma was still listed in the Buddha entry but was Myanmar in the others.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Facts in the eye of the beholder

Remember James Frey? "A Million Little Pieces'" thousand little lies? How the hubbub was going to shame publishers into actually fact-checking their memoirs?

Crap, crap and crap. All crap.

This USA Today story shows that publishers will be doing little more than keeping an eye out.

Says Algonquin Books publisher Elisabeth Scharlatt: "As much as Oprah would like to see [fact-checking] happen, I think there might be more of an editor and a publisher looking deeply into the writer's eyes."

Says Dutton publisher Brian Tart: "We're not hiring people to check the facts of the books, and we're not changing how we do things at all. But it's a time when we all have to look our authors in the eye and say, 'We trust each other, right?'"

In case you're not laughing hard enough yet, some people are saying that fact checkers are the real joke. "The whole notion of fact-checkers is as antiquated as the Model T," said the Century Foundation's Peter Osnos. "You don't need fact-checkers. What you need is reliable writers and skeptical editors."

Blow it up

This CJR feature on the Philadelphia Inquirer has some gems on the paper's golden years under Gene Roberts' direction, from 1972 to 1990, including the restructuring of the copy desk:
Roberts understood that it was all well and good to talk about changing the culture of the newsroom — “you had to prove that excellence was possible on the paper,” he said — but quite another to impose those changes on people who had grown accustomed to the unfortunate ways of the past. The copy desk was a case in point: Roberts reasoned that adding a new editor or two would be counterproductive in that, human nature being what it is, those new editors would adapt to the desk’s existing culture. So he broke the desk apart, forming two smaller copy desks and on them installing his new people. They, in turn, were given the better stories to edit — the breaking stories and the trend pieces he wanted to see in the paper. As more editors came to the paper, they were assigned to the newly configured copy desks, where they were imbued with the culture of his Inquirer. “We developed a philosophy,” Roberts said, “that we’d zig when the others zagged.”

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Win a copy of Wallraff's latest book

Barbara Wallraff has a new book out, "Word Fugitives: In Pursuit of Wanted Words" -- which includes hundreds of fanciful neologisms and a "history of coining words for fun, quizzes and advice about how to invent entertaining words."

You can buy the book here, or you can try to win a free copy from Wallraff. She says:
I'll send one to the reader who comes up with the best -- funniest and most appropriate -- collective name for newspaper readers: an "edition" of newspaper readers? An "index" of them? Help me out here! Please write me a letter or send me a question or comment on my Web site. If more than one person sends me the winning word, I'll pick one at random to receive the free book.
Send it to her here. The deadline is Sunday.

Punchy? Yes. Accurate? Well ...

Editor & Publisher had its first online chat yesterday, with editor Greg Mitchell. Here's a question mentioned that's of interest to copy editors:
Q. Recently I noticed a significant difference in the quality of headlines between those on the L.A. Times' web site and those in the hard copy of the Times. The headlines in the web edition were much "punchier" and seemed to encapsulate the stories more accurately. Here's one example:

Online edition: "Book: Bush Proposed Provoking War"
Paper edition: "Book Casts Doubt on Case for War"

I wrote to the Times' readers' representative inquiring about the differences, and received a reply that said in part, "...some of the language I see online wouldn't be allowed in the newsroom -- not because it's 'dumbing down' the headline, but because the headline goes a bit further than editors here in the newsroom might think is accurate. For example, the 'provoking' headline probably would be seen as pushing the facts a bit more than editors want. The headline used in the print edition was more neutral so that readers could decide for themselves after reading the article."

As a trained journalist who has written heads and who understands the constraints of deadlines and space, I was taken aback by this response. Why should there be different standards for an online edition and a print edition? I would be interested in your opinion.

GM: I can't judge the day-to-day headlines at the L.A. Times, but their response to your note is certainly interesting. There has long been a sense that online readers are different than print readers, and more open to opinion and "punchiness," but I wonder if that will change as the audiences overlap more and more.
I may be off base here, but I think Mitchell is missing the point.

I don't get the impression that the online heds are punchier because headline writers are catering to a livelier audience online. The smaller online staffs mean you have fewer people specializing in writing accurate headlines. And there are fewer people around to rein in overzealous summations.

Here's more justification for the rim-slot system.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

It is whatever you say it is

William Safire has now tackled the phrase it is what it is. (See a previous Capital Idea entry on the topic here.)

He calls it the tautology that it is (actually, he coins a new word -- tautophrase) and gives references to its use by Scott McClellan, Britney Spears, President Bush. A USA Today reporter named it sports cliche of the year in 2004.

And he makes the point that this is no phrase to get all huffy about: It's just an updated, less stuffy no comment for many. Some people employ it to express philosophical resignation over a disappointment, or so says the executive editor of the American Heritage Dictionary.

It is also used to get Eminem quotes stuck in Nicole's head: "I am whatever you say I am. If I wasn't, then why would I say I am?"

Que será, será.

Go for broke

Brokenback Mountain?

Don't laugh. In the grand tradition of complaining about movie titles ("The 40 Year-Old Virgin," "Two Weeks Notice," etc.), there are calls for brokenback instead of brokeback ... "for the sake of grammarians everywhere."

This grammarian (can I even call myself that?) isn't bothered. And neither is the Boston Globe's Jan Freeman. She has the scoop in "The Word," her column.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Fun for Monday

Check out Literally, a Web Log, tracking use of literally. Especially nice are the graphic representations. See "literally coughing his head off" and "literally gave him the finger."

Wednesday, March 01, 2006


Proof that there is truth in all humor:
Copy Editor's Revenge Takes Form Of Unhyphenated Word

Proof that bosses are being told to monitor your blog: Do you know what your employees are blogging?

Proof that Fox News is fair and balanced:

And proof of the liberal media bias:

(Via Media Orchard, Bookslut)