Thursday, November 10, 2005

Misallocation of editing resources

An interesting contrast from this week's Vox suggests, again, that the hardest thing to learn in the editing dodge is how to spend your time wisely.

The building’s ice-cream parlor, complete with red and white stools that looked like peppermints, served scoops to those who wanted a sweet treat. p. 3)

So here in the broad sunny uplands of 2005, somebody still thought it was necessary -- meaning that otherwise, some idiot reader would read "ice cream parlor" as "a cream parlor that is ice" -- to hyphenate "ice-cream" as a preposed compound modifier? Tell me you're kidding, please. Or, better yet, tell me why that burst of copyed energy wasn't instead applied to this lede:

The Marines of the first Gulf War were better known as jarheads — a slang term for a Marine that refers to his hollow head, an empty vessel. (p. 9)

If we hadn't been wasting our time on obsessive hyphenation, we might have, oh, opened a dictionary (if you're an MU student, you have free access to the OED online; what are you waiting for?) or two and noticed that "jarhead" dates at least to World War II -- significantly before the "first Gulf War" (the writer appears to be referring to the second Gulf War, rather than the first one, which Iran and Iraq spend eight years fighting at the cost of some 650,000 lives). Whether Marines have ever been "better known" as "jarheads" is a bit of a vexed concept; "jarhead" is one of those ingroup terms that outgroup members shouldn't expect to use with impunity. Regardless, I've never known one who thought the term referred to a hollow head. It's generally considered a reference to the haircut.

In the abstract, this would be just another dumb Missourian/Vox lede, fit for a bit of eyerolling and perhaps a spot in some editing teacher's file. But since credibility has been the Magic Word in J8000 this week, it's worth a bit more attention. Credibility starts with, well, knowing stuff -- not making it up. And copyeds' role in the great process starts with opening the reference books and insisting that writers be ready to back up every word they turn in. And if you're patting yourself on the back for hyphenating "ice-cream parlor," you're part of the problem, not part of the solution.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've seen the movie and am currently dating an ex Marine. I'd like to add here that, being a copy editor doesn't mean you have to KNOW everything and admitting that you don't is your first step to recovery. Whenever I come across a military related thing, I ask my boyfriend. If he's not available I ask the volitile 30-year veteran of the paper who was once in the Navy. One option is not as difficult as the other, but either way I'm admitting I don't have an answer and want accuracy in the paper. I'll go to any lenghts, even enduring a 10 minute diatribe about the good ol' days, to get it.

And something to add to your file now, so you don't get embarassed later: Marines are not soldiers. Marines are Marines. If you choose to vary your nouns, as good writers should, you will get hate mail the likes of which you've never imagined, especially in Virginia. (For the record this was not my snafu)

1:21 AM, November 11, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The movie explains 'jarhead' as the empty vessel metaphor, not the haircut.

I don't remember the movie saying anything about 'hollow head,' but my memory is, shockingly, faulty. Anyway, that's probably where the writer got it from.

8:05 PM, November 11, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Both the movie and the book explain that "Jarhead" is derived from the haircut. It's Anthony Swoffard's assertion that the word also implies emptiness. Regardless, we need to be more careful. Curiosity didn't kill the cat, it saved the cat's ass on deadline.

1:54 AM, November 12, 2005  

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