Thursday, March 31, 2011

Bratwa on the bunny

Show of hands out there. Didja get it huh huh huh? Obviously the good folks at the New York Post expected you to, so this seems like a good time to see whether it worked.
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No, but thanks for asking

The general rule about question heds is "don't" -- at least, don't use them on stories about assertions, because they're likely to stack the deck in favor of the side you take in the hed. This one's a bit of an extreme case, because the story more or less directly answers the question, and the answer is "no":

Public health advocates and academics studying the issue agree that dyes do not appear to be the underlying cause of hyperactivity, but they say that the effects of dyes on some children is cause enough to ban the additives.

Hence the careful wording two grafs earlier, which should have caught the hed writer's (or the slot's) eye:
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Sunday, March 27, 2011

And labor always ...

Hmm. Wonder what the mighty leftist propaganda machine that is the Associated Press wants you to think about -- oh, organized labor:

LOS ANGELES -- Thousands of union leaders and workers marched through the streets of downtown Los Angeles on Saturday, vowing and shouting that they would fight for organized labor in California after recent union setbacks in Wisconsin.

Is it just me, or is that a strikingly weird bit of coordination?

... Speakers including Teamsters General President James P. Hoffa, Maria Elena Durazo from the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, and Fire Fighters of Wisconsin President Mahlon Mitchell roused the crowd at the rally, the Los Angeles Times reported.

... Mahlon shouted at the rally that the battle in Wisconsin is a "direct attack" on all unions and the entire American middle class.

"An injury to one is an injury to all!" he shouted, and warned that similar policies could be instituted in cash-strapped California.

Well, you could have worked in another "at the rally," and you could have read the source copy closely enough to get the right second reference for the speaker. But otherwise -- think you got enough shouting in there, AP?

The link here is to the version at the Fair 'n' Balanced Network, where it's drawing exactly the sort of comments you'd expect:

In L.A. it will be the Union, Homersexuals, ACLU and the illegal Mexians. Everyone that hates America but won't move to Canada, Lybia, Saudi, Iraq. If you don't like it here MOVE and take Michael Moore, George Clooney and let us not forget VietNam Favorite Jane Fonda.

... but the Miracle of Robo-posting makes the AP's deathless prose -- and its suggested hed, "Thousands march streets of LA for organized labor" -- available at Web sites across the country.
(And why would NPR be an exception?) Makes one long for the days of wire editors, doesn't it?

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Slay kin drop fed case

It's partly the reverse border, I think, that helps me read this hed as "drop-fed case." And while drip-fed is substantively different from drop-kicked, I still count this one as a distinctively American tab hed.

The British redtops are laws unto themselves, and our heds are never going to duplicate something as cool as "Nude pic row vicar resigns."  "Slay kin," though, is a notch beyond standard Post. "Drown kid," we know, means "young person who drowned," but "slay kin" doesn't mean "relatives who were slain"; it means "family of person who was slain." The Post is a Murdoch property, meaning it's a citizen of the world, but this extra syntactic bump helps make clear that tabloid knowledge operates in a world all its own.

"Slay kin drop fed case" isn't as cool a noun string as the British get, then, but it's convoluted in its own New World way. Your thoughts?

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Saturday, March 26, 2011

Shower it on the Admiralty!

Could the thrills keep coming any faster? The ink's barely dry on the AP's decision to strike the hyphen from "email," and LOL here's the OED adding "OMG" to its online edition!

Short answer: Wrong. The appearance of a word in a dictionary is not a sign that the word is "now OK for print." The OED has had a wonderfully detailed entry under "fuck" for quite some time now, yet somehow I don't recall seeing that word -- verb, noun or interjection -- in the 1A skybox. Reaching the dictionary is generally a sign that a word has been "OK for print" for quite some time -- if, that is, you were inclined to print it in the first place. Per the OED entry, not only are there print cites for "OMG" from the '90s and the zeds, there's this in a letter from 1917:

I hear that a new order of Knighthood is on the tapis—O.M.G. (Oh! My God!)—Shower it on the Admiralty!

Your Editor was in Phoenix last week to talk about the effects of editing with the ACES gang* and thus was present at the creation** when the AP Stylebook editors announced that as of the following morning, "email" and "smartphone" would be the order of the day. That hyphen wasn't my war; it's hard to imagine being less whelmed by anything short of last year's ruling on "website." But the ensuing discussion made for an interesting look at the cultural value of being "in the stylebook" or "in the dictionary," as well as the web of guesses, assertions and interpretations that go into the fact claims you see in a style guide.

