Thursday, June 30, 2011

Balms away

The Triangle buro checked in early with this gem from the front of Thursday's N&O, but by the time any screen-grabs could be grabbed, it had been scrubbed.* Thus, it took a little work to find an extant online version that still referred to alienation of affection as "heart bomb." Here's the corresponding graf from the story:

Divorce attorneys say it is rare for a public figure to file such a lawsuit, which is known in legal circles as a "heart bomb" action.

If you want to be taken seriously as an authority on what goes on in legal circles, you don't have to have a lawyer reading behind you. But it would help to have someone who's been around the block enough times to know why "balm" is more likely than "bomb."
Read more »

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Local couple's vacation in peril

Breaking news from the top of the homepage!

Unfortunate Renter was settling into his new apartment in east Charlotte with his wife and two daughters Tuesday night.

They had just finished moving into a first-floor unit at Eagle Woods Apartments. But soon after heading* to bed, the "pow-pow" of two gunshots and screams coming from the second-level breezeway sent his daughter running into his room.


... Later Tuesday night, police say, several men in a black Cadillac sedan dropped a shooting victim at Carolinas Medical Center-University and left immediately.

... Detectives with Charlotte-Mecklenburg police are investigating the case and believe the victim might have been shot in the area of the Eagle Woods apartments.

Sounds like a news story. But it doesn't sound like the one the hed is referring to.

* Not to be prescriptive or anything, but who had just headed to bed: Parents, daughters, gunshots or screams?

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Hed of the morning: Are we rolling?

A-one-ah, a-two-ah, a-three-ah, a-four.

I for one am disappointed that the BBC avoided the noun pileup. Verbless rewrites are welcome.


Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Zip it

If you don't want to see it in print, don't type it (But The Internet Changes Everything edition): 

These should stay zipped
This story should stay zipped. If not, we have to put these back.

You'll be happy to know that the top story under "latest headlines, pairings, brackets and results" has been replaced by this:

Greg Taylor, a Wake County man whose wrongful conviction has been blamed in part by flawed policies and a rogue agent at the State Bureau of Investigation, filed suit today against five former bureau agents and supervisors.

Darn kids and their prepositions. Blamed "by" flawed policies?

Thanks to Strayhorn, longtime member of the Clean Desk Club, for the screen grab.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

National news: The War on Science

Sometimes a spin through the morning papers just brings you up cold. Here's the top story* from Sunday's Anchorage Daily News:

Another department in the Parnell administration is applying a political and policy test to the work that its scientists and researchers are permitted to do.

This time, the rule affects public health and governs manuscripts, data presentations and "ideas" that could lead to publications. The rule was issued June 10 as an internal policy and procedure by Dr. Ward Hurlburt, the state's director of public health and its chief medical officer.

That sounds disconcerting. What do you suppose it means in real life?
Read more »

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Failure is an option

Somewhere between the source, the reporter and the cliche-osphere, this one got turned around:

"Finishing school is not an option," Tonya said. "He has to do it."

She doesn't mean she's going to keep her son (the Pistons' top pick in the recent draft) from going to finishing school. She means that finishing vs. not finishing isn't a free choice -- or in "failure is not an option" terms, that not finishing school is not an option.

Given that the quote seems to be pointing two ways, this seems like a nice time for the writer to step in with a paraphrase and a partial quote.

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Subterranean sweet treat blues

What do you say when you've run out of ways to say "sugar beet"?

Michigan is the U.S.'s fourth-largest grower of this subterranean sweet treat, processing more than 4 million tons of beets every year, according to the state Department of Agriculture.

While we're at it? The need to explain a pun, as in the sugar-sugar example above, should be considered a sign from on high that the pun belongs on the compost heap of history. Don't use it.


Saturday, June 25, 2011

Helpful context of the afternoon

BOSTON – A Boston College doctoral student suffered minor injuries at a lab Saturday when a chemical used in making mustard gas and methamphetamine exploded in her hand, a school spokesman said.

No doubt, no doubt -- but do you suppose we're stacking the deck a bit to get the meth-n-mustard-gas angle into the lede? If you stop for some gasoline on the way home from the lab, should the AP point out that gasoline is also used to run your accomplice through the wood chipper?

