Friday, June 30, 2006

Always a crossword between them

It's probably hokey that I found this "Vows" story in the New York Times so cute. But I'm a sucker for word lover romance.
Ask Jessica Switzer and Gregory Pliska to find a synonym for love, and chances are they could come up with a dictionary's worth.

For as long as either can remember they have had a passion for words. And through words they discovered a passion for each other.

Though they had both attended the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament in Stamford, Conn., for years, they did not meet until March 2005, when Mr. Pliska's gaze fell upon Ms. Switzer, who was seated nearby in the room full of fast thinkers and human dictionaries.

During a break he struck up a conversation with her. Soon he had convinced her to stay for dinner and after-competition activities, which included a cutthroat game of Boggle.
I'm terrible at crosswords, I'll admit. But a cutthroat game of Boggle? That's high on my list of perfect date activities.

Too funny to pass up

Seen in a book review (in a British publication):
Although a must red, Iskandar's books suffers from the recent general decline in British copy-editing and fact-checking standards.
However, given that this is the English version of an article on an Arabic site, I'm willing to cut some slack.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Let that be a lesson

Whenever you use "Up, up and away" with a balloon story, an angel is accidentally sucked into a hay baler and fed to cattle. [Headsup: the Blog]

Porn and commas

When the Sex & Love editor at iVillage needs to describe the comma of direct address, she uses tactics that might not be appropriate for all grammar nerds. (Her blog entry also includes references to Bill Walsh, sex toys and the World Cup. How's that for diverse?)

And, try as I might, I can't get a certain Dexy's Midnight Runners song out of my head now.

Anonymous sources

From an AFP story:
A White House official, who requested anonymity, said the jukebox was a fully restored 1954 Seeburg R100 jukebox, originally manufactured in Chicago, with all of the original parts, and configured to play 100 songs.
Wonkette's response:
WTF AFP? We know you’re kind of a pretend wire service, but that’s the stupidest granting of anonymity we’ve seen… well, today.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Editing letters to the editor

Everyone gets edited in a good newspaper -- even people who aren't so used to it, like readers who write letters to the editor.

The Editor's Desk (have I mentioned that I just love this blog by Andy Bechtel, a journalism prof at UNC?) has a post about a North Carolina senator who was mad that his letter to the News & Observer was edited down -- so mad that he took out a full-page ad to air his grievances. (The public editor addressed the issue in a column.) Bechtel lists a few papers' word limits, which got me wondering what more papers do.

Here's a smattering:
USA Today: 250
Wall Street Journal: 300
New York Times: 150
Los Angeles Times: 150
Philadelphia Inquirer: 200
Houston Chronicle: 250
Detroit Free Press: 200
Dallas Morning News: 200
Minneapolis Star-Tribune: 250
Boston Globe: 200
Newark Star-Ledger: 200
Atlanta Journal-Constitution: 150
Arizona Republic: 200
Newsday: 250
San Francisco Chronicle: 200

Letters to the editor will always be edited for space, style, grammar and issues of clarity. The trick is to keep the heart of the argument in tact after the editing is done.

The senator, Richard Burr, was unhappy with a News & Observer editorial critical of food label legislation he sponsored. He wrote a letter that was 1,301 words long. (The paper's limit is 200.) The original editorial was 500 words long.

The secret life of a letter to the editor [CJR]

Updates to the OED

I know I've been posting the updates to the OED from time to time, but I've never said how they're going about adding new words.

ABC News has a story quoting Jesse Sheidlower, editor of the North American division. He said editors are going through the entire dictionary, entry by entry, updating some words and adding others -- about 250 every quarter.

OED publicist Don Myers says most additions these days come from science fiction, technology and hip-hop. They've passed the 600,000-word mark and, he says, won't take words out. Even obsolete words may be relevant to someone at some point.

The latest update includes:
air kiss, n.
bouncebackability, n.
crunk, adj. and n.
doobrey, n.
euonym, n.
fucking A, adj., adv., and int.
Google, v.
Hold 'Em, n.
inner sanctum, n.
just war, n.
keepy-uppy, n.
love-struck, adj.
mash-up, n.
nadger, n.
off book, adv. and adj.
pizza face, n.
rewriteable, adj.
skatepunk, n.
text message, v.
usual suspects, n.
vice grip | vise grip, n.
wazoo, n.
yada yada, int. and n.

