Monday, March 16, 2009

Burnt hand dreads cold water

I don't think this one is an accident. It's from the AP's obit of actor Ron Silver:

Whichever end of the political spectrum his activism fell, Silver viewed such involvement as something of a duty for entertainers.

I think someone's looking in the mirror and imagining that the Preposition Monster is closer than it appears. There wouldn't be anything wrong with leaving the poor preposition where it wants to be ("his activism fell on"), but the sentence we end up with* is ungrammatical. You can fall "here," but you can't fall "this end."

If you really, really think Miss Thistlebottom is going to rise from her grave and stalk you for hanging a preposition, there's an easy answer: Wherever on the political spectrum his activism fell, Silver viewed such involvement as something of a duty for entertainers. I'd rather leave the preposition in its natural home and dare someone to change it. I did that a few weeks ago, and a copy editor** let it go, and it felt rather good.

* Not that many newspapers today would consider close attention to the 22nd graf of a wire obit to be a good use of editing resources.
** Pretty good one, best I could tell.



Anonymous Amy F. said...

Completely unrelated, did you see that Hitchens piece in Slate?

Terrorists, Dissidents, and Copy Editors

9:36 PM, March 16, 2009  
Blogger fev said...

Hey, Amy: I did not see that, and tnx for onpassing. How's the big town?

I'm tempted to spend more time with Mr Hitchens than I have, because I think, at bottom, that he's still trying to justify his support for the "coalition intervention" in Iraq six years ago. (I don't think people who say "coalition intervention" have a lot of room to slag other people for alleged sins of euphemism either, but there you go.)

Hitchens is more intimidating than some because he's loud and blustery about it, but he's not very good with actual evidence (and, unfortunately, when you proclaim that particular word strings reflect "policy," you need to know what you're talking about). His bit about "dissident" is particularly interesting.

I'm sure it's fun at the bar to get a few larffs about calling the IRA "overwhelmingly Catholic," but the NYT simply doesn't do that very often (certainly not as often as it misspells Poe's middle name). His appeal to the dictionary is more interesting, because he's stepping into normative territory: The OED is the "final court of appeal," and the "origins of the term" are the authority on what a word means today (which is simply bullshit).

He thinks "dissident" is noble, because it seems to him that it refers mostly to Soviet dissidents. That's cherry-picking. In the course of it he decides that the Hoa Hao were simply an "obscure Vietnamese sect" (uh...) so we can safely deduce that "dissidents" don't use armed force, and that "dissident" is a term of "honor and respect" (while he's got that OED entry open, he might want to look up the Irgun).

I think copy editors could stand to pay a lot more attention to semantics and to history, and the NYT is no exception. But Christopher Hitchens doesn't appear qualified to do copy editing, and on the evidence, he shouldn't be allowed to do content analysis either.

Sorry, I'm procrastinating.

10:53 PM, March 17, 2009  

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