Over the river and out of the frying pan

... and through the woods and into the fire, or something like that. Quite a bit is going on in today's top story:

After another month behind bars, Kwame Kilpatrick is likely off to Texas to start his 24-month parole.

Pop quiz: Has "another month behind bars" ended yet?

The ex-mayor of Detroit, who kept his nose and record clean while in state custody after violating probation, was approved for parole Friday with release set for sometime after July 24. A move to Texas to reunite with his wife and three sons was part of the plan submitted at his parole hearing, said his lawyer, James Thomas.

Read more »

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Thursday, June 23, 2011

"I"-less in Gaza

This just in from "The Fox Nation," a suburb of the News Corp. empire for those who have grown tired of the thorough fact-checking, impartial word choice, and careful separation of news and opinion practiced at Fox News proper:

The Obama "I"s have it ... as demonstrated in his speech on Afghanistan Wednesday night, President Obama loves to say "I" in his addresses. (That's it for the text of the item; for the Fox audience, once you say "Obama" and "I," you've said it all.)

As Mark Liberman at Language Log notes,* presidential pronoun use in the Wednesday night address has already drawn the standard reproof from the right-wing commentariat:

Obama is now openly mocked as "President Me, Myself, and I."
Read more »

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Partial quote of the morning

J-textbooks tend to discourage partial or fragmentary quotes,* but that hardly means writers don't use them. Part of a quote could be ungrammatical, so the writer can preserve some of the magic flavor quotes are supposed to provide without appearing to poke fun at the speaker. There might be a striking or distinctive turn of phrase that you want to preserve while making sure nouns and pronouns still agree. Or you might want to keep some of the distinctive/colorful words but leave out the ones you can't say on TV.

To get the most out of your partial quote, you should follow a few rules. One, the quote ought to be worth the attention you draw to it. Two, it ought to be the sort of syntactic module that fits neatly into the rest of the sentence. When in doubt, try the press conference** test:

Q: Sergeant, where were the tusks coming out?
A: Of the side of its mouth.
Read more »


You mean ...

For restaurants around the Orange County Courthouse, the Casey Anthony verdict is already in.

The trial has bumped up business a bit, but owners say it's mostly been a disappointment.

Oh NOES!!!! You mean the most super-important trial in all of recorded history hasn't actually brought all of humanity flocking to your annoying provincial rat capital?

Eateries are comfortably crowded, but customers aren't lining up outside the doors. Some that planned to beef up staffing and extend their hours ended up quickly going back to regular operations.

Fratelli's Italian Restaurant near the courthouse on Orange Avenue tried serving breakfast but soon stopped.

And why would that be?

"It wasn't working at all," co-owner Julian Serjani said. "It was a lot of extra hours for us."

Customers packed the tables Tuesday during lunch, but Serjani said many in the lunch crowd are regular diners — not reporters or gawkers in town for Anthony's murder trial.

"It's not like, wow, what we thought it was going to be," Serjani said. "But it's a little bit of extra business."

Perhaps this 1A story could serve as a reminder. Any time you want to pull this small-bore tank-town murder tale off the front page, you can. You can wait for evidence that the world hasn't changed, but you don't have to. You can exercise news judgment on your own.

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Monday, June 20, 2011

Lede of the day: Out, damned water!

Why we (used to) have editors:

Former UCF football player Anthony Davis told a jury coach George O'Leary ordered athletic trainers and water to leave the indoor practice facility during Ereck Plancher's final workout.

It's now been "updated" at the source paper:

Former UCF football player Anthony Davis told a jury coach George O'Leary ordered athletic trainers and water be removed from the fieldhouse during Ereck Plancher's final workout.

... but it lives on at sites that are eager to post the latest from your authoritative paper.

It really, really doesn't take a lot of editing to keep ledes like this from seeing publication. But it does take some. Imagine if readers actually expected you to write better than they do.

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Friday, June 17, 2011

And you thought verbing weirded language?

I know, I know. Historically, we're supposed to cringe at the verbing of nouns above all other such offenses. I think we'd be better advised to worry about excessive nouning, but for different -- and I hope less strictly peevish -- reasons.

