Monday, November 24, 2008

A Copyeditor Plays Scrabble

The Girl and The Boy gave me Scrabble for the computer; I play it when I'm killing time.

Tonight I grabbed a double-letter score w/ M (3 points, x 2), and the triple word score, including the C (3). The word: MICS.

Which I HATE!
I hate it, I hate it. We *have* a word: mike. The "mic" is what the sound techs write on the equipment bcs there literally isn't room for the 4th letter.

An "open mic"--open mick?

The other word (all 1's, but I wiped out another triple word score): noun.

"How copyeditor of you," The Husband said.

Someday I'll write about playing Password. (shudder)

What word-geek words have *you* played?

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Couple--Plural and Singular

These phrases came up in a story today.

Which would/should you choose?

the couple wear(s) matching smiles

the couple steal(s) a moment together

the couple steal(s) a moment alone
the couple take(s) their first spin on the dance floor
And why?

I'll come put my answers in the Comments

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Avoid the Passive

Hiking on Bear Mountain a few weeks ago, I was reading (of course I read while I walk--doesn't everyone?).

The map. I was reading the map.

And the promotional/explanatory text. Bcs I'm not sure you can really *read* a map. I thnk you *look at* a map.

But anyway, there's a stretch of land that's part of the system that was acquired in 1987 via tax delinquency.

It is dedicated to "passive recreation."

The Girl and I got a huge chuckle out of that. How do you passively recreate? (not that you recreate as a verb; we established that earlier)

It does have a meaning--this is another case of "Don't Let Them Get Their Hands on Their Own Jargon."

Passive recreation refers to non-consumptive uses such as wildlife observation, walking, biking, and canoeing.

Passive recreation may be defined as a non-motorized activity that:

-Offers constructive, restorative, and pleasurable human benefits and fosters appreciation and understanding of open space and its purpose
-Is compatible with other passive recreation uses
-Does not significantly impact natural, cultural, scientific, or agricultural values
-Requires only minimal visitor facilities and services directly related to safety and minimizes passive recreation impacts

Definitions vary by locality. The following is an example of what falls under the definition of one community's passive recreation area:
6 conservation reservations
10 municipal parking lots
18 parks
75 traffic islands at 58 locations throughout the Town
3 walking paths or parkways
Police Station grounds
Town Forest

So there you go--a term that doesn't make any sense.

(don't start me on "carbon footprint"--that's another post completely)

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Noun-ing Words

I love the verbing of words; I think it's fun.

(OK, OK, I won't do it "in print," but I still think it's fun.)

I haven't decided how I feel about the nouning of words. I don't love it when there already exists a decent and useful noun, but sometimes it's fun.

I hadn't spotted this, but Slate has: using the verb "fail" as a noun: "an epic fail" instead of "an epic failure."


What do you think?

Thursday, September 25, 2008

It's National Punctuation Day! Let's Celebrate

My good friend Kathy* reminded me that yesterday was National Punctuation Day.

So, a belated good wishes to you all.
It was an auspicious day; I hope you were able to make the most of it.

You may be thinking, “How on earth would I celebrate a day intended to honor punctuation?”
We could send one another flowers, though I don’t think there is a rose varietal named ‘Blushing Apostrophe.’

I was thinking—yes, I do think on occasion—that we could all vow to use as many punctuation marks as possible.

There is a surprisingly long list of punctuation marks; I (well . . . I got a member of my staff to help me think [OK, OK, sometime I need help thinking] of some of them) came up with the following:
exclamation mark
question mark
double quotation marks
single quotation marks
en dash
em dash

You can do it!

My staffer and I decided that the “@” symbol isn’t really punctuation, though in our e-mail–centric world, maybe it is becoming punctuation when used in e-mail addresses.

*a college-era buddy of mine, she is also of the copyeditor persuasion

Compound Punctuation

A colleague to whom I also sent the above message just replied, and added a smilie:

:-) is that a punctuation mark?

she asked.

I told her I think those are compound punctuation.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Let's Get Cracking!

In today's funnies, a comic about revising the dictionary

Get busy out there, using up all those old words.

The Girl has made a good stab at it--she had to write and turn in "a piece of polished prose," and I think she misread "polished" for "purple." She got the thesaurus out. 

Now it's your turn to do your part. What old word have you used recently?

Thursday, September 04, 2008

If I Were Only Brave Enough . . . 

We need to tighten the credit style on my magazine; more stuff is appearing on page.

We're toying w/ using the Blueprint style: If the company name and the URL are the same, drop the company name and keep the URL.

But the all-lower-case style makes URLs hard to read.

I'm SO tempted to change a listing like:

Flower girl's dresses, Morgane Le Fay,


Flower girl's dresses,

How stupid would that be?

I know that most pubs put URLs in all lower-case, because the browser doesn't need them. But it also doesn't CARE, right? 

And if the capital letters make comprehension easier, and keep readers from trying to read a broken URL as an actual word, then wouldn't the initial caps be a sensible idea?

Tell me what you think.

(edited to fix a typo--thanks, Tony)

Monday, August 25, 2008

Let This Be a Lesson to Them

Those Typo Eradication guys needed this advice from Miss Manners--which oddly enough came 
on Wednesday, August 20, two days before the news hit about the sentencing of the Eradicators.

(Miss Manners writes for the Washington Post; s'pose she knew they were on trial?)

. . . neither of us can run around insulting people, which is what an amazing number of people do when they detect errors, little thinking that they are committing worse errors in so doing.

This applies to correcting individuals, however, not institutions. So you may inform those in authority to act (which the salesperson you approached probably was not) on mistakes of which you sympathetically know they would want to be aware

Friday, August 22, 2008

Tell Your Typo Eradication Adventure Here

Over at Mighty Red Pen, where MRP linked to her newspaper's version of this story about the Typo Eradication Advancement League vigilantes who've been zinged for defacing a permanent sign in a national park (not just a sign--a national historic monument of a sign), a couple of us were defending the practice of writing on vending-machine signs or even bad graffitti.

Why defending it? Well, bcs we'd done it, now and then.

Tell YOUR typo eradication story--what signs have you corrected?

Here's mine!

Years ago I worked on lower Fifth Avenue, and spent a lot of time waiting for the R train at 23rd Street to go uptown (and home). Subways ran slower then.

There was a spelling error (something like a missing "m" in "accommodate") in one of the posters on the platform that I stared at for weeks on end.

Several months later, at a party w/ friends, someone said, "Hey, I was in your subway stop yesterday!" What stop, and how'd you know if was *my* stop? I asked. "Because you fixed a typo on an ad."

