Friday, September 29, 2006

Typefaces, Helvetica and Pantone 292

The difference between fonts and typefaces.

A tangentially related story: I had to laugh the other night when I went to a bar after work with some colleagues (karaoke — and, no, I didn't sing). A man was wearing a T-shirt that said simply "HELVETICA." Only, it obviously wasn't in Helvetica. I complimented the shirt, and he told me it got a lot of praise, "only most people don't know it's not Helvetica." Not sure why they liked it so much, then. But I guess all types of people like simplicity in design.

In other design non-news: A friend has recently rediscovered the Magnetic Fields, a favorite band of mine. We had a fun discussion of the song "Reno Dakota," which includes the lyrics:
Reno Dakota there's not an iota
Of kindness in you
You know you enthrall me
And yet you don't call me
It's making me blue
Pantone 292
It prompted me to go on a hunt for Pantone 292 on the Web. I ended up finding some fun photos on Flickr. And then I spent too much time looking at these real-life Pantone matches.

OK, now back to thinking about words ...

Say it to my face

Wired's copy chief has a column this week about communication, and how the Internet makes it so easy to be a jerk.

His anecdotal lede made me laugh:
A few years back, during the course of revising our in-house style guide, I decreed, as Wired News' copy chief, that the word e-mail should be spelled with a hyphen.

Had I been the copy chief of a general-circulation newspaper or magazine, the ruling would have been implemented without fanfare and it's likely that few, if any, readers would have noticed or cared. But because this decision was being made on behalf of Wired News, which has more than once planted its modest flag in the oddball world of tech culture, I felt compelled to offer a lengthy (and, in retrospect, rather pompous) justification for the decision.

The e-mail generated by that essay was overwhelming. It split about 50-50 for and against, and the tone swung dramatically, too, from adulatory to just plain snarky. I remember one in particular: "Why is it," wondered the writer, "that copy editors are always the most long-winded sons of bitches in any organization?" My reply to him (and I replied to as many as I could) was direct: "Because we're paid to be. That's why."

The following morning there was an apologetic response from him waiting in my mail queue. He was chastened, not because I wasn't a long-winded SOB on this occasion, but because I had answered him, one human being to another. He hadn't expected that. He thought he was writing into the ether. By answering him, I was no longer a faceless wall of sound. For him, at least, I now lived and breathed.

So are copy editors really the most long-winded sons of bitches in any organization? I'm gonna say no -- at least, not at any organization I've worked at.

And I could go on and on and on about just who is ...

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

And copy editors rejoiced!

The Chicago Manual of Style is going online. The entire 15th edition will be up; this marks the styleguide's 100th anniversary.

Subscriptions will be available by the end of the month; they're $30 a year (although if you act now you can get the first year for the low, low price of $25). (An even better deal? Looks like they'll have a free 30-day trial.)

Buying the print version is $55. For $60, you can get a CD-ROM version.

Erin McKean is thrilled, and she bets copy editors will be, too. "I've met more than a few copy editors who have sat down and read it cover to cover, like a novel, with a bowl of popcorn in their lap. ... It would be very rare to find copy editors that don't do a considerable amount of their reference work online."

I don't use the Chicago manual, but I couldn't live without my online AP Stylebook. Chicago's move is going to be a boon for editors.

Ill-gotten fame

Being notorious takes more than being well-known. You have to be well-known in an unfavorable light.

The Online Etymology Dictionary says the word dates to 1548 and has had a negative connotation since the 17th century "from frequent association with derogatory nouns."

WRONG: "He always watched out for his family and others. He was notorious for helping."
RIGHT: "He was notorious for killing entire families because of the transgressions of a single member."

Less often confused is infamous, which requires a bad reputation.

Infamous has its negative connotation from its infancy in the 14th century.

WRONG: "I always have a good time at Jeff's charity functions. Last year's ball was infamous."
RIGHT: "The cops will no doubt show up soon. Jeff's charity functions are infamous for devolving into drunken brawls."

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Quick hits

I've been keeping a running list of some of the errors I've seen this week.

In the Boys & Girls Clubs of America, there is an S on Clubs. But double-check your local organizations to see which include the S. For example, Dallas has an umbrella organization — the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Dallas — that uses the S, but individual clubs don't — the East Dallas Boys & Girls Club.

Fighting on a grand scale is a battle royal, not a battle royale. Etymology here. (And, yes, the French do call a McDonald's Quarter Pounder a Royal (not Royale) with cheese — actually the Royal Cheese.

I've blogged about it before, but here's a reminder: When you get your just deserts, it's spelled with two S's, not three. You're getting what you deserve. (A lot of mentions of just desserts are correct, however; people are punning about recipes or restaurants. But the fact that this pun is so prevalent is in itself a reason not to use it. Cliche watch!)