"Turn a noun into a verb with the same enthusiasm you would apply in seeking a cut in salary" was the classic UPI Stylebook admonition, well before Calvin's memorable "Verbing weirds language." It's a fun way to sound like a hard-boiled grammar cop, regardless of whether you or anyone else on the force can get from the cop shop to the Krispy Kreme without verbing a noun or two along the way. As with the active voice, dental hygiene and the ideals of the Founding Fathers, the loudest peeving often comes from those who have trouble recognizing the real thing at better than chance levels.
Read more »

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Thursday, June 16, 2011

"I" robot

A couple of new entries call for an update to the Great Presidential Pronoun Count.

More recent but less interesting is an entry from Cal Thomas, who's more or less simply regurgitating the standard trope about frequency of first-person pronouns:

In his parliamentary speech, which began with herald trumpets announcing his arrival (appropriate since Obama frequently toots his own horn by overdoing the personal pronouns "I" and "me") the president spoke favorably of Adam Smith, the patron saint of economic conservatives.

That's basically just a random elbow thrown at the "arrogance" theme, which apparently isn't going to go away regardless of what sort of ceremonial rituals normally go along with that pesky head-of-state thing. But there's another take from last month as well, and this one's more interesting because it introduces yet another unrelated theoretical argument for the evidence it doesn't bother to measure. Take it away, Victor Davis Hanson, national security and military history guru for National Review Online:

Here are a few excerpts from President Obama’s speech on Sunday night* about the killing of Osama bin Laden.

“Tonight, I can report . . . And so shortly after taking office, I directed Leon Panetta . . . I was briefed on a possible lead to bin Laden . . . I met repeatedly with my national security team . . . I determined that we had enough intelligence to take action. . . . Today, at my direction . . . I’ve made clear . . . Over the years, I’ve repeatedly made clear . . . Tonight, I called President Zardari . . . and my team has also spoken. . .These efforts weigh on me every time I, as Commander-in-Chief . . . Finally, let me say to the families . . . I know that it has, at times, frayed. . . .”

Read more »

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Unlikely story

Poor old "likely." No matter how often it produces the birth certificate (which it's apparently been doing since the 14th century), somebody's still going to proclaim that it isn't a real adverb -- at least, not unless accompanied by "very" or some other adult guardian.

Bierceologist Jan Freeman credits this peeve to "Write it Right" a century ago, but it's going strong today. The street edition of the NYT style manual says the "she will likely go" construction is "dialect," by which it apparently means "something the lesser breeds say"; the Merriam-Webster Concise Dictionary of English Usage calls that construction "well established in standard general use in North America." Stylewise, adverbial "likely" belongs firmly in the middle range. You don't have to like it or use it yourself, but you can't ban it on grammar grounds.

Evidence-based conclusions about language aren't a license to do whatever you want, though, as illustrated by the lede above. "Likely won't" looks pretty well established, and the adjectival "likely to be gone" in the hed is fine, but "unlikely will offer contracts" is out of bounds. You wonder where the editors were -- though you really don't anymore, do you?

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Wednesday, June 15, 2011

What ended when?

No peeking at the heds or anything: Who did what to whom, and which life of scams came to a bloody end when?

If you read Tuesday's paper, or if you hang on for the third graf, you have an important bit of knowledge: Alberta Easter died in prison at the weekend. She was 93 and serving a life sentence without parole for the murders in question. But I'm almost more confused than when I began. That case certainly wasn't a bloody end to her bizarre life, and the lives that did come to a bloody end weren't lives of "scams and schemes."

At the risk of indulging in rankest confirmation bias, this looks like another victim in the Global War on Editing. It wouldn't take much effort to rearrange the jumble of news cliches into something that said what it wanted to, but it would take some effort. Remind me again: Why are readers supposed to pay for this?

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Bizarre language assertion of the week

"Just like adjectives," you say? Modifying nouns and everything? At the risk of angering the Miami Herald stylebook,* whose entry under "dialect" warns us not to go around making "a longshoreman sound like a college professor," one is tempted to add: No f***ing s***?

The bigger point for editors on a story like this is the lede:

A Brooklyn, N.Y., man says he is considering a lawsuit after he was thrown off a flight in Detroit for dropping the F-bomb.

