Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Hed warning: Restraint expected

Dear copy editors: The world is diminished by the exit of Earl Scruggs. Please do your best to avoid making matters worse; don't refer to his craft as pickin'.

Conclusions will be drawn about news outfits' appreciation of American music from their handling of this event. (CNN, FixedNews, I am looking at your front pages now; at least the NYT has gotten Adrienne Rich out there. Washington Post, we can do without "Who is the Rt. 29 Batman.")

Meanwhile, have a shot of the real stuff. OK, have another.


More from the berry front

In case you're wondering, yes: "Berry good" is also on the permanently banned list.



Tuesday, March 27, 2012

A simple desultory philippic

Ahem. Copy editors? When you run across a clause on the order of

X, like Y, can cause a great deal of Z

"like" is an adverb meaning something like "in the same manner as." It does not mean Y is a specific case of X, and if you change the clause to

X such as Y can cause a great deal of Z

you have very little chance of being on the Xpesmasse list this year. You are not just following a bogus rule you don't really understand; you're causing genuine damage to whatever meaning was there. And I speak in some dismay because, um, I'm looking at the proofs.

This is my plea, dear copy editors. I am in my sixth decade of making myself look and sound like a moron. I make no claims to stardom in that regard; I'm a journeyman idiot, usually good for anywhere from two to 30 cases of outright cluelessness a day, depending on when I get up. (The doubled attribution on the sixth page, for example, has been sailing right past me for a year and a half now.) I don't need a lot of help at looking dumber.
I'd rather your time went into making me look less dumb.

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Saturday, March 24, 2012

Amusing weather in Motown

As the windows remain open for another night and the official HEADSUP-L oregano plant contributes to the night's main course for the first time this year, it's nice to recall that the weather has always been a 1A story in these parts.

Up the page from Mrs. Wallaker's strawberries is the other big story of the day: "Unanswered Question: Where Did Goering Get Vial Of Poison?"

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Thursday, March 22, 2012

Today's quiz on news practice

Hey, kids! See if you can guess the circumstances under which The Drudge Report identifies a mass-murder suspect by his given name!

Aw, you peeked.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

That pesky Constitution!

OK, admit it. Ideologues come and ideologues go, but it'd be fun to sit down and have a drink with Bill Buckley -- if only because anyone who would say "Cancel your own goddamn subscription" would be fun to have on the desk when the bar-bet drunks started calling in around second-edition time on Saturday night.

In that spirit, we can only hope old Bill was tied down, or wired to the generator or something, when his heirs and assigns produced this:

By and large, Romney’s stump speech has been the same throughout these state contests, little changing but what lines of America the Beautiful he quotes as he goes from state to state. But this speech shows he – and his team – were capable of producing better rhetoric.

And an example would be ... ?

“For 25 years, I lived and breathed jobs, business, and the economy,” he said. “I had successes and failures but each step of the way, I learned a little more about what it is that makes our American system so powerful.”

You can’t learn that teaching Constitutional law,” he added.

Uh, guess not. Back to you, Bill!


Thursday, March 15, 2012

Attentive hed of the (still-young) decade

With a hed like that, what do you figure the lede must look like?

President Barack Obama continues to top each of the Republican contenders in general election matchups, according to a Fox News poll released Wednesday that also found a majority of American voters see signs the economy is turning around.

Oh. Well, how about the cutline? Surely some panic there!

Gas prices went up yet again over night and President Obama is trying to convince Americans that he is part of the solution, not the problem. The President defended himself today during his speech on energy, saying domestic oil production is the highest in eight years.

Um ... what about the rest of the clip? A little incoherence, at least?
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Imperial overstretch

Did this one strike anybody else -- particularly, "anybody else" at fishwraps subscribing to the McClatchy service -- as out of tune?

Rick Santorum won the Alabama and Mississippi primaries Tuesday, striking deep into the South to deliver a stunning blow to Newt Gingrich in the battle to become the conservative alternative to front-runner Mitt Romney.

First Amendment or not, I'd be happy to go along with any proposal to punish random journalistic martial metaphors with a few hours in the stocks or a light whipping or two. This one, though, seems just wrong. "Striking deep into" has that air of the unexpected, unplanned or unforeseen about it:
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Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Man-eating catfish

Clear things up for me here, Old Hometown Newspaper. Should I go slow because none of the wake signs have been reinstalled, or should I go slow because a couple of "no wake" signs have been reinstalled?

Sure, you could mark the compound with a hyphen; indeed, that's probably the better choice here, since there doesn't appear to be room for quotes.* But you have to mark it somehow. Otherwise -- it being the Mighty Tar and all -- you risk having readers who can't tell a man eating catfish from a man-eating catfish.

The rules aren't here to insist that you hyphenate "ice-cream cone" and "high-school student." They're here to remind you that there really are differences in meaning that you can affect through the Miracle of Punctuation. Good writers are supposed to be able to tell the difference, but given that good writers are in short supply on the best of days, good editors are supposed to set an example for them.