He'd seen the fix on the poster, carefully indicated with proofreader's marks, and thought of me immediately ("Toots should see this correction. She'd laugh."). Then he'd walked over to the NEXT poster, which had a drawing of the map of the U.S., w/ state borders sketched in. And had seen a little star in southern Iowa, w/ the name of my hometown written next to it.

He figured, there weren't 2 people from my 1,300-population "city" in NYC. It had to be me.


(Oh, and I did actually fix an apostrophe on graffitti in the tunnel under the 42nd St. A-train station, once. And I checked carefully for cops, or even witnesses, before I did it.)

So, tell your story about what you've fixed--and where would you draw the line?
Today's Controversial Decision

I decided not to pay for it; the story's in matchprint already, and it'd be $400.

The error: " your grandmother's bridal bouquet can be easily recreated at your own wedding."

A hyphen is tradition: re-created.

But I think readers will go right to the proper meaning; we seldom use any form of "recreate" as a verb.

What would you have done?

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Freudian Typo?

The Amazing Jayme just alerted me to this amazing typo.

Quick, quick, go look, before the AP fixes it:

His top contenders are said to include Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. Less traditional choices mentioned include former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge, an abortion-rights supporter, and Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman, the Democratic vice presidential prick in 2000 who now is an independent.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Just Use the Trademark, Already!

When I worked on our company's "fun with and for kids" magazine, we had big debates about certain terminology.

Popsicle being one.

Popsicle is a trademark, and so we avoided it. Even though often we wished we could use it. First for the dessert treat, and second for the flat sticks w/ rounded ends that make great log cabins, etc.

For the food, we called them ice pops.

For the sticks? although I certainly called them "Popsicle sticks" as a kid, and that's an instantly recognizable term--we avoided it for crafts done w/ those flat sticks. Technically, they are named "craft sticks."

When you go to buy a bunch of them at the craft store, that's what the package will be labeled. Image and video hosting by TinyPic

If you want to buy a bunch online, that's what you should search for. (And of course, you don't want to use TRUE Popsicle sticks, bcs they'll be stained red or purple, and sticky to boot*.)

We sometimes used the term "ice-pop sticks" for food references ("use ice-pop sticks for the corn dogs," e.g.). Our ice-pop recipes called for ice-pop molds, or paper cups and "pop sticks."

Why am I writing about this? Here is what I saw in this morning's funnies. Note the term "ice-cream sticks."

Image and video hosting by TinyPic
The comic strip One Big Happy for 8/15

It took me a while to get this joke, first bcs I blanked at "ice-cream sticks" (they're technically "ice-cream bar sticks" anyway) and second because "those sticks are sold separately" made me assume you had to buy one stick at a time.

If the writer wren't trying so hard to avoid the trademark, it would have been a much easier joke.

What trademark do you wish was a generic?

*And where did "to boot" come from? I'll look that up later.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

The Videographic Semicolon

I just googled "lots of semicolons"--don't ask me why; I think I'm on a kick.

And found this, which made me chuckle.

Michael Fontenot, a songwriter and videographer, apparently finds semicolons, and the use thereof, amusing.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

First, Be Sure It Was a Mistake

Check out this, at the errors blog for Reuters,

The original story read:
Hygiene hypothesis’ may be tied to bowel disease

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Children who grow up in a spick-and-span home may have a higher risk of developing inflammatory bowel disease, a study suggests.

A reader sent a "gotcha!" e-mail, and said:

I believe it should be spelled S-P-I-C . Adding the K makes it a pejorative.

The product is named “Spic and Span”.



And--here is what REALLY SET ME OFF!!-- the Reuters editor responded:
We corrected: GBU Editor

First, first, first--the sentence is NOT referring to the PRODUCT.

The original phrase, the idiom of long usage, is "spick-and-span." It's short for "spick-and-span new," in which the "spick" from from the obscure English "spick" meaning spike, and "span-new" meant "brand-new." And the phrase has evolved from meaning "brand, spanking new," through "in phenomenally great condition," to "spotlessly clean."

In fact, when the company that created that cleaning product wanted a name, they DELIBERATELY misspelled the idiomatic phrase, in order to *differentiate* it, to make their brand name trademark-able. This is a very common trademark strategy (witness Lite beer, Zip-Loc bags).

(side note: My dictionary gives "spic-and-span" as an alternate, but I wonder how old that is, and whether its rise was influenced by the arrival of the brand name.)

And, the pejorative IS "spic"--short for Hispanic.  (**well, maybe that's not where it came from; like a doofus I wrote what I had always assumed. See the comments for Fritinancy's research on possible origin of the pejorative term)

OK, OK, the reader is unfamiliar with the idiom, and overly familiar with the product, and completely un-understanding of trademarks, and products versus adjectives.

But why oh why did the GBU editor *correct* the mistake????

Just because someone took the effort to write and tell you you're wrong, doesn't mean they are right.

(as Terry Pratchett's character Tiffany Aching muses in Wintersmith, "just because someone is old and has no teeth doesn't mean they're wise.")

I still remember the snotty letter I got at McCall's informing me that the *proper* term is "chaise lounge."

And the letter that took issue with the headline "Eat Safe" (to which I responded w/ a letter introducing her to the concept of the "flat adverb," and the dictionary listing of "safe" *as* an adverb, as well as sharing w/ her our worries that "Eat Safely" implied we were afraid you'd stab yourself w/ the fork).

What have you been accused of getting wrong--when in fact you were right?

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Holy Toledo, the Same Eggcorn, but the Other Direction!

Reading the beauty copy, in First Proof, gives me this sentence.

. . . day and night creams contain coffeeberry extract to help lighten brown spots, calm redness, and defuse fine lines.

I'm thinking they means "diffuse" (though that's not really the right word either; they mean "smooth out" or "minimize").

I swear, they're on a kick! (this one, the person before me queried, at least)

What eggcorn or other wrong word choice do you keep seeing?
Would You Trust This Cat With a Red Pencil?

I love the LOL cats

would you trust this cat with a red pencil?

more cat pictures">

Monday, August 11, 2008

Tidal Waves and Increments

I got my love of language from my mom (and my dad, but probably mostly my mom).

(in fact, she was the first person ever to say to me, "Look it up." And she introduced me to my first "eggcorn" [though we didn't call it that at the time]--"next store to the post office")

And I grew up reading the Des Moines Register (and the Des Moines Tribune). At the paper drop, before delivering them on my route. (I got my start as a paperboy.)

Today, Mom sent me a link to a DMR story with the following graph:

Sexual assault and harassment cases reported at the University of Iowa have shown no signs of waning in the past five years — in fact, they have ebbed upward by some measures, campus experts say.

Iowa's a landlocked state, as you can tell.