... and the ensuing heds: "Cussing man tossed from flight may file suit" in print" and "N.Y, man may sue after being tossed from Detroit flight" online. "May sue" and "is considering a lawsuit" are banned under all circumstances, permanently, forever, amen. The threshold for filing a lawsuit is low as it is, and the threshold for telling a naive member of the press that bygod you're gonna SUE is even lower. It's a lawsuit when it has a number -- as in, when the clerk has whacked it with the stamp -- and not before. The correct answer to "You know, I'm thinking about suing" is "Thanks! Call me back when you do, OK?" Period. /rant.

As long as you're being appropriately skeptical toward kinda-sorta hints about lawsuits, though, you might as well be skeptical toward specious assertions about language. And when some minor-league pop-culture figure plays the New York Awesomeness card -- hey, kid, in the Big Town, we use curse words like adjectives, you know? -- it's perfectly all right to ask: Which fucking turnip truck did you just fall off of?

* And the Grauniad's, which hates asterisks and approves of "fuck" but not "political correctness." Sorry, guys.

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Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The land of strange corrections

Why do newspapers correct what they correct? Let's observe and speculate a little:

A review of the "Charlotte Squawks" prouduction* in Sunday's State&Local section gave an incorrect song lyric in a number mocking County Manager Harry Jones. The correct lyric was: "Harry makes the moolah rain."

OK, that's good to know. Glitch on a parody lyric in the yearly roast of local notables and you get a correction in your folder. Flatly misstate a contentious yet straightforward issue of foreign policy ("Obama endorses 1967 borders for Israel," say), and -- three weeks and counting?

But enough about the Fractious Near East. What are we correcting with the correction here: Noun? Verb? Party affiliation? Intonation? Let's see (the tune is "Jolly Holiday" from "Mary Poppins," if that helps):

Oh, it's a money giveaway with Harry;
Harry is the gravy train.
Tell him that your lawsuit will be scary,
Harry makes the mulah rain!

If you think it's nearly unheard-of for newspapers to correct spelling errors, take the square root of that and multiply it by "archaic slang terms with multiple recognized spellings" to get an approximate likelihood of this one.

So what's the point? Did somebody think the spelling as originally given meant -- God forbid -- "mullah" or something? As in Our Kids and Teens will be bowing toward Mecca any day now? Because it's totally going to spoil the joke if "mullah," dating to 1939, is among the OED's variations on "moolah."

Insights on how this correction came about, of course, are welcome.

* I don't want to get into the (sic) habit, but it's a correction, dammit. So (sic).

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Forbidden heds

Ndamukong Suh appears to be joining Pavel Datsyuk on the list of Detroit athletes who invariably call forth tedious plays on their names when they appear on the pages of certain dailies. It'd be nice if this habit ended, but breath is not being held against that occasion.

The upper instance is a little weirder. It's from a blog, where writers' choices are likely to get a little less interference from the desk, and that may explain why it's so, like, Zen, or whatever that vague scent is.

That's the problem, I think. I'm expecting "the chosen one" to be either Obama* or some annoying child actor in a karate-n-symbolism movie. I don't get a connection to hiring a new GM for your mediocre basketball team, and it'd be nice to know that the appearance of a sports exec with a family name like Cho didn't set off a round of "ah so, grasshoppah" in the toy department.

* Yeah, sorry, too much time in the swamps of Fox.


Sunday, June 12, 2011

Misspent resources

Interesting to note how and where a resource like time is spent, isn't it?

The upper graf is from a Saturday story. I'm not sure we can call it an out-and-out error, but it certainly has some giggle potential, because "women" and "priests" are such nice objects for "for." "Women priests" isn't necessarily wrong, but "female priests" would be a much better choice here, and a longer object (maybe "expanding the priesthood to include ...") might be better yet. And neither change would take much time off the clock.

The other one ran today (it's after the first subhed in this online version, which combines the 1A billboard and the full story inside.) Why "just more than" instead of "just over"? Another stylebook rule -- "over" and "under" only apply to spatial relationships, not to numbers -- that's unfounded in its best cases and simply silly in cases like "just over" and "just under." On top of that, "she has just over two weeks" will probably get the paragraph down to three lines.

Somehow I think both writers would be happier if the time and energy put into zombie rules went instead to giving stuff that's written in a hurry another few seconds to catch its breath. I'm fairly sure readers would appreciate it too.

