Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Dictionary Diving

I had this wrong! If I'd actually *studied* Latin along w/ The Girl, I'd know, right?

We were using the Latin term "cum," and I wanted to suggest not using it. i was going to argue, "it means 'turned into,' and our bride is still a blogger."

So, I looked it up. And it means "with," of course. (Duh!)

I've interpreted it wrong, all along. Or, people have been using it wrong. In "model cum actress," I've always assumed (or perhaps it has been the case, in instances I've paid attention to) that the "model" identity was left behind (model-cum-actress Farrah Fawcett may still have modeled, but that was now subservient to her actress role).

What did you use wrong, all along?

Monday, July 27, 2009

Today's Cool Dictionary  Fact

I'm looking up the phrase "to a T." It appears in all caps, in a head so no period at the end. Put those together, and it's really hard to read:


See what I mean?

Trying to find a solution that wouldn't involve rewriting on the editor's part, I was thinking, "tee" is OK for "T-shirt," but why do I think it's a bad substitute here?

So, I looked up "T."  Natch.  And found this:

short for "to a tittle"

A few thoughts surface. The first is that "tee" is not really commonly used to substitute for the alphabet letter, and I don't like it here. We've already shortened "tittle" to "T"; shortening it yet again is annoying to me.  However, when you look up "tee," you find: "to a tee."

So, a minor poll: which would you do--change to "tee"? Or ask for a rewrite?

And, "tittle." Yay!

We have an album at home w/ the score for the Syracuse University production of "Wind in the Willows," on which the judge thunders that Toad will be in jail "until the last jot and tittle of his sentence" is fulfilled.

Here's the definition: a point or small sign used as a diacritical mark in writing or printing. Its second meaning, which is the one I had thought of always is "a very small part."

(its original meaning makes "the last jot and tittle of his sentence" a pun!!!)

I wonder whether it meant a *specific* shape, and if so, which one?

Don't you think you can start using this word? When you're routing proofs, and talking about proofreaders' marks?

What fun thing have you found in the dictionary lately?

Friday, July 24, 2009

Comma, No Comma

Here's today's, from copy describing dresses:

in simple, floor-skimming styles

Your vote?

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Comma, No Comma?

Karen brought me an entire set. 

And apparently, I'm being wishy-washy, for one thing, and for another, she doesn't quite agree w/ me.

Here's what I apparently signed off on, after reading the proof (and adding a couple of commas):

a soft, French washed-rind cheese
a buttery, French washed-rind [cheese]
a hard Dutch Gouda
a crumbly, French goat cheese

So why didn't I put a comma after hard? That's completely parallel to the others.

And, I think the comma after crumbly is stupid.

So what was I thinking w/ the comma after soft and buttery?

Karen says: no commas on any of them; Morgan routed it w/o commas.

I apparently put them in. Inconsistently.

Perhaps the presence of the "washed-rind" is affecting me?

[washed-rind cheese] and [Dutch Gouda] and [French {goat cheese}] all equal one base noun (cheese/Gouda/goat cheese) plus one descriptor (washed-rind, Dutch, French).

No, that's not making any sense--not unless I make [Dutch Gouda] the base noun. Then, each base noun gets "one free adjective," and any extras require a comma to join the party?

I don't know.  Like I said the first time I ever did a "Comma, No Comma" post, sometimes I wonder if I know what I'm doing w/ these commas. Or I worry that I'm crazy.

What do you think?

(I think I'm going to bow to Karen's wisdom and tell her to take them back out. Two of them are really stupid w/ commas, even to me, and so since the others are parallel, I'm going to blindly trust the "math.")

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Comma, No Comma

a bouquet of ruffly, white hellebores 

I took it out.

Your vote?

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Fixed That for You

A headline in my daily paper (Newsday):

City jails rabbi quits

I saw it at an angle, and couldn't figure out who the city was arresting.

Hyphen, anybody?

City-jails rabbi quits

Seen any really confusing headlines lately?

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Adding "Color" and Personality--Offensively

Today, a colleague pointed us all to a story in the New York Times about trends in weddings.

