Thursday, November 16, 2006

I love you, Onion

The Onion's always good for a language laugh. Witness:

Skywriter trailed by skyeditor

And for good measure:

English Teacher On First Date In Ages Lets Dangling Modifier Slide
FALLS CHURCH, VA—Recalling that it was her first date since September 2005, high-school English teacher Melanie Fitzgerald thought it prudent to overlook the grammatical errors of dinner date Aaron McPherson on Monday. "I really had to bite my tongue when he said, 'After getting stuck in traffic this evening, canceling dinner plans would have been completely understandable,'" said Fitzgerald, recounting her date's response to her five-minutes-late arrival. "I kept telling myself to give him the benefit of the doubt, even after he said, 'Being nervous sometimes, I can come off a bit awkward.' " Friends of Fitzgerald have advised her to continue disregarding McPherson's poor grammar and instead focus on his character, which sounds like that of a complete asshole.


Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Lieberman, I/D-Conn.

I saw Joe Lieberman on "Meet the Press" Sunday, and the TV show listed him as "Joe Lieberman, I/D-Conn."

That's right — I/D, for independent Democrat. He won the election as an independent but will caucus with the Democrats.

From the transcript:
Sen. Lieberman: I was elected as an independent, I was elected, I believe, because I said to my constituents in Connecticut, “I’m, I’m as fed up with the partisanship in Washington as you are. I promise you I will put progress and, and patriotism ahead of partisanship and polarization.” So I’m going to—I am now an Independent Democrat, capital I, capital D. Matter of fact, the secretary of the Senate called my office and asked, “How do you want to be identified” and, and that’s it. Independent Democrat.

MR. RUSSERT: So you’ll be Senator Joe Lieberman, I/D, Connecticut.

SEN. LIEBERMAN: Yeah, we checked with history and actually in the late ‘70s Senator Harry Byrd of Virginia listed himself as an Independent Democrat. You got to go back to the mid-19th century to find the last Independent Democrat.
So is the slash appropriate? A hyphen might seem to make more sense, but it looks awkward: I-D-Conn. Andy Bechtel at The Editor's Desk is suggesting "ID" with no separating punctuation.



Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Poetry — by definition

A new blog, Webster's Daily, celebrates found poetry from the first edition of Noah Webster's
American Dictionary of the English Language (1828).

Some examples:
Blink, n.

Blink of ice, is the dazzling whiteness about the horizon, occasioned by the reflection of light from fields of ice at sea.

Holloa, exclam.

A word used in calling.

Among seamen, it is the answer to one that hails, equivalent to,

I hear, and am ready.

Hope, n.

A sloping plain between ridges of mountains. [Not in use.]


Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Who said it first? Or did they say it at all?

I read about two books last week that I'm adding to my Christmas list:

The first is "The Yale Book of Quotations," released Oct. 30, which I read about at the Freakonomics blog. It is by Fred Shapiro, the editor of "The Oxford Dictionary of American Legal Quotations." From its description at Amazon:
In many cases, new research for this book has uncovered an earlier date or a different author than had previously been understood. (It was Beatrice Kaufman, not Sophie Tucker, who exclaimed, “I’ve been poor and I’ve been rich. Rich is better!” William Tecumseh Sherman wasn’t the originator of “War is hell!” It was Napoleon.) Numerous entries are enhanced with annotations to clarify meaning or context for the reader.
Shapiro describes some ways his book is better than the oft-used Bartlett's Quotations here. (One of the things mentioned is the breadth of subject. He has "mirror mirror on the wall," for example. Bartlett's doesn't.) Of course, what's not mentioned is that Bartlett's is online and searchable; "The Yale Book" is not.

In a similar vein, the second is "What They Didn't Say." It is by Elizabeth Knowles, who edits "The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations" and will be released Nov. 30.

She catalogs how commonly known quotations have morphed over the years. There was no "Beam me up, Scotty" in "Star Trek," no "Elementary, my dear Watson" uttered by Sherlock Holmes. From a piece in the Guardian:
Ms Knowles, who introduced a misquotations section into the latest Oxford Dictionary of Quotations, said: "Again and again we see misquotations flourish because they catch the tone of a personality more than the original remark. Collecting them is a fascinating exercise, and in a lot of cases it also gives the real authors their due."