Want to get a subscription to the OED? Individuals in the Americas can get them for $29.95 a month or $295 a year. For institutions, there's a schedule fee.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

"Utilize"? It's no use

Scott Baradell, who runs a PR firm in Dallas and the accompanying Media Orchard blog, is annoyed by the overuse of utilize when a simple use will do.
Clearly, many corporate folks think big words sound more impressive than small words. It just sounds better to "utilize" state-of-the-art technology than to "use" it, doesn't it?
Baradell -- a former alt-weekly reporter who also has "Belo VP for corporate communications" on his resume -- doesn't say utilize should be thrown in the trash heap. Compare the different implications in these two sentences:
The teachers were unable to use the new computers.
The teachers were unable to utilize the new computers.
Utilize there means "to make practical use of."

Baradell's suggestion to his press-release-writing readers? "Utilize 'utilize,' but use it sparingly." Hear, hear.

Sports copy editors

You may have read the headlines from the APSE diversity study (PDF) last week: Sports staffs are dominated by white men.

But what about copy editors and designers? They say 89.7 percent are white, 87 percent male.

A further breakdown:
White Men89978.58%
African-American Men393.41%
Latino Men393.41%
Asian Men110.96%
Other Men40.35%
White Women12711.10%
African-American Women131.14%
Latina Women60.52%
Asian Women40.35%
Other Women20.17%

Headlines by remote control?

Office Pirates compiles some of the box office headlines from the weekend.

We get it, we get it; Sandler clicks with moviegoers.

But just in case we didn't get it, a couple of news orgs put the clicks in quotes for us. Thanks for nothing, and

Monday, June 26, 2006

Editing Dave Barry

This isn't particularly important or telling, but I do find it interesting:

A version of Dave Barry's latest column, on Miami fans' love of the Heat, went online with this passage (italics mine): "But I believe that many of us, if we are honest with ourselves, know in our heart of hearts that this is not the sacred undying lifelong-commitment love of holy matrimony. This is more the hasty squirting backseat passion of Prom Night."

But in the paper a day later that last sentence read: "This is more the hasty groping backseat passion of Prom Night."

(And yet prom night is capped in both examples. Yes, I know Barry loves the whole "capitalization for effect" game, but just what effect do we get when prom night is capped? )

Language column roundup

The meat of William Safire's column is devoted to the history of lollygag. It's a delightful word; still you might get more enjoyment out of his complaints about acronyms and initialisms. (And you Safire haters, take note: He closes the column with a correction -- and word that he's taking a vacation.)

It's been six weeks since Tony Snow called a problem a "tar baby," and some people are still calling for his firing. Jan Freeman discusses the origins of the term both the "sticky trap" meaning and the racial epithet. The racial sense isn't used much today, and Freeman notes that the problem sense, although tainted, could still win out.
We're all deft jugglers of multiple senses, as Jon Stewart demonstrated (wittingly or not) by including faux-racist homonyms in his "Daily Show" commentary on the Snow flap: "I'd hate to expose any chinks in his armor, especially since his reputation has been spick and span." Nobody blinks at these innocent usages, of course.
In James Kilpatrick's column: A speaker is seldom follows up frankly by being frank. Despite the inevitability of death, it can still called unexpected at times. And one of the only may not be grammatically correct, but it's an idiom; so there.

Nathan Bierma discusses the folly of the grammar police (that'd be us) in blindly following usage guides that are seldom written by linguists: "The manuals tend to make subjective, selective and shaky suggestions. The authors pass off their own personal preferences or folk customs as gospel truth."

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Time for another laugh

That last copy editor cartoon was so popular that I'll offer another, though I don't enjoy this one as much.In an early job interview, I can remember the editor of a paper asking me why I wanted to be a copy editor, and I went on and on about my love of language and obsession with grammar. I threw in that clever "I even edit menus at restaurants." (Cringe.)

I suppose it's better than "Why, we're the last line of defense!" But not much.

Attention to (worthless) detail

I really enjoyed the New York Observer's profile of NYT reporter Sewell Chan, the overachiever who racked up 422 bylines in a year.

He must do nothing but work. Once, he even recommended bringing a cot into the newsroom when he worked at the Washington Post. Why take the time to drive home?

