Thursday, August 31, 2006

Keep the talent happy

Hint: When you're writing copy for movie ads, you shouldn't misspell a star's name.

(Via Defamer)

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

JonBenet: before and after

A comparison of headlines before and after John Mark Karr was exonerated:

Boston Herald
B: A tragedy nears an end (editorial)
A: Karr wreck: Red-faced DA drops charges vs. sicko

Rocky Mountain News
B: Big breakthrough in JonBenet case
A: Case crashes

New York Post
B: Snake on a plane: JonBenet 'killer' lands in U.S. jail
A: Off the hook: DNA clears 'killer' Karr

New York Daily News
A: JonBenet case collapses in shambles

Denver Post
B: Family's years of fear, anger come to an end
A: DNA test clears Karr

(That the New York Post called Karr a "killer" ["But it's in quotes! Please don't sue us!"] when he was still a suspect is ridiculous. That it continued after he was exonerated is reprehensible.)

News organizations are quick to show how bumbling the prosecution has been. But media watchdogs have some finger-pointing of their own to do:
Karr Cleared in JonBenet Case — After Media Frenzy [Editor & Publisher]
The JonBenet Fraud [Howard Kurtz, Washington Post]
Sick Puppy Meets Media Beast [Jeff Cohen, Huffington Post]
Let the Self-Examination Commence [Vaughn Ververs, Public Eye]

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Copy editor layoffs

The Akron Beacon Journal announced layoffs of 40 of its 161 newsroom employees today.

Twenty percent of those being laid off are copy editors.
Twenty-nine of those positions are full-time. Employees were given 60 days' notice and will receive severance pay amounting to one week's pay for every six months of service.

A representative of the Newspaper Guild/Communications Workers of America, the newsroom union, said the list shows two artists, four photographers, eight copy editors, 11 reporters and four nonunion managers, as well as a librarian, three clerks and all seven student correspondents.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Mistaken lottery numbers

A Quebec man wants a consolation prize from his local newspaper after experiencing the thrill of winning the lottery, only to discover the paper had printed the wrong numbers. (Via Regrets the Error)

Friday, August 18, 2006

Jumping the gun on the JonBenet case

"A tragedy nears an end."
"Family's years of fear, anger come to an end."
"The decade-long search for JonBenet Ramsey's killer came to a startling end in Thailand on Wednesday."

As quickly as news outlets were willing to declare the JonBenet Ramsey case closed Wednesday, they had to admit to a growing skepticism Thursday. (Thai police said John Mark Karr admitted drugging her, but the autopsy says she wasn't drugged. He says he picked JonBenet up from school, but schools were closed for the holidays. His ex-wife says he was in Alabama at the time, not Colorado. And today even some of those rebuttals are being rebutted.)

Now we get:
"True confessions?"
"Cracks in the confession"
"Questions Surround JonBenet Suspect"
"The Jury's Still Out In the Ramsey Arrest"

Editor & Publisher quotes a legal analyst warning, "In this particular case when you have an uncorroborated confession, I think it's good to be cynical and to be skeptical."

An LA Times TV critic said: "As quickly as it had cast suspicion on the parents 10 years ago, cable news quickly set about trying and convicting Karr, even though the leading practitioner of open-and-shut outrage, CNN Headline News' Nancy Grace, was on vacation, and little in the way of hard facts was being released."

The CBS News blog Public Eye said: "What we're seeing right now could accurately be titled a media frenzy. And in that environment, there is nothing more apt to produce misleading information than an absence of information for hungry reporters."

And there's no better environment for good saves by hungry copy editors.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Poets laureate vs. poet laureates

From Language Log: Why you can have poets laureate but not Nobels laureate:
In poet laureate (the title of whichever poet is currently designated as a kind of honorary official poet of the country), the head noun seems to be poet. So the plural is poets laureate, and that's what most people write.

But in Nobel laureate, for some reason, things have shifted. Laureate is the head. It has become a noun. Nobel is an attributive modifier of it, as in Nobel prize. Hence the plural of Nobel laureate is Nobel laureates, a phrase which gets over four million Google hits. And Nobels laureate, as a plural NP, gets none. ...

On poet laureate, by the way, usage is split: poets laureate is the commonest plural, with 66,800 hits, but poet laureates gets a healthy 44,400. That means about 40% of speakers have reanalyzed laureate as a noun in that phrase too. This may well be an adjective that is dying out.

AP's related entry on the topic:
For those that involve separate words or words linked by a hyphen, make the most significant word plural:
--Significant word first: adjutants general, aides-de-camp, attorneys general, courts-martial, daughters-in-law, passers-by, postmasters general, presidents-elect, secretaries general, sergeants major.
--Significant word in the middle: assistant attorneys general, deputy chiefs of staff.
--Significant word last: assistant attorneys, assistant corporation counsels, deputy sheriffs, lieutenant colonels, major generals.
It's easy to see why poet laureate is difficult: A poet laureate is a poet and a laureate. (Follow the first plural listed in your dictionary, which is probably poets laureate.) A Nobel laureate, on the other hand, is a laureate but is not a Nobel.

A Google News search turns up four poet laureates, three poets laureate (two in proper names and the other in England), 390 Nobel laureates and zero Nobels laureate.

Women: good at Scattergories

From an Economist article on differences between the sexes:
Although it is commonly held that there are reliable differences between the verbal abilities of males and females, Dr Hines suggests this is not exactly correct. She says that the results of hundreds of tests of vocabulary and reading comprehension show there is almost no gap between the sexes. Though teenage girls are better at spelling than teenage boys, the only aspect of verbal ability that is known to show a sex difference in adults is verbal fluency (the ability to produce words rapidly). For example, when asked to list as many words as possible that start with a particular letter, women usually come up with more than men. Furthermore, even when there are differences in ability between the sexes, research suggests that the scale of these differences is often smaller than people generally believe.