Labels: ,

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Fewer errors to regret

Jay Rosen's open-source reporting project names a director of verification: Craig Silverman, who runs Regret the Error.
Working with the team and you, we will conceive and deploy a distributed fact checking system to check and verify the information contained in NewAssignment.Net stories. We’re going to use a combination of people, protocol and technology to do this. But the heart of the system is the people. We need motivated, competent folks – you – to come together and create a powerful force for fact checking. Our goal is to mix the wisdom of the crowd with the best practices and technology available to achieve accuracy and transparency.


"That headline is one of the worst I've seen in a long time"

"That headline is, like, one of the worst I've seen in a long time." — Chicago Tribune national reporter Jill Zuckman to Howard Kurtz, about this headline "Democrats, On the Offensive, Could Gain Both Houses" (via Romenesko)

Of course, the headline isn't wrong, and it is supported by the story, in my opinion. Democrats are almost sure to take the House, and they have a shot at taking the Senate too.

What does Zuckman say? "It goes way too far and, honestly, we don't really know what's going to happen on Election Day. We have an idea, but — but to say that the Senate is — you know, the Senate is a lot less at risk than the House is right now."

The headline doesn't say anything about the Senate but that it could go to the Democrats. But Zuckman's problem is that implies more than a possibility.

Chalk this up to one more problem with "could" headlines.

Labels: ,

But what does it all mean?

I quite enjoyed the New York Times Magazine feature on the OED.
The O.E.D. is unlike any other dictionary, in any language. Not simply because it is the biggest and the best, though it is. Not just because it is the supreme authority. (It wears that role reluctantly: it does not presume, or deign, to say that any particular usage or spelling is correct or incorrect; it aims merely to capture the language people use.) No, what makes the O.E.D. unique is a quality for which it can only strive: completeness. It wants every word, all the lingo: idioms and euphemisms, sacred or profane, dead or alive, the King’s English or the street’s. The O.E.D. is meant to be a perfect record, perfect repository, perfect mirror of the entire language.
Employees are hard at work on the third edition of the dictionary. The third edition! (The first edition was presented in 1928, the second in 1989.) And it's not expected to be done for a couple of decades.

The New Yorker's Nov. 6 edition has a piece I've not yet read on Noah Webster that sounds promising:
There's an equally odd and charming piece by Jill Lepore about the lexicographer Noah Webster, a man who worked alone, unnumbed, for twenty years, literally turning circles inside the hole of his doughnut-shaped desk, consulting volumes of dictionaries of some twenty languages. I would guess he was not much good at meetings.

''Outside his family," Lepore writes, ''nearly everyone who knew him found him insufferable, and strangers who thought they admired him usually didn't: they'd mistaken him for another Webster. (If he had published an autobiography, it would have been called I Am Not Daniel!)''

When Webster first floated the proposal for a dictionary of the American, rather than English, language in 1820, he was drubbed by the critics, who thought the Americanisms were vulgarisms, ''a disgusting collection of idiotic words" (such as ''wigwam" and ''lengthy.'')

By the time the dictionary was published, populism was on the rise-- and with it the love of the words of the common man--so the book became revered.

Labels: ,

Monday, November 06, 2006

Get out the rote

The repeated use of "get out the vote" in campaign stories is giving me a headache. What ever happened to the simple "voter turnout"?

Example: Both parties fired up get-out-the-vote operations.

Is that any better than Both parties fired up voter turnout operations?

An occasional get-out-the-vote reference is fine for some flair. But we've gone beyond flair here. We're entering the realm of bureaucrat-speak, election-style.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

In six words or less

Copy editors, our nightly struggle to condense 1,500 words of prose into a six-word headline is understood by few. But count these people in.

Wired magazine noted that Hemingway once wrote a story in six words ("For sale: baby shoes, never worn.") and asked other writers to follow suit.

There are a few I just love:
Gown removed carelessly. Head, less so.
- Joss Whedon

Machine. Unexpectedly, I’d invented a time
- Alan Moore

Kirby had never eaten toes before.
- Kevin Smith

“I couldn’t believe she’d shoot me.”
- Howard Chaykin

Bang postponed. Not Big enough. Reboot.
- David Brin

Anyone care to give it a try?