And you know a reporter like that is going to sweat the small stuff. To wit:
Ms. Layton [a former co-worker at the Post] sat in the cubicle next to Mr. Chan in the newsroom. "He keeps trying to go deeper," Ms. Layton said. "He has this very strange affection for middle initials. He was always double-checking with sources, "Is that William H.W. Smith III?" He would get everyone's middle initial.
"He was obsessed with it," Ms. Layton said. "Even though it's not Post style to include it."

An expensive typo

A former managing editor was willing to pay a headhunter $1,720 to spruce up her resume and send it out ... until they accidentally inserted gibberish into it, making her look like an ass to 200 potential employers.
Four days later, she received an e-mail from Bud Weiser Chevrolet-Cadillac in Beloit stating, "Barbara, received your letter, but I am not sure what a 70E.R1B,EWI.5381 does. Maybe you could fill me in, and we could go from there," according to the lawsuit.

The next day, she received a copy of the letter from a Madison public relations firm with the gibberish and the words "executive metro editor" circled in pink, the word "Proofread," and a question mark highlighted, according to the lawsuit.
The former editor's next endeavor? Suing the job firm, seeking more than $75,000 for humiliation, mental anguish, emotional pain and loss of professional reputation.

One other note: Bud Weiser Chevrolet-Cadillac? Are you kidding me?

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Language column roundup (books edition)

* William Safire devotes his column to recent books on language. Covered are:
* Jan Freeman explains what linguists do, through the experiences of Mark Liberman and Geoff Pullum. The two created Language Log, a blog that brings linguists to the everyman. They have a book out, too, a compilation of blog posts: "Far from the Madding Gerund." Best quote from Pullum:
Pullum, for instance, is annoyed that even now, 15 years after he dismantled the "400-words-for-snow" legend in "The Great Eskimo Vocabulary Hoax," the media are still retailing nonsense about cultures and lexicons. When a "60 Minutes" report claims that the Moken islanders off Thailand have "no word for when," and hence "no notion of time," he responds, "I wish English had a word meaning 'lazy journalist eagerly repeating hogwash about natural languages.'"
Also discussed is Ben Zimmer's debunking of the Churchill quote "This is the sort of bloody nonsense up with which I will not put."

* Nathan Bierma's column in the Chicago Tribune shares some of the untranslatable words included in "The Meaning of Tingo and Other Extraordinary Words From Around the World." I, too, wish the German word bettschwere was easily translated. It means "lacking the energy to get out of bed." Or kummerspeck, German for "grief bacon," or the weight you gain from overeating out of sadness. Somewhat related, there's waham, Arabic for "the specific food craving of a pregnant woman."

* The editor of the Sun-Sentinel discusses when it's OK to use slang in the paper. The official policy: Don't do it. Ken Olsen, head of the style committee shared a story from the field:
'Giving props' is an interesting example. It came up a few months ago in the news section when one of our copy editors used it in a headline. A quick survey showed that about half of the editors on duty -- most of the younger ones -- understood it immediately. Some older editors did not. In this case, we decided not to use it because there wasn't enough context to make the meaning clear to everyone.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Editing Wikipedia

Wikipedia has loosened its "anyone can edit" policy on a handful of its 1.2 million English-language articles most vulnerable to vandalism.

It has a small list of entries that are protected from all editing; as of Friday, there were 82 of them, including entries on Cuba, the 2004 election controversy in Ohio, and elitism.

Then there are articles that are semi-protected, open only to editors who have been registered for more than four days. The 179 entries included those on George W. Bush, anarchism and emo music. ("A cooling-off period is a wonderful mediative technique," Ross Mayfield, chief executive of Socialtext, told the New York Times.)

There is some hubbub that the change is undemocratic and undermines the idea of Wikipedia altogether. Poppycock; it goes a long way in helping protect its credibility, I say. Vandals are one of its biggest problems.

Related posts from A Capital Idea:
Wikipedia vs. Britannica: Who wins?
Gig's up for Wikipedia vandal
Sticky wikis
A Wikipedia warning

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Is nothing holy?

With Madonna on tour, "The Da Vinci Code" in theaters, and skinny jeans coming back into style, sacrilege has been on my mind.

The oft-misspelled adjective is sacrilegious, not sacreligious.

It's easy to see why a term referring to "gross irreverence toward something held sacred" is often thought to contain the word religious.