This one didn't come up in the discussion; it's from the "Ask the Editor" feature last November, but it sums up some of the ways people talk about "style":

Q. Your stylebook shows: "San'a It's NOT an apostrophe (') in the Yemen capital's name. It's a reverse apostrophe ('), or a single opening quotation mark." But I often see AP datelines using a standard apostrophe in that city's name. Has the style changed? – from Oklahoma City, Okla. on Tue, Nov 09, 2010
A. Good point. We're in the process of amending the stylebook entry to Sanaa, in which the double-a retains the Arabic pronunciation of San`a, our former spelling.

It's kind of a shame to see the end of "San'a," which for my money was the silliest of the persistent double-secret handshakes in the AP Stylebook, but -- no, it's not a "good point," and it's not a good answer. It might be interesting to ask why the AP insisted for more than 30 years on marking that consonant only in "San'a," rather than all the other words in which it makes no difference in American pronunciation ('Iraq, 'Arabic, 'Arafat) or the ones in which it might (Sa'udi, Qa'ida). But whatever pronunciation*** you were retaining, you can't retain it by dropping a consonant and changing the sound of a vowel. That's how you change pronunciation.

I should note here that the stylebook editors are genuinely nice guys and bore themselves with great good humor in front of a room full of style nerds. If they're taking suggestions (and remember, the advice you get here is easily worth twice what you pay for it), I'd prefer a bigger dose of "it seemed like a good idea at the time." That doesn't comport well with the rule-giving prescriptive thunder of the stylebook, but it has the advantage of being friendly and credible.

More on this vexing topic later, because the Big Stylebook Paper actually went out for a deadline last week and the editing study needs to be in full skolarly form by the end of this week, and there's that small matter of beer and basketball for which time has to be found as well. 

* And it was very cool to see old pals from the print days while meeting in person a bunch of folks I'd only known online. Prosit!
** Lo, I am become Death, destroyer of hyphens. Want to see the replay?
*** You can't begin a syllable with a vowel, so if you know that rule and you know that 'ayn is a consonant, it does make a difference: the syllables are san-'a, not sa-na. That also helps if you know the rule about where the stress goes in combinations of long vs. short syllables, so if you remember all those and know that "San'a'" also has a terminal hamza that AP doesn't mark, you could take a reasonable whack at pronouncing "San'a" -- if you started early enough to have a good 'ayn, which I didn't. Now get off my lawn.

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Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The employer always 'offers' ...

... and labor "demands" -- still Your Editor's go-to Liebling quote after all these years. Lest you doubt that the old ways are still alive at the union-thug-ridden Librul Media:

A fiery UAW President Bob King — in front of 1,200 members in town for a three-day bargaining convention — ranted about unions being under fire and came out swinging against Ford’s compensation package for CEO Alan Mulally.

Wonder if he'd get a more decorous verb of attribution if he'd had the good sense to wear a tie (right).

And while we're at it:

“When Alan Mulally can make over $50 million in a bonus, temporary workers have a right to a permanent job and decent wages and benefits,” King said of Ford’s 2,100 temporary workers, who he said deserve full-time status.

Whenever you see "said of," look for a way to write around it. Given that he just said "temporary workers," you can safely assume that the audience knows he was talking about temporary workers. The "said of" here is a quick-n-dirty way of adding some new information about some topic that's just been introduced. Find a better one.

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Sunday, March 20, 2011


The physicist Torahiko Terada wrote in 1934, “The more civilization progresses, the greater the violence of nature’s wrath.” Nearly 67 years later, his words appear prescient.

As we're told, the articles collected under the hed are translated from the Japanese. That doesn't mean they don't have to be edited in English. Again, we can't tell from here if it's a mistake in the original, an error by the translator or a random slip of the finger somewhere. But we should be reminded that whenever two numbers occur in this sort of relationship, an editing subroutine has to kick in: Does A plus (or minus, or times, or gazinta) B add up to what we say it does?

There's a clue in the second part that might have helped: a reference to Hirohito's "radio address at the end of World War II, 66 years ago." Why the first is "nearly 67" and the second is an unadorned "66" (the speech in question would most likely be the one of Aug. 15, 1945, so it's hard to see why one is less "nearly" than the other) is a mystery. Maybe it's the general fear in news style of beginning a sentence with a number. But sometimes, what we don't notice is as interesting as what we do.

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Hound of the Buskervilles

What went wrong here -- writer reaching for the wrong word, rogue spellchecker going full Sorcerer's Apprentice on the innocent ("basking" is Word's first suggestion), or editor-induced goof? We can't tell, though it's fair to hope that it wasn't something the desk inflicted on the writer. Whatever, the saxophonist in question was "busking," not basking, on the street corner.