Ebbed upward? What in the world do they think the word “ebb” means?

“Move slowly, as slowly as the tide,” I guess. Mom guesses they meant to say "edged upward."

Oh, and then there's the headline: 

Few cases reach U of I office

Few cases of WHAT? I looked for an overarching head, but couldn't find one on the page.

I went looking to see if it was a subsection of a larger article about "sexual harrassment at colleges"

I'm guessing that it's a sidebar to this story:
U of I professor gets paid leave in bribery case

but there's no link between the two stories on the website.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Pete and Repeat

I left my desk to do something, and forgot what it was. 

"Oh, well," I said, "it'll reoccur to me."

The next day, my daughter said, "Oh, Mom . . . I was going to ask you something, and I forgot what it was."

"Don't worry," I said, "it'll reoccur to you."

Things occur to us; they come to mind.

But if they leave, couldn't they come back--the same thought? Of course--so why don't we generally say, "it reoccurred to me"?

Oh, people use that term--I got 43 (or 27, depending) Ghits (EggcornDatabase speak for Google hits)

Why *don't* we use "reoccur" in that manner?

And why *do* we use "recur" (to come again to mind)? That's just silly.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Juneau, the Capital of Norway?*

My best friend (another copyeditor/managing editor type, natch**) just came back from an Alaskan cruise. (She went to Hawaii last year; did I mention, I went to Hawaii this summer?)

"How was it?" I asked. How were the mountains, the glaciers?

"Beautiful," she said. 

"Really different from Hawaii, right?" I asked. (did I mention, I went to Hawaii this summer? Of course, she went last year, so of course she knew what I meant)

"Well, some things weren't different. The same humpback whales that are in Hawaii in the winter are in Alaska in the summer."

"Did they say  hello?" I asked. 

"Yeah," she said, and went on to say that the glaciers glowed blue, as if there was light inside them. "It was amazing to see the fjords."

"Wait," I interrupted her. (of course I interrupted her; she's my best friend--didn't I say?--and who can you interrupt if not your best friend?) "Can you legally have fjords in America?"

"Yes," she said patiently. (of course she said it patiently; she's my best friend--didn't I say?--and who needs more patience for you than your best friend? and who gets more practice at it than your best friend?)

"A fjord is extremely deep, and still, and created by a glacier. Well, I'm pretty sure that's the definition. Look it up."

Look it up. Can you tell she's my best friend, and a copyeditor type?

So, I did.

fjord: a narrow inlet of the sea between steep slopes. 

Must be.

*Oslo on the  uptake, sometimes. Yuk, yuck.

**someday I'll tell you about me and "natch." Like my best friend, you'll be a little bemused.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Another Eggcorn in My Kingdom

Same story, still First Proof, a few paragraphs later:

"[She] suggests giving your parents free reign over some elements..."

The idiom "free rein" originally sprang from the idea that spirited horse, once its rider let the reins go free, would take off and go anywhere he wanted, without direction.

But as fewer and fewer people ride (know anyone who does regularly?), the regal imagery came to the fore.

An Eggcorn--on My Territory

I love eggcorns--some of them are better than the original turn of phrase.

Today, one hit my desk, in first proof, no less!

"Most weddings come with a healthy dollop of tense exchanges and awkward moments.... Diffusing these conflicts with grace is a must."

OK, setting aside the question of whether tense exchange are ever healthy, look at "diffuse."

Here's why I love eggcorns--good ones make perfect sense!

But of course, the idiomatic term is "defusing these conflicts"--and perhaps it's still the better term, bcs if you defuse them, you can stop them from blowing up in the first place. Diffusing them simply lessens the stinkiness.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

The Napoleonic Semicolon

I love the semicolon. So of course I'm a fan of The Semicolon's Dream Journal. (In fact, I want him to write an entry based on this post.*)

And a recent article in The Guardian had an explanation of the death of the semicolon.

I've been traveling back in time by immersing myself in Naomi Novik's "Temeraire" series. A fantasy mixed with a military history, the three novels written so far postulate what would happen if dragons were part of the world in the Napoleonic Era--the "air force" of their respective countries.

Novik does a wonderful job of creating a syntax and grammar choice that feels authentic. Lord alone knows if it is; Novik was an English lit. major, and has clearly done her homework on the period, but I don't know if her sentence structure and word choices are true to the writing of the period. But if they are not authentic, they are certainly effective.

Word order is part of it. But punctuation probably has a bigger effect. And is more pervasive.

I realized yesterday, and verified yesterday and today, that she places a semicolon in 4 out of every 5 paragraphs. For every 2 paragraphs with NO semicolon, there's a single graph with TWO.

*I dreamed I traveled with Naomi Novik to a dragon covert outside Dover, and made my leg to Temeraire; his captain, Will Laurence, greeted me most warmly. The great black dragon engaged me on the topic of literacy; though he does not read, he enjoys books immensely, and has his captain read to him of a night.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Word Order Matters (redux)

Grammar geeks get grumpy over the placement of adverbs such as "just" or "only"--they are often simply stuck into a sentence. But their positioning affects the meaning.

You know, 
Only he will buy a car, or 
He only will buy a car, or 
He will only buy a car, or 
He will buy only a car.

However, most times, it's just not that big a deal for the ordinary person. It's pretty clear, most of the time, what it was the speaker/writer wanted to emphasize. The context usually makes it obvious.

In fact, sometimes when I'm listening to people talk, I don't even notice where the "just" or the"only" ends up.

But in an NPR story about a lawsuit filed against the governor of Illinois over how fast the state responds to clemency requests, Cheryl Corley, the reporter/commentator, put a "just" in a very bad spot. And she really threw me. Because, it WASN'T clear what she meant.

There have been 3,000 requests filed during the Bogoyovich administration, but he's just granted 89 pardons, and decisions on nearly 2,000 cases are pending.

(the reporter did stress the word "just")

He just did this? Recently? Like, just the other day?

Could be, right? The story is ABOUT timing, so maybe. 

But look at those numbers--maybe she meant "he's granted *just 89* out of 3,000--that would be a sensible point to make, too. 

For the last few days, since I heard it, I thought she really meant "he's granted just 89 out of 3,000. But today, when I re-listened today, I thought, maybe she does mean "recently."

Word order matters.

And I don't know what she meant.

And it occurred to me this morning, as I walked past the phone booth w/ a pic of Helen Keller and the words "could only see possibilities" (no, she could only *feel* possibilities), that a big part of my problem is that I have been conditioned not to trust people on their adverb/modifier placement.

If I could trust people to always do it strictly according to logic, or if I knew more about the care and precision Cheryl Corley was able or inclined to apply to her work, then I'd know that Cheryl Corley meant "recently."

