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.