Monday, September 30, 2013

Hissing winged fruit

Having said -- or spelled, or something -- "bat" four times in the preceding graf:

“Oh dear. B-a-t, B-a-t, B-A-T! There’s a bat on the wall,” shouted Sue Snyder as she scurried up the basement stairs, along with four other slightly freaked-out women on a recent tour of the house.

... there's really no reason not to indulge in some "hissing, winged creature," one supposes. And come to that, with all the other fun in this 1A feature, you'd almost question the copy editor who zeroed in on the Elongated Yellow Fruit first. There's sloppy suturing:

Snyder* said an internationally known person who he wouldn’t identify — — was recently overheard raving about Mackinac Island and Michigan during a conference call from the residence after spending the night there.
Read more »

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Friday, September 27, 2013

Simon Says

In the great game of Simon Says that is the Fair 'n' Balanced securitization machine: Which is it, young feller? Do you want to impeach the Kenyan Muslim usurper for not killing enough scary brown people with no oversight, or for killing too many of them with no oversight?

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Then why did he?

Show of hands here: How many of you figured from the hed and the lede that the story's about the alleged motive for the shooting? Well, too bad:

If Butler had won a $1-million prize, he would have known better than to try to cash it at a party store, attorney Joe Niskar said in his opening statement today, rejecting what he said were the stories circulating about the case.

... Niskar said police, desperate to solve an unsolved murder, got the wrong man. The SUV on the surveillance tape could have been blue or purple, he said, and Butler, with his distinctive white hair, did not match the description eyewitnesses gave of the driver.

That's the sort of confusion copy editors are supposed to fix, not amplify in bigger type.

And while we're on hed ambiguity, spare a moment for "more common than thought." It's a pretty frequent construction, and in most cases it doesn't actually carry the sort of ambiguity you could technically impute to it:

CDC: Lyme Disease More Common Than Thought

Caregiver-fabricated illness in children more common than thought

In this Drudge hed, though, one can be forgiven for agreeing:


Friday, September 20, 2013

Party of Science

Is it just coincidence that these stories adjoin each other in the 3 and 4 spots on the Fair 'n' Balanced homepage? Or what?

To believe in Climategate II, you have to believe in Climategate I, and that's sort of like believing in ... oh, you know, a mythical elongated yellow beast. The hed's shocking revelation (hint: it only works if you read it as a passive) isn't addressed in the linked AP story but is instead drawn from an assertion at the top of the day's roundup from the Fair 'n' Balanced "digital politics editor."

Write your own scintillating conclusion. It's getting busy over here.

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Saturday, September 14, 2013

I kahn has correctionburger?

Let's propose a new stylebook entry for the Nation's Newspaper of Record:

Kahn, Khan: If you think you spelled it right, you didn't. See Khan, Kahn.

An article on Page 158 this weekend about new restaurants in Singapore misspells the surname of the writer. He is Howie Kahn, not Khan. The error also appears in a contents entry on Page 40.

Edgar Allan Poe has to be looking over his shoulder at Genghiz and the rest of the Kahn kids. They're gaining on him.

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Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Uh ... OK

Did the nice folks at the Dispatch not get the message? The Dacron Republican-Democrat wasn't actually a real newspaper?

People of a certain age remember exactly where they were when they learned of two particular events of national trauma.

But they tend to feel differently about them, at least in retrospect.

I really don't have any further comment.

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Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Right hand, left hand

Well, this can't be good. Looks like the feckless Kenyan usurper has pulled the wool over America's sleepy eyes again! Basically, RUN!!!!!!!!

Or not. Come to that, before calling this an EXCLUSIVE!!!!! and sticking it atop the front page:

As President Obama ran to election victory last fall with claims that al Qaeda was “decimated” and “on the run,” his intelligence team was privately offering a different assessment that the terrorist movement was shifting resources and capabilities to emerging spinoff groups in Africa that posed fresh threats to American security.

... you might want to have a look through your own clip files. Or at least consult with the staffer who wrote, um, basically the same story back in May:

In the months before President Obama declared al Qaeda was “on a path to defeat,” his aides were telling Congress that the terrorist network was expanding and was capable of inflicting mass casualties in the U.S. 

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Sunday, September 08, 2013

Rly? No, not rly

See, there's this tradition in journalism: When you write stuff in the lede, you're warranting that there will be detailed stuff in the body of the story that supports it.