On the 2nd page of the online version, there is this story (please note the bolded word):

Last September, Scott Sanders, a producer of the Broadway musical “The Color Purple,” decided to have his rehearsal dinner for 40 at a friend’s house near Beverly Hills. Both he and his partner, Brad Lamm, were meeting some of each other’s family members for the first time, so they wanted to put people at ease.

“We wanted to do something that felt like a party, something casual,” he said.

Casual indeed. “We did tequila shots,” Mr. Sanders said with a giggle.

OK, he's gay--we figured that out in the graph where we're introduced to his partner. But it's not until the writer adds the evocative verb giggle that we find out: "he's not just gay; he's fey!" Serious people don't giggle; girly girls giggle.

That's patronizing and snide. Ick. Was it necessary? Even if he did, literally, giggle--do you need to tell me that? Do I even need to know that he laughed in *any*  manner?

I can't imagine they'd use the word "giggle," even for a woman.

I was *going* to say that I can't imagine they'd bother noting any laugh at all, but then I spotted this at the end of the story (Ms. Weiss is a wedding planner):

At many weddings, the bride “has dieted for months, and there she is on the floor,” Ms. Weiss said with a husky laugh, “pigging out, a Krispy Kreme doughnut shoved in her mouth.

But at least that's a slightly humorous comment, and if you leave out the laugh, it might really change the meaning, making Ms. Weiss look rude (though honestly, it's not that necessary of an aside).

But tequila shots aren't inherently humorous, and there's no need to give me all the "color." And particularly not with that word, with its very weighted connotation.

Ick. Just--totally unnecessary.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Dictionary Diving (Or, Words I've Had to Look Up Lately)

I got a Kindle for Mother's Day. One of its features is a preloaded New Oxford American Dictionary. You can put the cursor in front of a word, and it'll look show you the definition.

Ha! I thought. I'm a word geek--I won't be using THAT much.

Then I "bought" a series of Kindle books written in the 1910s. (I put bought in quotes because they were free.) 

And I hadn't gone four pages without looking up three words.

Here are some of the words I looked up (another cool feature: highlight some text, and "clip" it into a memory bank). On almost all of them, I knew roughly (and sometimes exactly) what was meant--but I'd never seen the word before.



fiacre (no fair; an anachronism in the form of a horse-drawn vehicle)

weariful (which is clear, but an unusual form)




carrefour (this is an anachronism--a form of horse-drawn carriage)



Crepitation (a rattling sound or crackling sound--raindrops on the window, multiple shots from a pistol) and sedulous (showing dedication and diligence--careful; the thieves lurking in the doorway were always sedulous) were big favorites of Louis Joseph Vance, the author I was reading.
The rain made incessant crepitation on the roof . . .


. . . seeds of death which the Hun and his kin were sedulous to sow . . .

Have you cracked open The Book lately?

Monday, May 18, 2009

Agreement Within the Group

The car runs, the cars run; the cast travels, the cast members travel. One of the silly copyeditors who write blogs (not one of the housewives who reads McCall's--which was the ad campaign while I worked there; and of course, nobody realizes that the magazine's copyeditor doesn't get to sign off on the circulation department's ad agency's copy).

I can do subject-verb agreement; that's Grammar 101.

But there's an agreement that I find myself missing on first read. 

Vases of flowers served as centerpieces on each table.

Each table does not have more than one centerpiece.

We start w/ vases, which become centerpieces. Excellent, two or more vases = two or more centerpieces.

But then, we need two or more tables upon which to place those centerpieces.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

You Can't Pronounce That!

One of my favorite themes is the idea of pronouncing spellings, or pronouncing punctuation marks.

Over at one of my favorite blogger's discussions of finding an antonym for "environmentalist,"I spotted this:
(You Don't Say, by John E. McIntyre)

[Author  Jeff McMahon] comments: “A colleague of mine in the education/slash/journalism field, Monica Westin, suggested “depletist” or “depletionist,” . . .
It feels odd to use slashes to set off the word "slash"--why not just use the slash, and not the word? My first thought was, Because it's a quote, and people can't pronounce "/." (or "/"?)  

Then I remembered: Mr. McMahon was writing on his Scorched Earth blog, and Mr. McIntyre was careful to preserve his original keystrokes--Mr. McI is a journalist, after all.