And maybe that's one reason to pressure people to do it strictly right. But of cousre, that's not achievable.
I'd Just Assume

I found a new eggcorn!

Well, new to me.

I was reading "The Sea of Monsters" by Rick Riordan. It's a young-adult fantasy novel, part of a series.

Toward the end of the book, his main character says, in response to his friend's offer to remove an "empathy link" between them: 

"I'd just assume keep it . . . "

Instead of: "I'd just as soon keep it . . . "

Others have spotted this "in the wild," but it's a first for me. 

I think part of the confusion stems from people's not using the other half of the idiom:
"I'd just as soon keep it as not . . . "

Other citations:

And, it turns out it *is* in the Eggcorn Database. I did a search for it on that site and didn't find it, or a second thread of comments, but Google turned it up.

Friday, July 25, 2008

The Great Composer Beholden

I bought the game Password for my family, since the kids love Catch Phrase. Password is harder, so I'm not sure successful we'll be.

The Girl (14yo) and I like to just "ping" back and forth, no official game.

The password was "owe," and I said, "beholden."

"Classical music?" she guessed. She thought it sounded like a composer's name. 

It's interesting sometimes what words we haven't run across yet, and so we don't recognize them.

What word did you find yourself embarrassed or surprised that you didn't know?
Speaking of Notes to the Typographer/Editor

Bill Walsh spotted one on YahooNews

Check out his July 23 entry over at

Thursday, July 24, 2008

A Linguist Lies

Go read this post at Language Log:

Then come back and tell me if you think I'm right.

Geoffrey K. Pullum says he has disabled comments because he doesn't want to hear all the accusations of unfairness about his attitude toward animals and what he staunchly maintains is their lack of linguistics.*

He *really* disable comments because he doesn't want to read all the stories people are going to post about the time their dog/cat/parrot got up on the dining room table, or the time their dog/cat/parrot followed a command in the properly conditioned manner and created a funny situation.

I don't honestly think Pullum was *lying*--I think he just omitted part of his reason.

But you can tell your funny story here, if you like.

*With which I wholeheartedly agree, btw.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Word Order Matters

The kids are in Film School after their summer day camp. (Mr. TootsNYC runs this*; he picks a film he thinks they ought to see, such as The Manchurian Candidate, and makes them watch it.)

Today's film was National Treasure, which was The Girl's choice (tomorrow The Boy gets his turn--it'll be Scooby-Doo).

She was gratified by the villain--he stays villainous all the way to the end, and is soundly defeated. She ranted about Spy Kids and similar movies, in which the villain gets converted to being a good guy at the end of the movie.

"You should be able to win, to defeat him!" she said.

Oh, I said--"Win over them--not win them over?"

Can you think of another example in which word order (no negatives allowed) completely change the meaning of the sentence?

*I just found out that the real reason he does this (so he claims) is that they can't make a mess in the house if they're watching movies!

Monday, July 21, 2008

Some Charts Are Just Stupid

One thing that makes me shake my head when I see some charts is, "Why is that even a category?" I actually think charts can be hard. But sometimes, it seems like even the least experienced chart maker would think, "I can leave this one off!"

I'm trying to book a flight for unaccompanied minors (no, I'm *not* sending them back to Hawai'i).

Northwest has a chart on the page for its "unaccompanied minors" program. 

The headers:

Age (years)  -- This makes sense; they have different requirements for different ages.

UMNR Program  -- This works as well; for one age group, the program is option; for the other two it's mandatory.

Nonstop/Direct Allowed  -- This is the one that gets me. Is there any question that a nonstop, direct flight would NOT be allowed? That they'd tell *anyone*, "No, you HAVE to change planes, you CAN'T fly nonstop"? 

Connections Allowed  -- This one really should simply take the place of that stupid one. Because of course really little kids MUST take a nonstop, direct flight, but older kids can change planes.

Fee  -- An no-brainer; you need this. (even if the fee was all the same, I'd vote for leaving it)

I can understand a chart in which all the answers under a category are "yes"--say, a product chart that indicates that all the flashlights on the list use AA batteries, or something. Because, well, someone might actually wonder about the batteries required; some of them *could* be D cell, you know.

But nobody is going to be *stopped* from taking a direct flight.
Was This Note for Us, or for Your Editor?

I'm a sucker for advice columns. I think that, because my families (birth, in-law, nuclear) are mostly sane, I crave vicarious drama.

The Advice Goddess on has this at the end of the first letter in her column today:

" . . . Of course, being pickier may mean that women like "Almost A Bride" will miss out on that "full-time mommy dream" you talk about — or whatever you'd call life with a tantrum-throwing 3-year-old who's just this side of 50.

STYLE NOTE: Please make COULD and WILL lowercase and italicized.
<  But because something COULD happen to somebody in your demographic doesn't mean it WILL happen to you. >

[brackets hers]

Oops--I think she wasn't talking to us. Oh, well, at least it makes sense to us! (and, it could be a sort of jaunty writing tactic, which I would not put past Ms. Alkon at all--and it's sort of fun if it is that. It's just that I've never seen her do that sort of thing. Carolyn Hax, yes. Amy Alkon, no)

Aha! I've spotted another instance, and I do think it's a case of the "notes for the syndicators of my column" that wasn't stripped out of converted, either bcs someone missed it or bcs they intend to leave it in. It is:

. . . Now, there is that chance he's freezing up out of performance anxiety or because he sees sleeping together as an I.O.U. for commitment. But more than likely, his favorite sex positions are spooning, snoring, and doggie-style — as in, rolling over and playing dead.

Ultimately, the person in need of your honesty is you: whether the man for you is one who's always got Mr. Happy at the ready, or whether you can make do with a guy who should probably pet-name his entire sex drive Nuclear Winter.

STYLE NOTE, CONSERVATIVE PAPERS ONLY: In the first paragraph, "doggie-style" can be omitted (only if you must!). The last sentence in the first para can be replaced with this:

>Now, there is that chance he's freezing up out of performance anxiety or because he sees sleeping together as an I.O.U. for commitment. But more than likely, his favorite sex positions are spooning, snoring, and rolling over and playing dead.<

This is much more comprehensible than the line, "with enemies like this, who needs goose allies?"

That's the last line of a Field & Stream article a friend of mine edited years and years ago. The story was about something like a wetlands conservation group that found local farmers (who you might have expected to favor draining the wetlands) were in fact pursuing the same conservation goals for reasons related to their own industries. That last line was intended to marvel at the role of these expected enemies: "with enemies like this, who needs allies?"

Whence the goose?

At the time, the magazine used a dingbat at the end of every story--one in the shape of, you guessed it, a goose.