Today's Q&A
Q: Did the world really need to know what Mitch Albom thinks of Weinergate?
A: Not that I've heard.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

By their follow-ups shall ye know them

Here's one you can use to judge the motives of (ahem) certain fair-n-balanced news outlets by. If you draw some useful conclusions about your own outlet's performance, that's OK too:

Climate warming since 1995 is now statistically significant, according to Phil Jones, the UK scientist targeted in the "ClimateGate" affair.

Last year, he told BBC News that post-1995 warming was not significant - a statement still seen on blogs critical of the idea of man-made climate change.

But another year of data has pushed the trend past the threshold usually used to assess whether trends are "real".

"Still seen on blogs critical of the idea of man-made climate change" is a bit of an understatement. The bombshell news at Fox and the Daily Mail in February 2010 was that one of those grant-grubbing liberal science fraudsters had finally confessed that there had been no global warming since 1995!!1!!!!1!! And that, friends, was a porky. Asked whether he would agree that there had been no statistically significant global warming since 1995, he answered, "Yes, but only just" -- or, as he went on to clarify, not at 95% confidence but "quite close."

This isn't a huge development; basically, a trend that was significant at p<.10 is now significant at p<.05, and Jones himself reiterates a point he made last year:

"Basically what's changed is one more year [of data]. ... It just shows the difficulty of achieving significance with a short time series, and that's why longer series -- 20 or 30 years -- would be a much better way of estimating trends and getting significance on a consistent basis."

Still, it does illustrate a couple of consistent problems with news practice that the partisan press is quite successful in exploiting. One is that journalism doesn't have a good mechanism for handling follow-ups on questionable assertions; however well the old tickler file might have worked, it didn't have a category for "hey, remember that bogus story that Fox ran last year?"

Another is that we don't deal with probability-based conclusions very well. That's a specific case of a broader concern: Loud and conclusive always trumps quiet and tentative. But either way, it gives an advantage to a story whose thrust is "HA HA Algore makes stuff up, science is all about who argues the loudest" over one that says "here's the confidence level at which we can support a tentative conclusion about a small-to-moderate effect that looks interesting in light of a number of other findings."

I'm not suggesting we wait with bated breath until Fox runs a zomg* GLOBAL WARMING IS REAL NOW!!!1!! hed; if your working assumption, like mine, has been that Fox is a party organ rather than a news outlet, that's appropriate. But you can draw conclusions from what your own news outlet -- the one you work for or the first one you open in the morning -- has been up to with this story. A story suggesting that what was once marginally significant evidence has now reached the professional standard would be appropriate. And when the foamy-mouthed callers demand your head, tell them to go cancel their own damn subscriptions. 

* Happy now, Cowan? I'm still debating whether to add this one to the HEADSUP-L style manual.


Friday, June 10, 2011

On language: Desafirization

So with the university closed for the Great Summer Snow Day, I undertook to get a few errands done in the neighborhood. Being overcome with the urge for a coney island, I stopped in one of the local places on the way back, and I saw a construction I'd never seen before:

Egg Benedicts

This sounds almost as if someone's trying to re-grammaticalize, or de-Safirize, "Eggs Benedict." Look familiar to anyone out there?

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Elongated Yellow Fruit award (rhomboids of frozen wet stuff division)

Dear desk: Having said "ice cubes" once, you could probably get away with "some" on second reference (and "given" rather than "parceled out," but who's counting?):

Senior Day volunteer Grady Evans hands out ice cubes to Sue Cass, 75, after having parceled out some of the cooling freebies to Royce Cheeseman, 83.

But under no circumstance should you call them "the cooling freebies." Got it?

While we're at it?

Jessica Allday, left, a visitor from England, experiences a day of baseball — not rounders or cricket — with friend Jessica Kittle of Dublin.

From her presence at a baseball game, yes. You can let your readers infer that she is watching baseball, "not rounders or cricket."

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Oh, shut up

As the AP Stylebook reminds us, manic depression's a frustrating mess -- so as a copy editor, the last thing you want to do is help your sports writers spread the stuff around before you can get it all cleaned up:

With each ebb and flow of this turbulent playoff riptide, Heat fans have been caught in an emotional tempest, flying high with every win, and burning with anger upon every defeat.

But these seemingly bipolar outbursts of rage interspersed with episodes of euphoria are absolutely normal, say mental health professionals. In fact, scientific studies have attempted to quantify and explain the phenomenon.