"Busk" is a cool verb. The OED traces it to French, Italian and Spanish verbs meaning "filch," "prowl" or simply "seek," but it isn't sure whether the original nautical meaning was to sail as a pirate or just to tack. Nor is it sure whether the sense of practicing your art in the street for tips, first noted in 1851, is related to those meanings or a distinct word of its own. Sheer entertainment value is a good reason for having a dictionary -- one whose last name isn't ".com" -- at hand as you edit. But the main reason is to keep from saying one thing when you mean another.

To give the intertubes their due, they're a good place to check whether the officeholder mentioned before the sax player is the "register" or "registrar" of deeds. The county says he's the former.

I have other complaints with the writing. I wouldn't use "a polyglot of people"; I see where the writer's going with it, but it looks like a stretch to me -- something that falls under Elmore Leonard's "if it sounds like writing, I rewrite it" rule. And "local gendarmes" has an air of archaic columnist-speak about it; next thing, Hildy or Walter or somebody is going to be impersonating a cop over the phone.

Those are esthetic judgments. I don't want to pretend they're based in mystical or unbreakable rules that only the adepts of the Magick Art of Editing have access to. I'd have to persuade the writer on those points; after all, it isn't my name on the column. But I'll have an easier time doing that if I've fixed all the things that demonstrably are wrong before starting in on the toss-ups.

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Friday, March 18, 2011

My God, they shot him!

PHOENIX -- This isn't just another hed for the "down these mean streets" collection (and yes, as I've been telling the younguns this semester, should you want to get Your Editor something for Xpesmasse, a "gets shot" hed is always nice). This is genuine silly editing: taking an item that was fine in the first place and worsening it for late-breaking readers.

At top is the hed as I saw it this morning. Below is the vastly better version that was up last night -- better because someone had the good sense to realize that "gets a shot" is the standard argument for when to break the rule about leaving articles out of heds. And if someone thought the readership was better served by blindly following some rule from those heady days of the classroom, someone thought wrong. Grr.

Otherwise, having a wonderful time! We're at the ACES gathering to talk with editors about editing. Regular posting will resume shortly, and tnx to all who have been sending in good finds meanwhile.


Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Pain at the ... wait, what?

"Pain at the pump," as regular readers know, is permanently forbidden, under all circumstances, forever and ever amen. So does it occur at the Fair 'n' Balanced Network out of blithe disregard for the Cliche Police, or because statistical reasoning is a known handmaiden of liberalism, or ....?

Let's start by seeing what the problem is. Here's the AP, at Fox:

Americans are feeling the pain at the pump. In Hawaii, the sting just got a little worse.

Do tell.
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Monday, March 14, 2011

If you have to write fluff ...

Bad things happen on the weekend feature piece front:

It was cloudy and cold at Sunday’s St. Patrick’s Parade in downtown Detroit, but for thousands of revelers who turned out for the 53rd annual event, it might as well have been sunny and warm.

Or not. It's still "March" out there: a high of 40 in downtown Detroit on Sunday, a high of 45 in Dublin. What, you were expecting the tropics?

“This is beautiful weather,” beamed Patrick McQueeny, a Clinton Township lawyer who served as a parade marshal.

Bzzzzt! Never -- that's never, as in "never" -- use a verb that doesn't describe the physical act of speech to attribute a direct quote. "Said" and "asked" worked for Raymond Chandler. They will work for you too.
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Saturday, March 12, 2011

Probably not

Large backlog of stuff to comment on (Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., we have not forgotten you!), so let's spend just a brief moment on Stuff You Shouldn't Do In Writing About Disasters. Today's point is: Don't write heds based on what you think ought to be happening.

Yes, there's shock. No kidding. But even though they're largely made up of foreigners, whole countries rarely sit around in one emotional state at a time. A more reasonable impression seems to be that, despite the genuinely epic scale of this disaster, Japan got off its duff pretty damn quickly. Agencies seem to have done what they practice for. People looked out for each other and themselves; they aren't just helpless toys of fate.

Shock, pervasive panic and general Hobbesianism are among the pervasive myths of disasters (here's a good place to start your lit review). We tend to write about them whether they're happening or not. No looting in sight? Well, write about how the National Guard is keeping the looters off the streets!
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Tuesday, March 08, 2011

They do, eh?

"Some believe"? Do you think, maybe, before we promote the Weather Guy blog at the top of the front page, we should take into account the possibility that "some" are nuts? Simply, completely, please-get-out-of-my-newspaperly nuts? And that readers might draw conclusions about the other stories on your front page from the unmarked presence of complete loonies in this one?