My friend dug out the proof, and indeed, someone had written "goose" on it and drawn a line pointing vaguely in the direction of the last sentence. This being the days of out-of-house typographers (hey, it wasn't THAT long ago; technology moves pretty fast, I'm not THAT old, it's just that I was very young when this story happened!), the typesetter, not being an editor and not being familiar w/ the story, had simply inserted the word "goose" somewhere without querying it, and nobody caught it.

What typographer/proofreader mark have you seen in print?

Sunday, July 20, 2008

A Headline from the Trojan War!

On ATT.NET's news channel right now, this:

Arrest made in stolen N.J. horse statue

Had to be room for at least 2 people in there, right?

Saturday, July 19, 2008

The 1th of Never

My little brother* has always liked playing with words. He sent me a message via my mother on the occasion of my undergrad degree (he wasn't able to attend the ceremony, but he coached her carefully):

Congraduations on your gratulation.

When he studied Spanish in high school, he found the colloquial sayings and figures of speech of the language to be the hardest to learn--he called them "the idiots."

When mom was cooking a particularly deliciously aromatic dinner, he's sniff appreciatively, smile largely, and say, with enthusiasm, "Mmmm, mmmm, that stinks good!"

While we were visiting him in Hawai'i, where he's stationed (have I mentioned lately that we went to Hawai'i?), we were going over the schedule for all the activities we'd planned. "What day is that?" someone asked.

He answered, "The oneth."

So I thought that was amusing. Then, today, Mr. TootsNYC was scanning a 2-page document, and the software was telling him which page was being dealt with; the text on the computer screen said:

"scanning 1th page now."
I didn't think to stick around to see if it would have said, "scanning 2th page now." But I'm guessing it would.

What word do you use when you probably shouldn't?

(Mine is "arrove"--and I first started saying it, I did it without even thinking. Now I sometimes do it on purpose, but mostly do it because I didn't think about it. Drive, drove; arrive, arrove--right?)

*OK, OK, he's not that little. In fact, yes, he is bigger than me. But I'll always be older (and no, you don't need to point out, as my little sister did, "Someday you'll mind!")
The Mini Mighty Mo

We toured the battleship "Missouri" while we were in the Pearl Harbor area, and my son (he's 10) bought a small replica of the ship.

He realized just a bit later that he has a larger version of the "Missouri" already, from the days of playing w/ big ships on the floor. 

So, after he unpacked, when I stepped on a teeny helicopter hiding in the oriental rug, I asked if it came from the smaller model--" Is this from the mini Mighty Mo?"

Here's my favorite story about that mini Mighty Mo.*

My son got stopped by the x-ray folks at airport security on the way home. They saw a long, skinny, slightly-pointy-on-one-end metal shape in his luggage.

Once they found the model and rescanned it, they put him back in line.

I joked, "You can't bring a battleship on an airplane! It's a weapon!"

Yuck, yuck.

*how do you style a ship's nickname?

Friday, July 18, 2008

I Hate When They Try to "Bend" the Cliché

It never works.

In a Thursday, July 17, deck about Billy Joel's concert at Shea Stadium, Newsday had this phrase:

". . . and happiest when he's firmly on home base"

Ummm, it's home plate, in baseball. And no one is ever  on it. 

They stand beside it or at it, crouch behind it, cross it, touch it, step on it (and if they're the batter, they could be called out for doing so). 

So, only dirt is *on* the plate, and it's not supposed to be there, either.  (hence the plate brush: check out this cartoon--

Home base is for tag, or the military, or the Roomba.

So, that cliché didn't work.

That same day, I got a promo package in the mail from M&Ms/Mars, with a line that said

"M&Ms is getting even sweeter on weddings"

You can be sweet on someone or something (usually a "," not a "...thing"). But it's weird to be getting sweeter on someone.

So, that one didn't work either. 

What cliché(s) have you seen someone bend beyond recognition lately?

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Did You Spell It Right?

Playing Etymologic!, I hit this question:

Where does the word coco come from?

Here are our choices:

* The Aztec word cachuatl for chocolate
* From the Portuguese word coco, meaning 'goblin'
* From the French caocao meaning milk

I'm thinking,"'What word did they mean? Cocoa?"

OK, so I know it's cheating, but I get out the Web9 on my shelf to look up the word "coco."

It's the fruit of the coconut palm. (the answer: 'goblin,' which was my guess bcs I assumed they had proofread themselves--a chancy assumption, but one I felt it was fair to make; if I got it wrong because of my assumption, I'd just add one on to my score at the end--who would know?)

Oh, you know what's stupid about this? I just got back from Hawai'i, where they grow coconuts. And when I was trying to figure out what a coco was, it never occurred to me that it might be from "coconut."
More Words from the Trojan War!

Just discovered this while taking the etymology quiz at Etymologic! (thanks, Mighty Red Pen):

Pander, which, to quote the website, means

 "to pimp,' or more broadly, to provide base gratification. How did it come to the English language?

From Pandarus, who acted as go-between for Troilus and Cressida during the Trojan War (Boccaccio).
Today's Terry Pratchett Quote

I've gotten all hung up on Terry Pratchett. If you hate fantasy, you won't like him, probably. But if you kind of like fantasy, and really like language, and like social insights and social commentary, I bet you'd love him.

Here's my favorite line from today's subway reading.

"Deep in the snow, in the middle of a windswept moorland, a small band of traeling librarians sat around their cooling stoe and wondered what to burn next.
"Tiffany had never been able to find out much about the librarians They were a bit like the wandering priests and teachers who went even into the smallest, loneliest villages to deliver those things--prayers, medicine, facts--that people could do without for weeks at a time but sometimes needed a lot of all at once."

from The Wintersmith, Chapter 7

Saturday, July 05, 2008

How Do You Pronounce a Symbol? (or, a star is not a word or a letter)

I'm in Hawai'i on vacation (eat your heart out), thanks to my Army-man brother, and reading The Honolulu Advertiser.

Today in the arts & leisure section, there's a mini review for the movie The Rape of Europa.

I read the last sentence six times before I could figure this out. (OK, OK, I was reading at the breakfast table, so I wasn't really concentrating hard.)

Film critic Roger Ebert gave it ***.

(I can't do the solid black stars on here.)

OH! Roger Ebert gave it three stars!

Use English, please!

All right, I sort of like the idea of using symbols as though they were words, for fun--but not in a straight news story.

What symbol have you been tempted to drop into written work?

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Don't Let Them Get Their Hands On Their Own Jargon

The week of June 8, 2008, word came of a new ultra-powerful computer. The kind of computer that will run the heavy numbers-crunching applications that the tech guys would call "compute intensive."