But popular belief assigns the words different origins: sacrilege from the Latin sacrum legere, "to steal sacred things" and religion from the Latin religionem, via religare, "to bind fast." (Some, including Cicero, have argued that religionem derived from relegare, "go through again, read again," from re- "again" + legere "read," but that theory has fallen out of favor. It would, however, give sacrilege and religion a shared origin. And let me stop here before I make a fool of myself; etymology is not my strong suit.)

In any case, I still get tripped up when writing sacrilegious; my brain wants to throw in some religion. But as soon as I think of sacrilege, I manage to keep the spellings straight. (Others aren't so lucky.)

If that doesn't work for you, try this mnemonic device: Remember that religious is e-i; sacrilegious goes against that, i-e.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Good for a laugh

A comic for copy editors (Thanks, Michael!)

Thursday, June 15, 2006

AP style guidelines that aren't in your book

The Associated Press has an "Ask the Editor" section of its online stylebook. (I've been reading right over the link forever; luckily, Doug Fisher pointed it out.)

People have asked about taps, the bugle call, about 28,000 times. Here are some style notes from Norm Goldstein that aren't already in your stylebook:

How does the AP abbreviate microphone? Do you go to an open mic night or an open mike night? Was the musician's guitar mic'ed or miked?

AP uses "mike" as the abbreviated form of microphone.

What is the official AP style for September 11, 2001? How should it be written on first and second reference? What's AP's stance on the use of 9/11 or 9-11?
"Sept. 11" is AP's preferred term to use in describing the terrorist attacks in the United States Sept. 11, 2001. If the abbreviated form is used, it is 9/11. [This is mentioned in the slash entry.]

What about Web log (two words) or weblog (one) when explaining what a blog is?
AP uses Web log as two words in describing a blog.

How do you write "24x7" meaning 24 hours a day, seven days a week?
AP uses the slash when referring to 24/7. [This is mentioned in the slash entry.]

Does AP have a preferred style for the plural of euro currency? I notice the entry on euro is a bit vague, using instead "euro bank notes" and other constructions. But if I'm simply stating a price, should it be "10 euro" or "10 euros"?
AP prefers "euros," with the "s," for the plural form.

When a person has a hyphenated last name, such as smith-smithson, should both be used on second reference or just the latter?
Hyphenated last names should always be used as a unit.

This answer is so ridiculous that I hesitate to include it here, but oh well:
Do you capitalize a Web address when it starts a sentence? I thought the Stylebook addressed this but I cannot find it.
For Web addresses, AP follows the spelling and capitalization of the Web site owner (whether at the start of a sentence or elsewhere). (See the Internet entry in the AP Stylebook.)

Would the number in "3 percentage points" be written as a numeral or written out? The confusion is coming from whether it would follow the AP rule for percents (write out all numerals) or if it would follow the "under 10" rule since the noun is points not a percent.
We use the numerals for percentage points (as with percents).

Is the use of "some" in place of "about" considered proper use of the word? (As in "some 5,000 people attended.")
Yes, "some" is acceptable when used in the sense of a certain unspecified number.

What is the standard for the use of African American, Black, or black as a designation for the group of dark-skinned individuals of African descent who have American citizenship?
AP prefers the use of "black" for those of the Negroid or black race and uses "African-American" only in quotations or the names of organizations or if individuals describe themselves as such.

Another ruling I disagree with:
There's a good deal of confusion and no apparent widespread agreement among some fine newspapers about reporting blood alcohol content. Is it proper to call a BAC figure as a percentage? The AP at times refers to an individual's blood alcohol content as 0.24 percent, for example, and at other times treats the figure without the "percent.''
AP generally uses the blood content level figure without percent, as it appears to be familiar to readers (in context). However, both forms are acceptable.

Recently I've been noticing radio news using the term "so-called" in place of "known as". Isn't the term "so-called" a journalistic taboo because of it's perjorative nature? I was always taught that "so-called" meant suspect, or "in-name only".
The terms ae not synonymous and should not be used interchangeably. "So-called" implies a question or inaccuracy (as in "so-called immortals of the theater"), while "known as" indicates an accurate, but alternative name.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Puns, full speed ahead