Ian Mayes, who used to be reader rep at the Grauniad, has been a frequent critic of journalism's haphazard use of the terminology of mental health. This seems the sort of usage that ought to draw the undecided into his camp. Suppose we can keep dark hints of bipolar rage out of a feature about, you know, sports fans being slightly more than their usually annoying selves?

Researchers say the swings between elation and depression are a natural reaction to hormones the body releases when one receives an outcome it desires — or one it abhors.

I don't want to paste the whole dreary feature* here, but this sentence is worth noting just for the antecedence. "It" doesn't point back to "one," it points back to "the body." So your vile body wanted the Heat to win, but your spirit self has to put up with the mundane neurochemical outcome?

Please stop it -- you in Miami, and you in Dallas and Boston and Vancouver and anywhere else you're tempted to reach for "just what this reeling city needed" or "held this country in the palm of his leather-clad hand." It's a game. Stop it.

* But since The Ridger was asking recently after real-life examples of the complementizing comma, here's the lede: The Miami Heat’s troubling pattern of late-game collapses in the NBA Finals has so infuriated Eric Reed, he had to run a mile and a half — at 3:30 in the morning — just to fall asleep after the latest loss.

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Thursday, June 09, 2011

Stupid Question of the week

When the company-town paper says "entire senior staff resigning en masse," and your own story declares it an "exodus" in the fifth graf, I think we can safely rule out Genesis, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. Go ahead, Fair 'n' Balanced Network! Live dangerously! Lose that question mark!

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Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Coincidence ... or what?

Surely it's just coincidence that these two AP paragraphs showed up on the same page of the morning e-fishwrap. Surely!

OK, in order. The AP may be scandalized. The Freep may be scandalized. Your mom might be scandalized (though that's probably less likely than you think). Rep. Weiner may be "scandal-scarred" (we're good at inventing terms like that, so feel free to come up with your own), but he isn't scandalized.

Point the second, and bear in mind that it's set up by a second graf that begins "Her visit will literally begin with a bang -- a 19-gun salute on the White House South Lawn." No, Virginia, there is no difference between the number of "gun salutes" for a head of government and a head of state. Each of them gets one salute. In one case, the salute comprises 19 guns, and in the other, 21.

For God's sake.
Read more »

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Monday, June 06, 2011

Annals of g-droppin'

On the homepage:

"He who warned the British that they weren't gonna be takin' away our arms by ringing those bells, and makin' sure as he's riding his horse through town to send those warning shots and bells that we were going to be sure and we were going to be free, and we were going to be armed."

From the "today's paper" section:

"He who warned the British that they weren't gonna be taking away our arms by ringing those bells, and making sure as he's riding his horse through town to send those warning shots and bells that we were going to be sure and we were going to be free, and we were going to be armed."

Can't say for sure what happened without access to the wire.* A quick search finds both versions of the quote, under the same byline, with the g-dropped version much more prevalent. (The commie-infested N&O and the extraplanetary WashTimes could have both fixed it on their own; weirder things have happened.) But it's a useful lesson in the perils of tryin' to reproduce dialect all the same. Have a listen for yourself at how well the g-dropped version represents Palin's comments. I hear "ringin" and "ridin" along with the ones marked in the text, though the "ng" is pretty clear on "warning." And if the first "gonna" is a "gonna," so are the two in the last clause.

It's worth puttin' the question to the AP (and/or your own political writers). What exactly are you trying to show about Palin's speech, and how consistent can you credibly claim to be about it -- either within a single sentence of hers or among candidates who may have those or other speech features despite their necktie-wearin' formality?

Political figures aren't the same thing as Real People, in many ways, so I'm somewhat less concerned about the social or class biases that dialect-marking in news accounts often implies. But that doesn't mean "no concerns at all." And given Palin's well-publicized delight in taking her persecution complex public, it really seems self-destructive to hand her something that looks so much like a double standard on a silver platter.

Besides, if the point is to show that Palin is dumb as a bag of hammers, g-droppin' is both irrelevant (the sentence itself takes care of that, regardless of whether you agree with her reading of history) and insufficient. I'm not sure Palin-speak can be captured with anything short of the full-on Walt Kelly treatment shown above.

* Would anyone at the AP like to check in?