World's Fastest Computer
When I worked at the IT magazine, this phrase made me CRAZY!

"Compute" is a verb, not an adverb.

You can convert a noun into an adjective, simply by using it as an attributive noun. And I'm not agin verbing nouns. I don't even mind adjectives becoming adverbs.

But to adverb a verb just makes my head spin.

It should be "computation intensive."

That's what happens when you let tech geeks pretend to be word geeks. Some of them *might* be capable. But most specialists really shouldn't be allowed to create their own jargon--not unless they get it reviewed by me, the Great Queen Copyeditor.

(and I noticed that the stories I saw on this in the mainstream press did not use the term "compute intensive")

(Over on The Engine Room, jd spotted the totally nongrammatical phrase "lower developed countries"--which, it turns out, is not the ACTUAL jargon; the true jargon-creaters were more grammatically correct than that--check out my comment.

What jargon makes you nuts?

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Making Up New Words.

Lots of posts lately about new words--

John McIntyre of the Baltimore Sun, who references:

Erin McKean (whose Dictionary Evangelist blog has few updates, but her Dress a Day is loads of fun) 

and Stuart Froman, whose "That's Write" blog is new to me.

Who all got me to thinking of the words that have entered my own personal language. Usually from kids, to be exact.

Here's the one that will outlast them all, I think:

underbrella--from my little sister, who is now 40 years old.

My daughter once said, "I got sidestracted"--which I absolutely love.

And when she was REALLY little, she made up two words. The first one I loved but lost; the second one I wrote down, and we used it for several years: fenifidy (feh-NIF-ah-dee)--lots of things to do.

What are your favorite neologisms?

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Design is anti-headlines

Sometimes the trend in modern design--big, bold lettering, usu.--just totally hamstrings headlines. You can't put anything sensible in them.

It's worse in tabloids, of course, which is what my newspaper of choice is.

It's SO bad that Newsday must rely on the deck to tell you what a story is about, which means that then you  have the deck AND the lead, which cover the same info. And to avoid the repeat, then they write stupid feature-y leads.

Here's a headline from a recent Newsday.
What the heck does it mean?

Guv pans cap foes

OK, "Guv," I get. I actually have no prob w/ many of the tabloid abbrevs. And "Guv" is a fine one.

"pans"--Hmm, this one slows me own on a headline. It's not that I don't know what "to pan" means, but I'm no sure which meaning is here, bcs it's normally used in reviews of movies, etc. So for a brief moment, I wonder if they're using a metaphorical application of the "to harvest gold from a stream, as a prospector" sense, the way we use "mines" to mean "reaches out for other resources."

"cap"--OK, a limit imposted--but WHAT limit? imposed on who? Or is this a verb? I guess not, bcs "pans" has the s. Hopefully it's not a plural "pans."

"foes"--OK, "cap foes"--people opposed to the cap.   Of course, we don't know which cap, so we don't know which foes.

It's just too darn much work. 

I reminds me of playing Scrabble with an 8-year-old, who can only think of three- and four-letter words. 

I wish American publication design would go back to smaller letters so we can use better words (which usu. means longer ones).

The headlines are useless as it is ("Hope and scholarship"? that doesn't tell you anything until you get to the deck, anyway: "By providing grants to Catholic elementary students, foundation has stemmed losses in schools' enrollment).

So why not eliminate them, and just rely on the deck? They'd probably have more space for news. (of course, that might be part of the problem)
Really,  we all know that term already. Kill the quotes.

Grumpy moment.

In Newsday's breathless, indignant coverage of what they characterized as the NY Mets' cowardly middle-of-the-night firing of Willie Randolph (comma after cowardly?), the Wed., June 18 installation has a sidebar (jargon, don't use it in print) titled "How Willie Managed to Get Fired." (OK, they use sentence style, so to truly quote it, I guess you'd write "How Willie managed to get fired," but I'd rather use my internal style for titles than their design idiosyncracy)

The first graph has this sentence:

. . . Randolph is called into a meeting . . . for what is characterized as a "pep" talk before facing the Yankees.

OK, why the quotes? and why the stupid placement of them?

In the first place, we all know what a pep talk is. This is not obscure jargon; there's no  need to put quotes around it.

In the second place, the phrase "what is characterized as" tells us that someone other than the reporter (but of course, the reporter doesn't tell us WHO characterized it as such) has described the encounter in a way that makes this term applicable.
     I suppose the quotation marks could be a way of telling us that this mysterious person (Randolph? gen mgr. Minaya? COO Wilpon? the PR guy?) use that actual terminology, instead of the reporter's having use his own terminology (as I did above).


This is where I'm really crabby. The term is "pep talk."  Colloquial speakers of English don't use the word "pep" by itself, most of the time, and when you do, you're not usually combining it w/ a word that means "talk" but ISN'T "talk." What, a pep conversation? OK, OK, "pep rally," but that's not a meeting/conversation; that's a whole darn crowd, complete w/ cheerleaders.

So--comma after cowardly?

And make a guess--did the PR guy really use the term "pep talk," or did the reporter hear the description, and pick that term as recognizable to readers?

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Comma After "Called"

Over at Language Log,  Roger Shuy reports on a movement to ban certain words from the courtroom in an attempt to prevent those words' pejorative natures from unfairly influencing juries.

He writes this sentence:

They call the forbidden words, "loaded terms."

I would not have put the comma there, nor would I have used quotation marks. I consider the word "called" to have alerted readers to the "word as word" nature of the term that followed. This fits the rules I was tauhjt.

And yet, when the terms are as multipart, is it confusing? I think i would buy an argument for quotes, but not for the comma. What about you?

Monday, June 16, 2008

Cool Words from the Trojan War

I used the word stentoriously in the post below. It's a fun word--it just sounds so pompous! And it has a very useful meaning & connotation.

But I wanted to be sure I spelled it right, so I went to look it up.

It's not in Merriam-Webster's Collegiate (nor on The adj form is: stentorian. And it's on, which I will grudgingly trust. Of course, it's perfectly acceptable to adverb a word.

But I was fascinated to see its root! (It showed up in 1609, not that long ago, actually; I should go study the history of language or English lit, or something; I bet there was a time period of influx of all those Greek mythology references)

Latin, from Greek Stentōr, Stentor, a Greek herald in the Trojan War noted for his loud voice

I hadn't known about Stentor before. This is fun.

I wonder, if we were trying to invent the word now, whose name would we use?

Oh, and I was musing on the term Trojan horse the other day, too, thinking that it's SUCH a useful term, and such an amazing, classic idea--the seemingly harmless thing you bring inside your defenses that actually carries the seed of your destruction within it.

What's your favorite word from Greek mythology?