The pepper is the habanero, not the habañero. No tilde over the N. The etymology should help you remember: It gets its name from Havana (La Habana in Spanish).

And, for good measure, I'll include a link to Skitt's Law.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Did you miss Erin McKean at ACES?

I haven't posted about Erin McKean in months, so here (via is a 55-minute video of her presenting "The 10 Things I Wish People Knew About Dictionaries." It's the same presentation she gave at ACES — with a Google bonus, including "How Lexicographers Use Google." ("We use Google as a junkie uses heroin.")

A couple of quotes:
On including unpopular words, such as irregardless: "Ignoring bad things and hoping they go away is a strategy of failure."

"Beware the good etymologies. The better the story is behind a particular word's origin, the more likely it is to be completely made up — because most etymologies are boring. They say "Latin, that's what we know."

On "It's not about delivering dictionary data; it's about delivering advertising. ... The dictionary they are using for the most part is out of copyright, which means 1918. .... There are time capsules that have been put in and opened since then."

And, as pointed out on Crabwalk: Listen for her "globally rare use of the words 'doggy dog' without the phrasal prefix 'Snoop.'"

Here's the recap of her ACES session I wrote for the ACES blog. And there are more Erin McKean posts at A Capital Idea:
Quick hits
Quick conference recap
The Erin McKean lovefest continues
That Erin McKean posting I promised
America's lexicographical blogger
America's (and A Capital Idea's) lexicographical sweetheart
To be hip, young and a lexicographer

It's an obsession, I know. I think I've written about her more than hyphens.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Outsourcing, "suspected terrorists" and copy editor salaries

Doug Fisher has been en fuego lately at Common Sense Journalism.

First, read his take on the fears of copy editing being outsourced.
Copy editors need to start promoting their "brand" a lot more heavily and what they can bring to any publication. Too often, however, they revel in their anonymity. That will not serve them well. ... Copy editors are likely to find their jobs changing radically in the next decade, yet their core principles need not, and should not. To survive, they must be able to distinguish the two and accommodate those changes while promoting themselves as a value proposition, not a cost center.
Then check out his reminder that a "suspected terrorist" is different than a "terrorism suspect." It may seem a subtle difference, but ignoring it is sloppy.

Finally, look at the mention of the Toledo Blade's ad disclosing some employee salaries: The "top scale salary" (what exactly does that mean?) for a copy editor is $59,561. Compare that with the top minimum pay for reporters at the Blade in 2003: $54,704. (I'm not entirely sure that "top scale salary" and "top minimum pay" are comparable, but I suspect they are. If so, that would be the least amount the paper would pay an experienced copy editor.)

Making the leap to PR

Thinking — as so many of my colleagues are — of making a switch out of newspapers? Consider this interview of a journalist-turned-flack.
CJ: What was the last straw that made you change careers?

Mr. Gerard: I had been contemplating the idea for four years. Every Thursday night, I'd work until midnight to meet deadline and one Thursday at around 8:30 p.m., I got a call from a publicist I knew who was having two people leave her practice. She asked if I knew anybody who would be good. When I asked what the pay scale was, I was floored. It was 35% to 40% more than I was making. At the rate I was going, it would take me 15 years to make that salary, so I took the job, and in one jump I made a 15-year leap.

Editing by committee

Wired reporter files a story to be edited by wiki -- and discovers ho-hum results.
Certainly the final story is more accurate and more representative of how wikis are used.

Is it a better story than the one that would have emerged after a Wired News editor worked with it?

I think not.

The edits over the week lack some of the narrative flow that a Wired News piece usually contains. The transitions seem a bit choppy, there are too many mentions of companies, and too much dry explication of how wikis work.

It feels more like a primer than a story to me.

Editing on Wikipedia [A Capital Idea]

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Call a spade a spade

Be sure to check out John McIntyre's latest post at You Don't Say.

He explains why it's OK to call corrections officers guards. And people who do social work social workers. And teachers teachers — even if they don't have a teaching certificate.
Greg Garland, an industrious and careful reporter who has written about upheaval in the state prison system, has received a note from a correctional officer complaining ... at The Sun’s use of the word guard. Corrections personnel often find the word demeaning and offensive.

Replying, Greg explained that editors here “see the word ‘guard’ as descriptive of what these people do rather than as a slur. In fact, correctional officers ‘guard’ us from the bad guys who are housed in prison and they traditionally have been known as ‘prison guards.’ It is not intended to denigrate the work being done by those who hold the job.”

Monday, September 04, 2006

Farewell to the Crocodile Hunter

Here's another round of inappropriate headlines after the death of a celebrity, this time Steve Irwin.

Crikey, Steve Irwin killed by a stingray [Edmonton Sun]
Crikey, can the Crocodile Hunter really be gone? [The Age]
Crikey! Crocodile Hunter news devours bandwidth [Computerworld]