That's how the whole "inverted pyramid" thing works. When you write, oh, "Four people were injured, two of them seriously, when two moronic texting drivers ran into each other this afternoon at Woodward and Warren," you're sketching the broad outline of the picture you'll fill in later. It's written to be end-cut if necessary. You can stop after the first graf, or any other step in the pyramid, and all you'll miss is a few details. So when you read:

The Obama administration’s effort Sunday to win support for a punitive military strike on Syria is facing opposition and criticism in part because of its handling of the fatal Benghazi terror attacks, which occurred one year ago Wednesday.

... you're not just entitled to assume that it's true, you should expect chunks of specific evidence to back up the general assertions. Shall we look? 
Read more »

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Saturday, September 07, 2013

The dead hand of zombie rules

So there I was, reviewing the literature and feeling all virtuous for being several hundred words downstream on a paper that doesn't even have to be presented until November, when this sentence comes into view:

We assume that such message definitions are an integral part of the information that people use in making decisions about what messages and programs to which they will expose themselves.

I don't think people write like that deliberately, and the more time I spend watching stuff go into the machinery of academic publishing, the more I suspect the hand of a copy editor on whose too much time is had. In this case, rather than just being hyper-pedantic, it looks actually wrong. Counting on my linguist friends to step in with the real explanation, this looks like a mutating McCartney preposition -- in this case, a McCartney determiner.

"What" and "which" in the underlined clause are doing the same thing. They're question determiners that become declarative when you replace them with, say, "these":

What messages do you like?
I like these messages
To which messages do you expose yourself?
I expose myself to these messages

"Expose" here wants two objects, not one -- you can say "I expose myself" if you want, but without that other complement, it's going to be a long afternoon for you at the cop shop. Pick another verb -- "watch" -- that only needs one object, and things are easier:

... decisions about what messages and programs they watch.

Or replace the "what" with a "the":

 ... decisions about the messages and programs to which they will expose themselves. 

Either way, you get a good clause and avoid the double-dip determiner. 

It'd be great if authors -- particularly those with the rank and status to get away with it -- would start writing phrases like "the messages and programs they expose themselves to" and demanding explanations when the poor unoffending preposition is moved. I don't mean to suggest wholesale harassment of copy editors, who suffer enough as it is. I do think their job would be easier (and the writers' mission less frustrating) if its expectations didn't include the enforcement of zombie rules, particularly when those rules result in errors.

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Wednesday, September 04, 2013

A tarantula on a slice of angel food

The game was as taut as the preceding paragraphs

Raymond Chandler's dead. Throw strikes.

In this grinder, there came a display of the lineup depth that makes these the highest-scoring teams in the American League: When have you seen a 2-1 game in which the Nos. 9 hitters drove in all the runs?

"Nos. 9 hitters" could be the awesomest Safire plural in the history of the world in space. Do writers actually do this to themselves, or was the copydesk making the new guy carry the grammar bags back to the hotel or something?
Read more »

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At the fear factory

You really get some great exclusives when you have a whole beat devoted to the imminent demise of civilization as we know it, huh? Let's see how we got to the headline:

It’s a battle of Christians versus Christians in Brandon, Miss. where city officials oppose efforts by a prominent church to erect a giant cross because it violates a zoning ordinance. But the pastor of the church said elected officials are also afraid the cross might offend Muslims.
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Monday, September 02, 2013

No, not really. Not at all, actually

This just in from a set of guidelines for grad student research submissions:

*      Research manuscripts should predominantly use the passive voice rather than active voice. 

Well, a couple of things. One, if the passive voice is so dern good, why wasn't it used by you in the first place? Two, and this can be applied by undergraduates as well as doctoral students as a new semester looms like a giant looming thing: Some people will tell you that you should predominantly use the passive voice. Other people will tell you that the active voice should predominantly be used. Those people are bad people, the lot of them.

Whatever else you are doing in school, you are -- we kinda hope -- trying to learn to write good. That means you'll learn enough mechanics to tell active clauses from passive clauses at a high level of confidence. Having done that, you may confidently look at people who tell you that journalists always use the active voice, or researchers always use the passive voice, and deliver them a swift kick in the fusebox. That's what Elmore would do.

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Who did what to whom?

Quick, sports fans: Who did what to whom in this Fair 'n' Balanced hed?

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Sunday, September 01, 2013

Well, that explains that

Some days more than others, it'd be nice if the Nation's Newspaper of Record explained more sources of error than just "editing":

An article last Sunday about the documentary maker Morgan Spurlock, who has a new film out on the boy band One Direction, misstated the subject of his 2012 movie “Mansome.” It is about male grooming, not Charles Manson.

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