Jason Kottke rounds up just sampling of the puns used in headlines about the new Pixar movie, "Cars."
With 'Cars,' Pixar Revs Up to Outpace Walt Disney Himself (NY Times)
NASCAR, Hollywood share the fast lane (USA Today)
'Cars' Voices Toot Their Horns (
A toon-up for Petty (Orlando Sentinel)
With 'Cars', Paul Newman stays in the race (Malaysia Star)
Newman's need for speed (Toronto Sun)
Cars: Cruising along in Weirdsville, Cartoonland (NY Times)
Cars' Riding on Flat Tires (OhMyNews International)
Shifting gear (The Age)
Pixar's Cars stalls with reviewers (Guardian Unlimited)
"Cars" is one sweet ride (Hollywood Reporter)
Cars rolls along like an animated version of Doc Hollywood (
'Cars' an auto-matic hit (Tucson Citizen)
Great-looking 'Cars' stuck in cruise control (
'Cars' revs up marketing campaign (Inside Bay Area)
Disney/Pixar revvs up its latest cash cow (Monterey Herald)
Finely drawn characters drive 'Cars' and its director (St. Paul Pioneer Press)
'Cars' wins the race hands down for summer's best film (Press & Sun Bulletin)
Kickin' the Tires (East Bay Express)
Star vehicle veers a bit (St. Petersburg Times)
Pixar's 'Cars' falls a little short of winner's circle (
'Cars' just can't get it out of first (Statesman Journal)
'Cars' will take you straight to the dump (Scripps Howard)
Running on Fumes (Village Voice)
More, now that the weekend box office numbers are in. The movie topped the box office but missed estimates:
Cars takes checkered flag at box office (Toronto Star)
'Cars' Passes 'The Omen,' Lindsay Lohan In Box-Office Race (
Pixar's Cars speeds to top of weekend box office (Tonight)
"Cars" races to top of North American box office (People's Daily Online)
'Cars' cruises to big box-office finish with $62.8 million (KESQ)
Cars zooms ahead of the pack (Guardian UK)
Cars drives to the top of the box office (Globe and Mail)
'Cars' flies like winner at Indy (Los Angeles Daily News)
'Cars' goes for pole position (USA Today)
"Cars" laps the box office competition (Reuters Canada)
'Cars' Shows Horsepower at Ticket Window (Los Angeles Times)
"Cars" Goes Vroom! (E Online)
On the right road (New York Daily News)
Disney sputters on low-revving 'Cars' (Toronto Star)
Cars Gets a Yellow Flag (
'Cars': 0 to $60M in 3 days is too slow for Wall St. (San Jose Mercury News)

Language column roundup

William Safire talks about diplolingo, namely the sensitivity surrounding Israelis' pullout from the Gaza Strip. Prime minister Ehud Olmert struggled with what to call the move that didn't make it sound like a retreat or abandonment. He came up with hitkansut, Hebrew for coming together. But what should it be called in English? (He also mentions a related article from the Washington Times, "Olmert Asks for a Word With Bush: Aides Settle on 'Realignment.'")

After hearing Bush use opinionating ("You pay attention to all the sharp elbows being thrown and you know, the people opinionating and screaming and hollering and calling each other names. But there is a consensus emerging on this issue.") in a speech on immigration, Jan Freeman discusses whether the verb is legit. It was standard English 400 years ago and serves a useful purpose, she says. And for those of you saying opine does just fine, thanks, consider the difference between comment and commentate.

Using the Democrats' new slogan, "Together, American can do better," as a launching board, Geoffrey Nunberg discusses the differences in the parties' buzz words. This line makes me laugh and cry: "The very ungrammaticality of the Democrats' slogan reminds you that this is a party with a chronic problem of telling a coherent story about itself, right down to an inability to get its adverbs and subjects to agree."

The past tense of sneak is still sneaked, but probably not for long. So says Barbara Wallraff. She also discusses the problem with picking a third-person pronoun. No matter what you go with -- he, she or they -- someone will be unhappy.

James Kilpatrick is ready to commit "linguistic euthanasia" on shall and awoke. He quotes an editing great: "John B. Bremner, a beloved (and terrifying) professor of journalism at the University of Kansas, said in 1985 that except in England 'the distinction between "shall" and "will" is moribund.'" Kilpatrick never discusses what that distinction is, though. (Interested? See Fowler's lengthy discussion.)