But if Mr. McIntyre had been free to insert his own punctuation (as you are with a true quotation), what then? I wouldn't use a slash as punctuation in a quote often anyway, and certainly not in this sort of construction. My vote would be: "education-slash-journalism field."

I'm sort of wondering why Mr. McMahon didn't simply type "education/journalism," and save the keystrokes. It's funny to think of him as not recognizing the slash itself ("/") as a thing he could simply use. Was he thinking verbally? Writing as though he was speaking?

Comma, No Comma?

I took this one out:

beautiful, watercolor-inspired blooms

My feeling: the comma makes it sound as though all beautiful blooms must be watercolor-inspired. 

(Even though it's probable that all watercolor-inspired blooms are beautiful--but then this reminds me that blooms aren't inspired by anything--they just grow following Mother Nature's present plan; I'll have to fix that)

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Comma, No Comma?

How about this one?

a good old-fashioned ice cream truck


a good, old-fashioned ice cream truck

(style is: no hyphen in "ice cream," btw)

That comma looks SO funny to me--why?

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

A Little Literary Perspective

Today's newspaper has this story: Stuntman in Nicolas Cage Film Injures Two In Manhattan (Its headline in print was: Car a Runaway Hit on B'way)

Apparently, a stunt man crashed a car (a Ferrari, sob!) while filming scenes for "The Sorcerer's Apprentice," which will star Nicolas Cage.

Here's the problematic graph: 

Cage was not on scene at the time. The film, "The Sorcerer's Apprentice," is due out next year and is a live action version of the Disney animated classic, with a wizard, Cage, searching for an apprentice in modern-day New York City.

The original animated version starred Mickey Mouse as the apprentice, and was part of the feature "Fantasia."
Ummm, "The Sorcerer's Apprentice" was a poem by Goethe. Written in 1797. The music that Disney created animation to accompany was written by Paul Dukas in 1897.

Now, the movie is being made by Disney,  so I'm sure they have conceived it as a remake of their own movie. However, there is not a single plot point in the movie that is not from the original story. Well, OK, maybe the extended reaction at the end of the movie.

But seriously, let's not turn the entire culture over to Disney, OK? 

Monday, May 04, 2009

A Little Historical Perspective

In my newspaper today, there's a story about the New York Police Department, and its digital mug-shot system.

And it contains these paragraphs:

But the mug shot as we know it - snapped with a Polaroid in some dingy precinct, its edges frayed and yellowed with the passage of time - is going the way of the six-shot revolver.


Digital Photo Manager was implemented in May 1997, though at the time it was known as the Photo Imaging Network.

Police sources said it took several years before each precinct had access to it. Sources say until recently the Polaroid was still used on occasion.

But no more. The NYPD no longer buys Polaroid film, sources say.

Umm, perhaps that would be because as of last year, Polaroid no longer MAKES Polaroid film?  

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Not All Synonyms Are Created Equal

Twice in this issue, I've taken out the word "festoon."

Don't get me wrong, I like the word. It has a great sound, it's unusual without being weird. It feels festive and gay. And in fact, it comes from the word "festival."

But it has a very special meaning--it doesn't just mean "decorate." A festoon is a decorative chain that hangs between two buttons on a double-breasted coat (usually military). And, of course, any similar sort of decoration.

So, to "festoon" something is to attach a garland that drapes from spot to spot to spot. Unfortunately, we were using it to describe simple decorations.

What word have you seen stripped of its nuances and specificity?

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Copyediting Errors with Consequences!

I found this in my e-mail in box during a housekeeping session, and remembered that I'd meant to post about it.

Back at the end of January, the Girl brought home a note from school about tardinesses for the previous months. On it was written this:


Days tardy


Some background--now that she's in high school, the Girl travels to school under her own steam, and her school is not far away and starts a bit later than we're used to. But nonetheless we'd felt throughout the end of the year that she was leaving a bit late and had been asking about it. She's a teenager--she's hard to get up in the morning.

She kept assuring us that she hadn't been tardy--and then we get this note!!!

So we kind of landed on her. And told her that she needed to talk with her teachers or whoever to find out how they can change the signals they give (or how she can read them more accurately) if she thinks she wasn't late when she was.

Then, the next day, I got to thinking about it. What with vacations, and an odd teacher-prep day, there were only 15 days of school in that entire month! How could she have been tardy that  many times? So I was *really* mad at her.