Mashed potatoes and ...

I've allowed my love of gravy to distract me from my prescriptivist linguistic crusade (via Languagehat).

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

One of the only

Many a prescriptivist will tell you that you shouldn't say "one of the only," that the correct usage is "one of the few."

Bill Walsh says not so fast:
It would be one thing if only always referred to one and only one thing, but that's not the case. Webster's New World defines only as "alone of its or their kind," and nobody objects to "only two people . . ." and the like. If "only two people" have done something, wouldn't one of those people be one of only two people, or one of the only people, who have done it?
James J. Kilpatrick took the issue up in January. He came to the same conclusion, albeit with a slightly different reasoning:
Patricia Spaeth of Auburn, Wash., moves for an injunction against "one of the only," as in, "She is one of the only sopranos ever to sing in three octaves." Her motion must be denied, not because it is unfounded, but because this idiomatic impossibility is too firmly entrenched to be dislodged. ... Dictionaries concede that "only" has come to mean "a very few." The example approved by Merriam-Webster is "one of the only areas not yet explored."

A simple typo -- or am I 1337?

After misspelling the a few times in that last post, I was reminded of the teh phenomenon in leet speak. (Look at me! I'm using Wikipedia as a source!)

Check out the Wikipedia entry on teh. Here's a teaser:
In English, the can be used as an intensifier for the superlative form of adjectives; compare "that is best" and "that is the best". "Teh" has a similar use as an intensifier for unmodified adjectives, generally marking a sarcastic tone. For example, "that is teh lame" translates as "that is the lamest". This contrasts with the standard use of the in English to construct mass nouns from adjectives, as in "blessed are the meek", where the meek denotes a class of people who are meek.

Behold the power of the comma

Forgive the absence. I've been out of town. Again. But I have a lot of posts to catch up on. Here's a starter:

A misplaced comma in a Canadian contract could end up costing Rogers Communication more than $2 million.

Rogers was paying Alliant to string its cable lines in the Maritimes for $9.60 a pole. (The going rate is as high as $28.)

The deal was to "continue in force for a period of five years from the date it is made, and thereafter for successive five year terms, unless and until terminated by one year prior notice in writing by either party."

It's that last comma that is in question. Rogers said that the companies agreed that only after the initial five-year term would the one-year-notice termination become available. But Alliant tested the waters early. And the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission came down on its side: "Based on the rules of punctuation," the comma "allows for the termination of the [contract] at any time, without cause, upon one-year's written notice," the regulator said.

And so that extra comma gets all the attention. But where's the outrage over the missing hyphen in "five year terms"?

Thursday, August 03, 2006

In defense of the word sucks

Slate's Seth Stevenson says sucks has lost its tawdry implications.
When someone says Bill Gates is a geek, do you picture him as a circus performer biting the head off a live chicken? Of course not. The word's root meaning has been replaced with a new connotation. Similarly, when I call Paris Hilton a moron, I don't mean she's mentally retarded, and when I call bungee jumping lame I don't mean it's disabled. What once was offensive is now simply abrasive. Language moves on, and the sucks-haters are living in the past.
The fellatio meaning of the word was first recorded in 1928, according to the Online Etymology Dictionary. It says the underlying notion of suck, meaning "to be contemptible," started being used in the early 1970s. Other slang senses: suck eggs, 1906; suck hind tit, 1940.

But how much does the etymology matter today? I've told the story before of starting my first job and being shocked to discover that sucks simply wasn't allowed in the paper. I've since ratcheted up my sensitivity considerably and seldom use the word at all anymore. But I seriously had to train myself not to say it.

The Slate piece goes on to describe English's lack of intransitive verbs expressing displeasure and gives an example from the 1940s classic "The Philadelphia Story," one of my favorites.

Dinah Lord: "This stinks."

Margaret Lord: "Don't say stinks, darling. If absolutely necessary, smells. But only if absolutely necessary."

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Move over truthiness; here's wikiality

I'm usually working when "The Colbert Report" comes on (and I don't have a TiVo), so I never see it when it airs. But thank God for YouTube.

This is Colbert's take on Wikipedia and a new concept he calls wikiality. In case you don't have the inclination to watch the video, here's a partial transcript:
Now, folks, I'?m no fan of reality, and I'?m no fan of encyclopedias. I'?ve said it before. Who is Britannica to tell me that George Washington had slaves? If I want to say he didn'?t, that'?s my right.

And, now, thanks to Wikipedia, it'?s also a fact. We should apply these principles to all information. All we need to do is convince the majority of people that some factoid is true -- for instance, that Africa has more elephants today than it did 10 years ago. ...

Nation, it'?s time we use the power of our numbers for a real Internet revolution. We'?re going to stampede across the Web like that giant horde of elephants in Africa. In fact, that'?s where we can start.

Find the page on elephants on Wikipedia, and create an entry that says the number of elephants has tripled in the last six months. Folks, it'?s the least we can do to save this noble beast. Together, we can create a reality that we can all agree on --? the reality we just agreed on.
One of Wikipedia's moderators blogged about blocking changes to 20 or so elephant-related pages.

A Wired blogger sums the joke up nicely:
The whole series of events is a brilliant practical joke that exposes the fragility of online communities and the much-challenged trustworthiness of crowdsourcing. Or should that be truthiness? Eh, that doesn't quite fit. Unless of course you believe that it fits. In which case, it's perfect.
And that reminds me to refer you all to this brilliant Colbert piece on the morning news shows (via Media Orchard). Nothing to do with copy editing. But, damn it, enjoy it anyway.