Saturday, June 10, 2006

'I never aspired to be executive copy editor'

An excerpt from the New York Times' review of Howell Raines' memoir, "The One That Got Away," right after the scandals of Jayson Blair and Judith Miller are mentioned (emphasis mine):
None of these flavors of the Raines epoch make an appearance in "The One That Got Away," but the most frustrating omission in Raines's apologia is the lack of anything specific and useful about how the craft of journalism and editorial management can be practiced in a manner that intercepts and corrects or eliminates the feckless errors and fabulist concoctions of bad reporters. Raines paid dearly for a failure of technique, but he ducks responsibility for what was his obligation to establish an editorial culture in which a problem like Blair becomes the most important thing to confront, at the top of the masthead, the moment the problem comes to light. Fixing facts in sentences is the alpha and omega; but Raines writes, "I never aspired to be executive copy editor of The New York Times." It's one of the low points in the book; the others are a few passages in which he refers to Blair with a combination of incuriosity and ridicule that's beneath him.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Random reading

Author sues over poorly copy-edited book [Charleston Post and Courier]
Leon Koziol, a former city councilman and candidate for state senate in Utica, N.Y., has accused Booksurge of outsourcing the editing of his book to India and delivering thousands of volumes with upside-down text and "words not found in the dictionary."

Shakespeare lines that are now cliches [The Shakespeare Book of Lists]
The old joke goes something like this: A guys walks out of the theater after seeing Hamlet for the first time. "I don't know why everybody thinks Hamlet is such a well-written play," he says. "It is full of cliches." Well, here is a whole list of cliches, along with where they originated.

Generic names for soft drinks, by county []
Do you say soda, pop, coke or something else? Eighty-one percent of the respondents in my Dallas County, Texas, where I live now, went for coke. In Sedgwick County, Kansas, where I grew up, 71 percent went for pop. Somehow, I say soda.

One, two, three and four spelling bee words were misspelled in newspapers [Regret the Error]
Sure, these are easy words to get wrong because they're so unusual. But the errors make us such easy marks.

Adios, apostrophe:The Internet is killing off punctuation it doesn't need [Toronoto Star]
Its? It's? '90s? One word, two? A hyphen? Huh?It's old, it's useless, it's annoying and according to one linguist, the Internet bell doth toll for the apostrophe, among and other arcane punctuation. "People are absolutely confused about punctuation, particularly about apostrophes," says Naomi Baron, professor of linguistics at American University in Washington, D.C., and author of Alphabet to Email: How written English has evolved and where it's going. As if to prove the point, the publisher accidentally left out the apostrophe of the "it's" on one of the first drafts of the book jacket.

A vegetable medley

Somehow, Old Navy managed to pretend commas don't exist and misspell potatoes on this baby T-shirt. (But they get the spelling right in the description on its Web site. Go figure.) An argument can be made for or instead of and, but, really, the other problems are enough.

(Link via Language Log)

(Also, sorry if you've tried to leave comments today and haven't been able to; Blogger's been down most of the day.)

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Important if true

This just in:

Pepsi did not omit the words "under God" from the Pledge of Allegiance on a newly designed can.

A 13-year-old Philadelphia girl named Ashley Flores is not missing.

Cell phone numbers are not about to be released to telemarketers, and you do not need to register your cell phone on the do-not-call list.

I've always had this little fear that I'm going to let an urban legend or flagrant hoax get through the editing system. A daily check of wasn't practical, but then I discovered the site's RSS and subscribed to the What's New and 25 Hottest Urban Legends feeds. (All of the above stories were debunked on Snopes before being published in newspapers.)

I don't take the time to read every entry Snopes sends out; I already spend too much time reading crap on the Web. But I do read their one-line summary -- just enough to jog my memory should one of the hoaxes ever try to make it into my paper.

Illegal immigrants and Ask a Mexican

The Minneapolis Star-Tribune has 1,879 entries in its stylebook -- and the latest to be overhauled is the rule on illegal immigrants.

But this wasn't just a quick style decision. A senior copy editor, Ben Welter, spent months surveying the rules of other newspapers, especially those close to the border. He took his findings to some interested parties in the newsroom. And then the reader representative asked readers for feedback.

The result? Illegal immigrant is the preferred term, although undocumented immigrant can be used in sometimes (such as when illegal has already been used in the sentence). Alien and illegal alien are considered technically correct but best avoided. Those terms and illegal as a noun can be used in rare instances (which seem to include tight headline counts), but the use must be approved by a supervisor.

UPDATE: The full text of the new rule is now included in the comments section.