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Comma, No Comma (part 1)

In today's Wall Street Journal (June 12, 2008), a front-page story titled "On the Lam and Living Large: Comverse Ex-CEO Parties in Namibia"

The subject of the story is introduced this way:

Jacob "Kobi" Alexander, the Israeli-born, former chief executive of Comverse Technology Inc., a New York Software company, who is wanted in the U.S. on stock-options backdating charges.

The point of interest to me is that comma--the one right after "Israeli-born."

I would not have used it. ". . . the Israeli-born former chief executive of . . ."

Because, those adjective phrases are not in any way similar. They not like "short, stout," which both describe appearance. 

This sort of comma--the one between adjectives--is giving me fits lately. I feel almost as though I've lost my bearings. At work, in other publications--I see other copyeditors who have put it in between adjectives where I would never have placed it. Or I wonder where it is, in text that I *know* has been reviewed by a copyeditor.

(In fact, I'm so troubled by this, and so weirded out at seeing commas in strange places--or not seeing them where I'd want them--that I started an e-mail group w/ the people whose copyediting judgment I trust most--I call it "Comma No Comma")

What about you--comma after Israeli-born, or not?

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Does slang enter the written language faster nowadays?

Today over on the fascinating blog "Separated by a Common Language," Lynneguist says this in her discussion of the origins of the word "eyeball" in the measuring/estimating sense:

But since it's slang, we'd expect that it goes back quite a bit further in the spoken language than in written sources--we just can't pinpoint when.

That got me wondering whether this is changing in our current publishing culture--as more magazines and even newspapers try to be "zippy," are we creating a much shorter "distance" between slang creation and slang documentation (first appearance in print)?

I know in my own career this is true; at the women's service magazine I worked at in 1994, we weren't particularly out in front. We used some slang, but usually not the newest. It didn't fit our tone, and probably not our readership.

At my current pub, our publishers are pressing us to be "zippier." So we make more cultural references, and use more cultural references.

And the Web is going to really change that. I use web searches even know to find out how (or even whether) a slang term is used by different groups of people. If there's a way of holding onto some of the reader-posted, non-edited/filtered material on the Web, etymologists will be able to date word origins much more accurately.

How fast does your publication adopt/accept slang terms?

(someday I'll figure out how to do a blogroll, I promise)

Friday, June 06, 2008

Look It Up

Over on Language Log, there's a post on a Cupertino error related to the word "highfalutin"--the spell checker changed it to "high flatulence," apparently bcs it was originally entered as two words.

high flatulence

I would never have thought it was one word--In fact, I'd have hyphenated it.

I think I'd only use it as an adj phrase before a noun--"that's a bunch of high-falutin' nonsense," but never "his comments are always high-falutin'."

Note the apostrophe to stand in for the g.

(falutin' apparently coming from "flute," perhaps, maybe, sez M-W)

Would *you* have automatically made it one word?

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

What Does "Generic" Actually Mean?

From today's Newsday, from a story titled "Smokers ignited over tax hike":

Frank Steigerwal, 60, a school custodian who lives in West Sayville, reeled when he paid $19.34 for two boxes of Mavericks and one box of Naturals at Jim's Smoke Shop in Patchogue. On Monday, those three packs would have cost $14.90. Mavericks, a generic brand, cost $5.35 a pack at Jim's.

Ummmmmm, how can you possibly have a generic brand? You can have a generic THING, but once it becomes a brand, well, it's a brand. It might be an incredibly inexpensive brand. It might be  brand that is sold at the same price as something that doesn't carry a brand name.

But if you are giving it a name that is not "Cigarette," it's a brand.

I think "generic brand" is an oxymoron--is it not?

I see from this website
that people in the industry do indeed have a category called "generic brands."

And I see that the Texas Administrative Code recognizes this term:
"Cigarette Nicotine Yield Rating Reporting Requirements," Title 25, park 1, chapter 101, rule 101.5: "if the brand styles within a private label or generic cigarette brand family are identical "

How about this complete and total contradiction:

"Miami-based generic cigarette maker Trademark Holdings Corp. faced a tough choice recently: Cease production of its new and profitable Cowboys brand cigarettes -- which are packaged with the image of a cowboy astride a horse -- or shoot it out with Philip Morris U.S.A. in an intellectual property lawsuit."

Or this one, from May 11, 1984:
"n a re- positioning of Doral, a cigarette first introduced in 1968, Reynolds is entering the no-image, low-cost generic end of the cigarette business for the first time."

I mean, jeez, they're repositioning an existing brand, and *calling* it a generic?

The NYTimes recognizes the term. There's a reference in a law journal to a "branded 'generic' cigarette."

This term is all over the place--it's making my head hurt. I'm glad I don't smoke.

What's with this? is there some basic standard that all these companies are following, and that is what makes it generic? But even then, if they put ANY sort of name on it, isn't it no longer a generic?

We ought not to let them get away with this.

Saturday, May 31, 2008

How do you pronounce a FONT?

From May 30's New York Times, p. B1, Clyde Habermans' NYC column, "Another Book Deal Loosens Another Tongue:

"....Which of the following guests on "Today" would you say was the reason that so many people summoned so much screaming energy at an hour when most New Yorkers had yet to hae their first cup of coffee?
(A) Sarah Jessica Parker, or as she is usually known in newspaper columns, Sarah Jessica Parker? Further identification seems unnecessary unless you have been in a trance for weeks...."  

Totally a visual gag (an d a fun one)--you can't pronounce typeface anymore than you can truly pronounce spelling. 

Well, I guess could pronounce those three bolded words more stentoriously.  (isn't that a cool word? more on it later)

Friday, May 30, 2008

Fun with Words

My son is 10; on a recent subway trip something got me remembering (and reciting) an old goofy rhyme my dad used to say, to my son's delight.

It goes:

One bright stormy day in the middle of the night, 
two dead boys got up to fight.
Back to back, they faced each other,
drew their swords and shot each other.
A faraway policeman saw this noise,
came and killed those two dead boys.
And if you don't believe this lie, 
go ask the blind man--he saw it too.

It was fun to listen to him saying, "how could he kill those dead boys, if they're already dead?" "how can they shoot each other with their swords" "the blind man couldn't see anything!"

I found a version of this one (probably the unadulterated-by-my-dad-and-my-memory version) via google: "One Fine Day" research from The British Columbia Folklore Society

My dad had a ton of these, which amused us all no end as kids. Obviously--I'm over 45, and I'm *still* reciting them. I'll post some of the others later.

What's your favorite word nonsense?

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

more "you can't pronounce spelling"

Maybe, really, "you can't pronounce punctuation"?