Saturday, March 05, 2011

Look who's crawling up my wall

Quick, what's your first reaction to this USA Today lede, reproduced in Saturday's Freep?

If you completed the annoying Walter Scott couplet -- or tried to, noting that "When first we practice to deceive" doesn't fit as well with "Mazda wove" as you wanted it to -- you should be pretty well primed for a tale of automotive skulduggery and sleight of hand. And you will have been grossly misled. It's the same story you first heard Thursday, if you keep up with such things closely, or first read on page 8A Friday (the second image here) if you wait for the dead-tree edition to arrive, and there isn't a trace of the promised deception.

So absent the benefit of novelty, it looks as if we have two possible outcomes here:
1) Readers miss the allusion entirely and wonder why the newspaper is wasting their time, or

2) Readers get the allusion perfectly and forthwith discover that the newspaper is more or less lying to them

Why would you want either outcome? Especially since this (as the Chrysler ad* so charmingly notes) is the Motor City, not the suburbs of the capital, and the writer is never going to see his little masterpiece slip quietly beneath the waves?

* How cool was it to have the Rivera murals on national TV in the middle of a football game?

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Friday, March 04, 2011

No, don't. Please

And back by popular demand ... wait, that can't be it. Why did someone think it was necessary to drag "pain at the pump" out of that comfy box of earth from its home country where it had been sleeping and turn it loose once again on an innocent world?

Rather than tracking down all the fishwraps that have indulged themselves in a little pump masochism over the past week or so, let's see what the same writer had to say three years back:

A new report from the Oil Price Information Service says most of Ohio, including all of the central part of the state, is doing comparatively well in dealing with gas prices.

The Pain at the Pump Index finds that the median Franklin County household spends 4.6 percent of its monthly income on gasoline, a figure that is lower than in 86 percent of counties nationwide.

So not only is there a "Pain at the Pump Index," but it shows that Columbusians are doing fairly well out of things? Well, shazam. Since the writer remembered to call the same professor to opine on the likely impact of that latest doings, do you suppose he could have checked in this alleged index while he was at it?

You can have lots of fun just running phrases through a database from the comfort of your own home. Imagine how cool it would be if you got to show reporters the gory details before hitting the "send" button, rather than after.


Skip the parade

It's National Grammar Day, and what are you doing about it?

Allow us to suggest that you skip the parade, take a pass on the ritual which-burning, and Just Say No to any party invitations for which you start by denouncing Those Kids and Their Damn iVocabulary. Instead, take a long walk with your sweetie in the woods and admire the gentle wh- movement of the hardwoods. Introduce some undergraduates to the austere beauty of the coathanger diagram. Don't cringe when you're offered "a free small curly fries" in return for documentation of a hat trick*; show me why it's the same sort of noun phrase as "the next speaker of the House."

But don't -- do we have to rub it in? -- be the goofbag who gives "grammar" a bad name by conflating it with the sort of obsessive hyphenation that leads to "High-school graduation rates jump." Grammar wants you to be clear. It doesn't want you to be silly.

We'll be celebrating up here, of course. Czarina will be plowing through some grading toward an incoming freelance project. I'll be sitting around the lab looking at things "grammar" seems to do in real life. Bernie's playing stalk-and-release with a gingham mouse** even as we speak. But we're not going to be sticking random boneheaded hyphens into perfectly good headlines. That's a hell of a way to spend a holiday.

* Not likely tonight, if you're scoring along at home.
** They're like 79 cents at the pet supply store on Woodward. Amazing. You need more gingham mice in your life.

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Tuesday, March 01, 2011

No use crying over split milk

We taught them a lesson in 1918, and they've hardly bothered us since then! But now those pesky Germans have done it:

Two years before the Berlin Wall opened, paving the way for the end of the Cold War, President Ronald Reagan famously called on then-Soviet Union leader Mikhail Gorbachev in 1987 to "tear down this wall," in a speech he delivered at the Brandenburg Gate, which was then part of the East-West border.

Well, we all summon spirits from the vasty deep sometimes. Would there be an actual "delayed lede" around here somewhere?

But Reagan's role in bringing down the Iron Curtain and breaking the back of communism has touched off a national debate in Germany, where conservatives want to rename a street or square after him while liberals still hold a grudge over the Gipper's deployment of nuclear missiles on West German soil.
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Of mice and pizza sabotage men

Scholars can debate whether it should be "mouse" or "mice," or whether the claim quotes should be extended to include all of "mice pizza sabotage," but surely we can set aside these differences and enjoy the strange unnatural beauty of the BBC's hed atop this story:

A pizzeria owner in Pennsylvania sought to sabotage competing shops by infesting them with mice, police say.