In a related note, the tongue-in-cheek Ask a Mexican column that runs in a handful of alt-weeklies addressed the terms a few weeks ago. The column originates in Southern California's OC Weekly and said there: "The Orange County Register stylebook reportedly requires its reporters to describe as 'undocumented workers' the men and women you call 'illegal.'"

When the column appeared in the Dallas Observer, a friend, Josh Benton, noticed, that line said "The Dallas Morning News stylebook reportedly requires its reporters to describe as 'undocumented workers' the men and women you call 'illegal.'"

Not true. The local stylebook clearly requires "illegal immigrants."

Similar changes were made in the Kansas City and Nashville papers, and he suspects more; most papers simply linked to the original in the OC Weekly rather than the article as it appeared locally.

Josh wrote:
Needless to say, the idea that "illegal immigrant" is somehow banned from each of these newspapers is wrong. (OC Register: 53 stories with"illegal immigrants" according to Google News vs. 4 with "undocumented workers"; The Tennessean: 25 vs. 8; Kansas City Star: 221 vs. 49.)

What I'm assuming happened is that Gustavo wrote the column with the OC Register line, which was then sent out to sister papers. Recognizing that readers in Dallas/Nashville/wherever couldn't care less about the OC Register's stylebook, local editors changed the name of the newspaper to their city's daily.

But Josh did find one alt-weekly that edited out the dubious claim: The Phoenix New Times.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Copy-editing blogs in AJR

An article in the American Journalism Review covers copy-editing blogs, in which "the copy editors' online diatribes have extended beyond the rim to grammar geeks, writers and English teachers, who fill the comments sections with polite but passionate debate on dangling participles and prepositional endings."

There's a good bit on the blogs of Bill Walsh and John McIntyre (and even a brief mention of A Capital Idea).

As usual, McIntyre is so quotable talking about copy editors' noble burden:
"Imagine you're about to win a major award," he says. "You're beautifully dressed, the crowd is waiting, the spotlight is on Â? but you have a streamer of toilet paper trailing from your shoe. When someone points that out, you don't like hearing it Â? but that person has done you a valuable service."
I also learned about a new blog by copy editor Pam Nelson of the Raleigh News & Observer: The Triangle Grammar Guide.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

'Samir is down!'

This from the Throwing Things live-blogging of the spelling bee:
Watching Samir work to spell "eremacusis" is like watching a true artist. I forgive all and regret all things said about his Hollywood polish. In the end, at his heart, he's a speller. He has hands over his face, squeezing his forehead tightly, desperately trying to figure out this word. He asks for bonus time...





Here are the 13 spellers who remain for prime time tonight:

Jonathan Horton (Arizona, second time in the finals)
Finola Hackett (two-time Canadian champion)
Allion Salvador (Florida, second time)
Theodore Yuan (Chicago, second time)
Kavya Shivashankar (Kansas, first time)
Rajiv Tarigopoula (St. Louis, fourth time)
Katharine Close (New Jersey, fifth time)
Michael Christie (New York, second time)
Saryn Hooks (North Carolina, third time)
Matthew Giese (Ohio, second time)
Charley Allegar (Pennsylvania, third time)
Caitlin Campbell (Amarillo, Texas, second time)
Nidharshan Anandasivam (Brownsville, Texas, fourth time)

UPDATE: Katharine Close wins on ursprache.

Note books

Copy editors besmirch bad puns, but we're remarkably good at coming up with them. Check out this list of book-band mash-ups and see if you can come up with any more.

Some of their ideas to get you going:
  • The Things They Might Be Giants Carried
  • The Who Moved My Cheese
  • The Old Man and The Sea and Cake
  • Charlie Daniels and the Chocolate Factory
  • Catch 182
  • Horton Hears a Hoobastank
  • Of Mice and Men at Work
  • Bare Naked Lunch Ladies
  • The Agony and the XTC

Full stop, please

A letter to the editor in the Economist:
SIR – Please do not ever mention George Bush. And Winston Churchill in the same sentence again, even if you must break all the rules of grammar to do so.
(Via Headsup: The Blog)

Nieman fellowship

One of the prestigious Nieman Foundation fellowships is going to a copy editor:
Gina Acosta, editorial page copy editor at The Washington Post, will study the fiscal consequences of U.S. immigration policy and the participation of ethnic and religious minorities in public life.