Saturday, July 31, 2010

No man is a coney

Today's quiz: Name three places where you could expect to find candidates for governor this weekend. (Non-US readers especially encouraged to play.)

Ah, the rewards of having a native informant in the other room. A coney island is not just a food item -- a chili dog without the slaw (Language Czarina says "coney dog" isn't used) -- but the place that serves it. It shows up in proper names, like American Coney Island, which calls the food both a "Coney" (LCz doesn't recall using this but won't rule it out) and a "Coney Island hot dog." I think this one's a specifically local usage* and would like to know how it sounds in readerland.

I didn't have any big problems with the lede -- certainly not as much as the glitch I get when the Canadian station says it's going to be 20 degrees, which I still have to translate into real money. I'm sure nobody at the News thought twice about it, and a suggestion to improve the lede by making it "coney island restaurants" might well have been laughed out of the room. 

That's probably a good thing. My first encounter with positive "anymore" was shortly after I signed on at Ohio's Greatest Home Newspaper in the mid-1980s; one of the writers out in first-edition** territory quoted the local sheriff along the lines of "anymore a bunch of kids are doing that meth." I thought the guy had to be nuts and said something to the effect of we can't run this; nobody will have any idea what he means. The rest of the desk (the bulk of them natives) looked at me -- quite fairly -- as if I'd grown another head.

"Write like people talk" isn't always a good answer. But it's often a better one than "write as if you've never heard people talk." What do you characters think -- fine as it is, do you need a translation, do you like it when a newspaper sends you Googling around to see what something means,*** or ...?

* A 1987 article from the Chicago Tribune contends that the "enormous specialty sandwiches" known as submarines, heroes, poor boys or torpedoes are also sometimes called "Coney Islands"; I've never heard that, and the author doesn't say where. (He does get an Elongated Yellow Fruit award for referring to submarines as "the undersea warships" on second reference.)
** In Charlotte's six-edition glory days, the first (which closed around 7:30 p.m. and went to the mountains and coast) was unkindly called the "practice edition." As always, more examples of journalism jargon are welcome.
*** In a quick spin through American Speech at the e-library, I couldn't find anything to shed light on the coney island question -- though there was a really cool list of pizza jargon. I just delivered 'em; I didn't work behind the counter, so most of these were new to me: "bondage pie" for sausage and mushroom (S&M), for example.



Blogger rootlesscosmo said...

I grew up in New York and have lived in San Francisco for the past 45 years. "Coney Island" in my understanding is a place; in my youth I looked up "coney" and found it means rabbit, cognate with "conejo," "coniglio" etc. I've heard of "Coney Island hot dogs," assuming that "-style" was implied as in "Philly cheese steak," and I've read Lawrence Ferlinghetti's "A Coney Island of the Mind," which had a cover photo of the amusement park; he was the publisher, so it's safe to say he approved that image. I've never before heard NP "a coney island" to mean a food item, or "coney" except as an archaic term for bunny.

3:38 PM, July 31, 2010  
Blogger fev said...

I wonder if the wait staffs had to put up with a bunch of college stoners saying "when you give me a coney, the coney's mine, see?" in the Tolkien days. I don't recall offhand if that line made it to the movie, but it was my first encounter with "coney."

4:17 PM, July 31, 2010  
Anonymous Sam said...

I associate Coney Island with being a place. If they'd cap'd it, then it might lead one to assume it's the proper name of a restaurant or something. It's kinda confusing the way it is.

4:17 PM, July 31, 2010  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If you're writing for a primarily Detroit-area audience, leave it. Would the Times-Picayune refer to "po-boy sandwiches?"

5:22 PM, July 31, 2010  
Blogger The Ridger, FCD said...

I had absolutely no trouble understanding that.

Except I thought they meant amusement parks. Restaurants? Really?

Learn something new every day.

8:32 PM, July 31, 2010  
Blogger John Cowan said...

Quite so: "coney islands" looks completely bizarre to this New Yorker (of the last 30 years, though before that of New Jersey). We probably stopped using coney for 'rabbit' because it became homophonous with cunny; the current pronunciation is based on the spelling.

1:19 AM, August 01, 2010  
Blogger Brian Cubbison said...

I've heard of "coneys," mostly from "cheese coneys" in Cincinnati, but "coney islands" would mean amusement parks to me, and I would wonder why it's not capitalized.

11:47 AM, August 01, 2010  
Blogger Katrina said...

Additional data point: Down here in Monroe, we say "Coney Island" for a diner and "coney" - never "Coney Island" - for a dog.

12:04 AM, August 02, 2010  

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