Sunday, October 29, 2006

Cliche watch: tipping point

This, from Slate's "In Today's Papers" feature, made me chuckle:
The Post's Iraq front pager, while a solid story otherwise, unfortunately asks whether a "tipping point" has been reached. The writers were apparently unaware that a tipping point was reached long ago on use of the phrase tipping point.
As of this posting, there were 2,320 references to "tipping point" in Google News. Even the Wikipedia entry says it has become a cliche.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

John Bolton vs. Josh Bolten (OK, Michael Bolton, too)

John Bolton and Josh Bolten are two names in politics that are easy to switch up.

John Bolton is the bushy-stached ambassador to the U.N.; he was nominated in March 2005. (He was a recess appointment by Bush after the Democrats' filibuster of his nomination. Remember that?)

Josh Bolten was named President Bush's second chief of staff in March 2006 after Andrew Card resigned.

Mnemonic device: The N in John is for U.N.; the S in Josh in for chief of staff.

But how to remember the EN vs ON? This is a double-stretch, but so are most of my mnemonic devices, so I'll share it anyway: John Bolton is on a world tour as ambassador. Josh Bolten is in the White House. (See? Terrible. But it works for me.)

Luckily, I don't have to spell Michael Bolton's name very often. But I can remember that he's also a character on "Office Space."
Samir: Why don't you just go by Mike instead of Michael?
Michael Bolton: No way. Why should I change? He's the one who sucks.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Possessives: nine-tenths of the law?

The Supreme Court's 5-4 decision in Kansas v. Marsh revealed a deep divide over ... when to use the apostrophe-S in possessive nouns that end in S, and when to just use the apostrophe.

The majority opinion — written by Clarence Thomas and joined by John Roberts, Samuel Alito, Anthony Kennedy and Antonin Scalia — referred to Kansas' statute. In dissent, David Souter, joined by Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and John Paul Stevens, referred to Kansas's statute. Scalia wrote a separate opinion concurring with Thomas on Marsh but found a middle ground on the additional S. He wrote Kansas's, Ramos's and witness's, but Stevens', Adams' and Tibbs'.

An article at Legal Times discusses the ramifications, along with this note on usage:
By a margin of 7-2, the strict anti-s view appears to be the clear preference of the land's highest court. Yet experts on American usage overwhelmingly agree that Souter's approach is the only one that is proper. As explained by Bryan Garner, author of A Dictionary of Modern American Usage, most authorities on the subject recognize only two types of singular nouns for which it is acceptable to omit the additional s: biblical or classical names, such as Jesus, Moses, or Aristophanes, and nouns formed from plurals, such as General Motors or Legal Times. (Journalists are often more liberal in excluding the additional s, but that is typically based on the pragmatic goal of conserving print space rather than on any ideological grounds.)
and this editor's note:
Legal Times admits to following Associated Press style, which omits the s after the apostrophe in creating possessives of all singular proper names ending in s, not just biblical and classical names.
Omitting the S may be an Associated Press Stylebook thing, but it has certainly caught on, as Bill Walsh pointed out in May: When a Washington Post headline included the word Roberts's, people complained. But that's Post style; the paper bucks the AP tradition (as do the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal).

Here's the relevant rule from Garner's:
To form a singular possessive, add -'s to most singular nouns — even those ending in -s, -ss, and -x (hence Jones's, Nichols's, witness's, Vitex's).
Here's the relevant AP rule:
SINGULAR PROPER NAMES ENDING IN S: Use only an apostrophe: Achilles’ heel, Agnes’ book, Ceres’ rites, Descartes’ theories, Dickens’ novels, Euripides’ dramas, Hercules’ labors, Jesus’ life, Jules’ seat, Kansas’ schools, Moses’ law, Socrates’ life, Tennessee Williams’ plays, Xerxes’ armies.
But it looks as if the Supreme Court doesn't have an in-house stylebook to help settle these disputes. For a small fee, I'd be willing to offer my services.

An oft-forgotten style rule [A Capital Idea]
Obsessive over possessives [A Capital Idea]

Monday, October 16, 2006

I'm starting a new job

Hey, everyone! I just finished a nice, long vacation in Wichita, where I enjoyed fall temperatures and some much-appreciated time with family and friends.

Now it's back to Dallas. And blogging. And the Morning News' news copy desk -- but just for one more week.

Next Monday, I'll be starting a new job at the paper, as presentation editor of the Editorial Department. Here's the description:
This unusual position blends the skills of a copy, layout and originating editor and oversees production of all Editorial, Viewpoints and Points pages, a minimum of 18 pages each week. In addition, the presentation editor is a full member of the Editorial Board and helps shape the newspaper's position on issues, blogs regularly on DallasMorningViews and writes occasional editorials. The editor deals with freelancers and is backup editor of Viewpoints and Points.
Viewpoints is our Op/Ed page. Points is our Sunday opinion section. And Dallas Morning Views is the Editorial blog.