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Broken taillights and bad writing

Hyperbolic writing is often the broken taillight on a truckload of 100% unadulterated Colombian hyperbolicaine, headed straight for the veins of Our Kids and Teens. The copy editor's job isn't just to slap a hed on the thing and wave it through because it has the friendly face of a columnist; it's to take things apart and see if they make sense. So let's explore this analytical sidebar to the Old Reliable's Saturday coverage of the Edwards affair with that in mind.

It was in courtrooms like the federal building in Winston-Salem that a country-boy-on-the-make that everyone called Johnny began carving out his legendary law career.

Who knew back in the 1980s that it would lead to a string of million-dollar verdicts, to the U.S. Senate, to two runs for president, and to the Democratic vice presidential nomination?

Read more »

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Sunday, June 05, 2011

Lede of the morning

Michigan has more water than Saudi Arabia has oil.
Know what else? We get the stuff delivered on a regular basis! Srsly! And if we'd had four inches of oilfall in one day across the metro region, I probably would have been late for class too.

In an issue that seems to be dedicated to telling me stuff I already know -- Teens must work hard to get summer job! We're not out of the woods yet! It's weird to run into Dr. Kevorkian at the library! Flying sucks!  -- it takes a lot to stand out. Mixing oil and water,* though, seems to have done it.

This lede appears below the first subhed at the link; the part at the top is the column acting as a 1A centerpiece that supposedly refers to the whole package.

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Great Caesar's ghost

Across the skies with the Nation's Newspaper of Record:

An article last Sunday about Groupon, the e-mail marketer, misidentified the heritage of Zeus, whose name the company’s writers invoke rather than mentioning God. He is part of Greek mythology, not Roman.

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Saturday, June 04, 2011

There's one born every minute ...

... and if you are that one, the Fair'n'Balanced Network is hiring!

PORTLAND, England -- A British hypnotist's subjects were temporarily left in a trance when he was knocked unconscious during a show, the Dorset Echo reported Saturday.

David Days was performing a hypnotism demonstration Friday night in Portland, in the south of England, when he tripped over an audience member's leg and was knocked unconscious by the fall.

When he fell, Days was in the process of bringing three volunteers from the audience out of a hypnotic trance.

Audience members initially believed the fall was part of the act and reportedly applauded. But they were then asked to clear the theater while the three volunteers on stage remained in a trance.

Days recovered consciousness within a few minutes and was able to bring the three audience members back to consciousness.

Days' manager said the incident "damaged his ego a bit," but he was otherwise fine Saturday.

This way to the egress,ladies and gentlemen!

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Go and sin no more

This is one I've never been able to figure out in all the years I've been reading the Foremost Newspaper of the Carolina: Why is it so all-fired hard to figure out what to do with an attributive proper noun modifier that ends in "s"? And now the illness appears to have spread across McClatchy to the Raleigh stablemate.

 Here is a really, really simple test. Substitute any proper noun that doesn't end in "s" for the noun in question:

The John Edwards saga
The Babe Ruth story

John Edwards' life story

Babe Ruth's life story

If you wouldn't make it "the Babe Ruth's story," why would you make it "the John Edwards' saga"?


Friday, June 03, 2011

Incredibly breaking

"The Takeaway" interviews the news director of the campus public radio station on the death of Jack Kevorkian:

This has got to be incredibly breaking news ...

Um, yeah. Did you notice that he was 83?

(Copyeds, don't forget to earn those trivia points on the obit. It's not a "Detroit hospital" that he died in.) 


Thursday, June 02, 2011

Adventures in hed grammar

I don't think so. You can lose three straight to the Astros (OK, it takes some work, but it can be done), or you can lose to the Astros 3-1, or you can lose your third straight to the Astros 3-1, but you can't put these two conditions together like this. Losing 3-1 can only go with one game at a time.

Anyone with an actual technical explanation is welcome to check in. I'll try to post a few more examples if they'll be kind enough to remind me which computer they're on.

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Stop press some more!

And this is a 1A story -- why again?

The answer's usually something along the lines of "because it's about the kids," or one of the other sort of links you'll probably get to if you click on the "Life" tab at the typical homepage: Health & Fitness! Family! Food! Living Green! In the course of that, alas, it doesn't manage to be about anything interesting or relevant.

But the file mug of fruits and vegetables is nice.