JD, on his blog The Engine Room, linked to a great Peanuts cartoon.

I'd repost here, but I don't have time, and besides, he's the one who found it.

Then come back here and tell me--how would YOU pronounce the ditto mark?

Friday, May 23, 2008

Phrases stuck in my head

I think I'm an obsessive personality. I get stuff stuck in my head. (In music, they call those "earworms," and I get them a lot; but what do they call it if it's a phrase you've read? An eyeworm? A brainworm?)

At work, I'll hit some phrase, and then it'll be stuck. (I was editing a recipe once, and the recipe editor had rearranged the herbs used. Normally, they were listed in order of amount, largest to smallest; if the same size, then put as a group in alpha order; she cheated and made them say "1/2 teaspoon each dried parsley, sage, rosemary and basil.")

We have a deck that says: "A loaf of bread, a jug of wine, and thou" (which of course continues: "beside me in the wilderness").

SO now I have this, from a greeting card I saw probably 25 years ago, stuck in my head:

"A loaf of bread, a jug of wine, and thou, beside me in the wilderness...
making those crazy wine sandwiches!"

maybe if I give it to you, I'll get rid of it?

What's stuck in your head?
even more on "you can't pronounce spelling"

My DD, Grace, is 14--well, not just yet, but for some reason in the past few years, I keep rounding up with her. She's in 8th grade.

She read part of the Odyssey in her text book. And last night she said, "Do you know what Odysseus told the Cyclops his name was?"

"Nobody," I answered.

"Yeah," she said, "only he spelled it n o h b o h and then a capital D." (or something like that, she started spelling out each letter) "And the Cyclops was so stupid he didn't realize..."

"Wait," I said. "In the first place, you can't hear spelling, so when Odysseus said his name, he wouldn't have been able to say it so it sounded spelled that way. And in the second place, well, the story was written in Greek! And in the third place, the Cyclops was REALLY stupid, because he heard 'nobody' and thought it was a name, not a word!"


I need to dig out her textbook and see what it really said; I'll update later.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

More "you can't pronounce spelling"

(and thanks to Dan, at Our Bold Hero, and his "Language Is the People's" Web log)

Thursday, May 15, 2008

It doesn't have to be a prefix

Don't just stick a hyphen between "mini" and the word that follows.

"Mini" is a great prefix (in which case it's set solid or attached with a hyphen). 

But it is ALSO an adjective, all on its own. (In an adjectival state, it stands alone).

And sometimes the adjective is what's needed! ("Big dreams and mini budgets," for example)

Dolls wear mini skirts.
Tarts wear miniskirts. 

Soccer moms drive minivans.
Their sons drive mini vans.

Peter Callahan makes mini treats. (Tiny little cheeseburger, etc.) Not mini-treats

Monday, May 12, 2008

I have learned something new!

"Daup" is not a word.

Don't ask me why; I always thought one "dauped" canvas (you know, before painting on it, or after stretching it across a wooden airframe).

Nope, it's "dope."  

And interesting to me is that "dope" meant "a goopy stuff you use to coat other stuff" long before it meant drugs. And in fact, it makes sense that illegal drugs would be called "dope"--since illega. drugs are a goopy stuff you use to coat other stuff.

You learn something new every day.

Is there a word you always believed existed?

Friday, May 09, 2008

Verb of the Month

When I was at InformationWeek, we used to joke about "the search for the perfect verb" when writing headlines (and news stories).

Verbs are everything. But finding an interesting one that wasn't too weird was hard.

Today's Wall Street Journal, above the logo:

                 "Aid Delays Augur Deeper Suffering"

How's THAT for a verb?

Thursday, May 08, 2008

More on the link between spelling and pronunciation.

From Mark Liberman over at Language Log, some musings on "eye dialect" (neat term, that)

Eye dialect being, the use of spellings to indicate a spoken dialect and pronunciation.

In its simplest, it's things like spellin' instead of spelling.

At it's most extreme, was as "wuz" in order to indicate that the speaker is stupid (OK, maybe not stupid, but rough and unlettered)--even though, well, even the most erudite of folks pronounces was as "wuz."

More nuances and expertise in Mr. Liberman's post, and in the comments.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

More on "you can't pronounce spelling"--sort of, "you can't pronounce capitalization."

I'm head over heels for Terry Pratchett these days, and in his book "Thud," there is this exchange:

"You know, the dwarfs were listening for something underground? You wondered if someone was trapped right? But is there . . . I don't know . . . something dwarf-made that talks?"
Carrott's brow wrinkled.
"You're not talking about a cube, are you, sir?"
"I don't know. Am I? You tell me!"
"The deep-downers have some in their mine, sir,bu I'm sure there's none buried here. They're generally found in hard rocks. Anyway, you wouldn't listen for one. I've never heard of them talking when they are found. Some dwarfs have spent years learning how to use just one of them!"
"Good! Now: What Is A Cube?" said Vimes, glancing at his in tray. [leaving stuff out here] "It's, um . . . It's lik ea book, sir. Which talks. A bit like your Gooseberry, I suppose. Most of them container interpretatiosn of dwarf lore by ancient lawmasters. it's very old . . . magic, I suppose."
"Suppose?" said Vimes.

[I'm getting there--here is the pertinent part]

"Well, technomantic Devices look like things that are built, you know, out of--"
"Captain, you've lost me again. What are Devices, and why do you pronounce the capital D?"

Right there.

The capitals in "What Is A Cube" are there to indicate that Vimes stressed each word, probably pausing before each one of them--sort of a version of what I see lately: What. Is. A. Cube.

I suppose, Carrot would stress the word Device, and perhaps pausing slightly.

But it's an interesting idea--that you could pronounce a capital letter.

More on Pratchett's "Thudd"--there's a scene at the end where a dwarf interprets an old dwarfish recording (recorded on the cube or Device mentioned above) for modern English (Discwordish? Ankh-Morporkian?) speakers, and Pratchett represents the speech w/ "antique" spelling: 
"Whoever is speaking a just said: 'Art thys thyng workyng?' "
The voice spoke again. As the cracked, old syllables unrolled, Bashfullsson went on: " 'The first thyng Tak did, he wroten hymself; the second thyng Tak did, he wroten teh Laws; the thyrd thyng Tak did, he wroten the World, the fourth thyng Tak did, he wroten ay cave; the fyfth thyng Tak did...."

Pratchett uses this spelling device for a couple of paragraphs, during the introduction part of the recording, and then switches into modern spelling.

But it made me wonder, how is "thyng" pronounced differently from  "thing."

And it's a sign of my enjoyment of Pratchett's world and writing and humor that it doesn't bother me to have him do this.

If it were another writer, it would probably annoy me immensely.