In other news, if you've e-mailed me in the past, oh, month and haven't gotten a response yet, I apologize. It's been pretty crazy, and I'm now officially on the catch-up train. (I'm usually quite prompt; I promise.)

Friday, October 06, 2006

Breaking into copy editing

How to move from office manager to copy editor [Joe Grimm's News Jobs Cafe]

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Halloween style tips

A lot of people are getting to A Capital Idea looking for Halloween style, so here's a (partially) recycled post from 2003 with some style tips. (I noted in 2003, when I was still in Wichita, that I'd turned on the heater by Oct. 1. Here in Dallas now, it's in the 90s.)

Halloween is always capitalized. (It's short for All Hallow Even, or All Hallows Eve, and is sometimes written Hallowe'en. But not in newspapers.)

Trick or treat is the noun. It's hyphenated for the verb and trick-or-treater.

Jack-o'-lantern has an apostrophe after the O.

Bats are mammals but not rodents.

The only full moon this month happens tomorrow, Oct. 6.

Lowercase devil, but capitalize Satan and Lucifer.

Now, is it candy apples or candied apples? I like candied, but I think candy is winning out over time. It's definitely candy corn.

And waxed lips means something entirely different from wax lips.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Don't worry, the reporters will write the headlines

The L.A. Times, in its story about the Orange County Register's impending buyouts, says staff cutbacks are affecting the copy-editing process:
Register reporters said they were not surprised, given the state of the industry. A newsroom hiring freeze has been in effect for several months. Reporters also had been asked recently to take on more responsibilities — including writing their own headlines — after several copy editors were shifted to OC Post.
OC Post is the new quick-read paper that launched in August. Its employees aren't eligible for the buyout.

But don't worry, folks. The publisher and chief executive, N. Christian Anderson III, has a plan to fix everything. "We have to figure out ways to grow revenue," Anderson said. "All problems go away when you grow revenue."


Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Race vs. nationality vs. ethnicity

The Wichita Eagle, which gave me my first copy editing gig, has a blog by the newsroom management. The senior editor for nights, Nick Jungman, recently addressed a reader complaint about a headline over a brief:
Mexican sentenced in
accident that killed 3
Background: A Mexican citizen was transporting 19 illegal immigrants in his truck, which overturned. Three people died, and he was eventually sentenced to 57 months in federal prison.

A reader complained that using Mexican in the headline sounded prejudiced or racist. Nick defended its use:
I think I understand how that would be the case if the person in question were a Mexican-American and we'd shortened that to "Mexican" (which we would never intentionally do). But in this case, the person is a citizen of Mexico — a fact that's particularly relevant in a story about illegal immigration. ... If the man had been from Guatemala or Colombia, I'm sure we would have said "Guatemalan" or "Colombian," and I'm not sure that we'd have heard from anyone about it.
In a subsequent post, the editor of the paper, Sherry Chisenhall, disagreed. She said it was a matter of ethnicity:
Any time you refer to a person only by their ethnicity, as a noun, out of context (which is what headlines often have to do, by their nature of brevity) - the result often sounds crass to a reader's ear.

I made the same argument years ago at another newspaper about referring to "a black" - a usage that most newspapers (including The Eagle) have stopped.

Though ethnicity is relevant to the overall story today, I can understand why it would sound prejudiced to a reader when isolated in a headline. Nick made the point to me that Mexican is a nationality, not a race. But I think many readers consider it a deeper cultural or ethnic description.
I can see making an argument that in some cases, Mexican is a skunked term and therefore should be avoided — in headlines without context. I'm not convinced, but I can see the point.

I can't figure out how Mexican and black are analogous in this situation, though, or Mexican and ethnicity.

Any thoughts?

Woulda, coulda, shoulda

News orgs are reporting that Dennis Hastert, in a Q&A on the Mark Foley scandal on Monday, was asked if the GOP leadership should have done more to investigate after getting the e-mails.

"Woulda, coulda, shoulda," Mr. Hastert said, according to the Los Angeles Times.

But the New York Times — and the official transcript — rendered it differently: "Would have, could have, should have."

So which was right?

The AP Stylebook covers the topic:
Do not use substandard spellings such as gonna or wanna in attempts to convey regional dialects or informal pronunciations, except to help a desired touch in a feature.
Still, I don't have a problem with the LAT version; in fact, I prefer it.

Woulda, coulda, shoulda seems more an idiom than just an informal pronunciation.

I can see an argument for a reporter choosing either way. But I can't come up with a good reason for a copy editor to change it on the desk.

A Texas ACES chapter?

A handful of American Copy Editors Society members gathered in Austin yesterday morning to discuss the formation of a Texas chapter. We've gotten the ball rolling — on the group and plans to hold a regional workshop next year.

Would you be interested in attending? If so, what would you like to see?

Would you be interested in helping? If so, let me know!

In other ACES news, the deadline to apply for scholarships is Oct. 15. They are open to juniors, seniors and grad students who'll be taking full-time editing jobs or internships.