* On the bright side, it appears that nobody at the OHTN tried to make it "go slowly."

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Monday, March 12, 2012

'It actually means something'

"Literally" seems to have set off a bit of a flap again, so here's a leftover from the weekend. It's not just a clueless prescriptivist rant, and not just a clueless prescriptivist rant from the National Review Online; it's a clueless prescriptivist rant that pivots on a descriptivist rant, and it manages to screw that up too. At issue is this sentence, ending a Times story:

“The issue is far more prevalent and far more important,” he said, “when you’re dealing with younger children who’ve come to this country and are here for 10, 15 years and are literally as American as anyone else.”

Take it away, freedom-loving stalwart Mark Krikorian!

Literally? Look, this isn’t like a dangling participle or split infinitive, the bans on which are stupid English-teacher rules followed by neither Shakespeare nor the King James Bible.

Partly right, in that vocabulary and syntax aren't the same thing and that the "ban" on split infinitives is a fiction that good, bad and indifferent writers alike were ignoring well before it was a rule. Your dangling participle, now, that's a different matter. There are ultra-bizarre variations on the dangler rule that do show up in journalism textbooks and the like, banning constructions that do show up (
without any major risk to the souls of the faithful) in the King James Bible, not to mention Churchill's memoirs and myriad lesser works.* And then there are dangling modifiers that deeply and genuinely screw up the intended meaning. One of my favorite in-class examples is this from the Classic Log days:

Without Washington's support, however, Saddam Hussein quickly crushed the revolt.

So it's hard to see how a guideline whose point is "pay attention to what your modifiers modify" should be summarily classed as a "stupid English-teacher rule." This, on the other hand:

Nor is it a matter of colloquial speech seeming out of place in writing. “Literally” actually means something, and it doesn’t mean “almost” or “for all intents and purposes.”

Bad news. "Literally" actually means several things, one of which is "not figuratively" and another of which is -- well, more or less "for all intents and purposes." The OED puts it more formally:

Used to indicate that some (freq. conventional) metaphorical or hyperbolical expression is to be taken in the strongest admissible sense: ‘virtually, as good as’; (also) ‘completely, utterly, absolutely’.

And if you don't like that, as the citations suggest, you can take it up with Mark Twain. (Or Charles Dickens, cited in the MWCDEU's patient explanatory note.) Back to the NRO rant:

I suppose what we’re seeing is “literally” being used figuratively, which is a problem since they’re opposites.
Sure. Grownup reference books note that the extended sense reverses the original meaning. And as the nice folks at Merriam-Webster put it, "hyperbole requires care in handling." But the world didn't end when this meaning crept into English in the 18th century, and it's at little risk of collapsing from a touch of well-worn hyperbole in the 21st.

There is, I expect, something afoot besides the NRO's well-documented inability to look up words like "literally." What do you suppose that might be?

*This very sentence, for one.

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Friday, March 09, 2012

At war with Eastasia

Q: How does one reserve a standing-room slot on the next unheated cattle car to Siberia over at the Fair 'n' Balanced Network?
A: Allow a wire service lede about the economy to appear under a hed that says "Getting Better"!

Employment grew solidly for a third straight month in February, a sign the economic recovery was broadening and in less need of further monetary stimulus from the Federal Reserve.

Good thing the commissars caught up in time to move the story from business to the politics section and remind everyone how much worse it's gotten in the past three years:

While the Labor Department reports a surge in private-sector hiring and the nation's unemployment rate holding steady at 8.3 percent, a closer look at the numbers paints a less flattering picture of the country's post-recession growth.

The latest report for February shows lingering economic disparities among different segments of the population. And, as has been the case for decades, the unemployment rate used by the Bureau of Labor Statistics does not tell the whole story.

Well -- almost. Some Trotskyite appears to have snuck into that last sentence, but otherwise, we can write the homepage tease that needs to be written: "...
a closer look shows the Obama administration's not telling the whole story."

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Saturday, March 03, 2012

No, but thanks for asking

It has to be a rough day at the Fair 'n' Balanced Network when the homepage hed, the inside hed, and the story can't even agree on what the Kenyan socialist rascal is up to now:

Here's the story, under the hed "Obama invokes Mandela, Gandhi in appeal for second term":

President Obama invoked the legacies of Nelson Mandela and Gandhi while appealing to donors for help in seeking a second term, arguing that he needs "time" to achieve true change just like they did.

The president, at a campaign fundraiser in New York City Thursday night, cast his candidacy for reelection in historical terms. In doing so, he drew an implicit comparison between his aspirations and the achievements of the legendary independence leaders in South Africa and India.

Do tell!

"The civil rights movement was hard. Winning the vote for women was hard. Making sure that workers had some basic protections was hard," Obama said. "Around the world, Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, what they did was hard. It takes time. It takes more than a single term. It takes more than a single president. It takes more than a single individual."
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