But my Husband sent a note to the parent coordinator.
> We received a letter from [school] recently that flagged the Girl's* being late for
> school in December. Was she late on December 11th or was she late 11 times? The
> letter says one thing. My daughter is saying another.
> Much appreciation if you can clarify this. Thanks.

And we got this reply (emphasis mine):

Hi Mr. Husband,
> She was late on the 11th. Not including "th's" and other indicators on the
> letters has caused a lot of misunderstandings
- I apologize for the confusion.
> Grace was definitely not late eleven times!
> Best,

According to the Girl, some kids had notes that read:


 Days absent


And there aren't even 23 days of school in a normal month!


*did you notice that properly done genetive preceding the gerund? Sigh. . . .

Monday, April 27, 2009

He Prepositioned Me!

The Boy, who is now 11 years of age, prepositioned me this weekend!

We were planning the Pinewood Derby, and I was telling him that I felt we should drill the holes for the quarters (to add weight to the car so it meets the standard) over the weekend instead of leaving it for the Scout Master to do the night of the Derby itself.

"He won't have time to be drilling any holes in the car that night," I said.

"Mom, he won't be in the car," said my son. "He'll be in the meeting room."

Sigh! It's enough to make a parent proud.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Comma, No Comma

(I promise, I think of other things, too--I'll post about them eventually.)

Today my freelance copyeditor inserted a comma:

At this A-list, oceanfront beach bar

I don't like it. What do you think?

(wait--I think the bar is probably fine--it's the comma I don't like)

Friday, April 10, 2009

Comma, No Comma

Okay, here's today's:

cost-effective, pressure-regulated soda siphon

I took the comma out. WWYD?



Thursday, April 02, 2009

Comma, No Comma?

Here's today's question. In a story about beaches, we find:

blue, Aegean water

I took the comma out: "blue Aegean water"

Your vote?

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Making Up New Words

I love new words, even when they don't deserve to be standard usage. It's just fun.

Here's one that I *think* is an error in editing, from the beauty copy today.

squoval-shaped nails

I *think* the editor was trying to change "square" to "oval" (or vice versa) and didn't realize that she'd left letters in. But she also pushes the envelope a little (and the best way to push it a little is to push it more, and than dial back), so maybe she MEANT it to be square/oval?

I'll ask her. Meanwhile, I love it. It even SOUNDS fun.

Follow-up: It's an industry term. So I'm going to lobby for this:


to let the quotes do one of their *real* jobs, which is to indicate jargon.

Some background:
Comma, No Comma

From the beauty story about hands and feet, fingers and toes:

I love a sheer, lavender polish

My vote: no comma: a sheer lavender polish

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

A Copyeditor's Daughter Celebrates National Grammar Day

The Girl is in high school, and she's taking Latin.

"Hey, Mom," she said. "Guess how I celebrated National Grammar Day?"

Latin grammar, I guessed. (When I was making Grammar Flags for the Grammar Cupcakes, she kept suggesting stuff like the ablative case.)

Yes, she said. "And I deconstructed Joshua's article." It needed help, she said: "His grammar is atrocious." So she fixed it for him.

She's also on the newspaper staff, and she edited his column!

Aw, it's enough to make a parent proud.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

A Flare for the Language

Found this in my tote bag; I ripped it out of my daily newspaper back on September 12, and intended to post it. Here it is--later, and more rumpled.

On the celebrity-news paper, an item about Kanye West's arrest in L.A. Airport after an altercation w/ paparazzi; West was accused of smashing a camera on the floor.

The line in question:

The singer has a history of flaring his temper.

A temper is not like a ruff--you can't flare it. It flares itself.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Comma, No Comma

a single, working mom

I vote for the comma, since "single" *could* mean "only one of them."

But, if it is:

a working single mom

(for that matter, if you left out "working," I'd still assume she was employed--I don't imagine many single moms get to stay home w/ their kids)

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Grammar Cake

Speaking of square fondant-covered cakes:

National Grammar Day is coming up, and I'm planning a party.

I want to make a cake. A grammar cake.

But I have only two ideas, so I'm trolling for more.

My two ideas are:

--a basic rectangle, w/ fondant cut into letters that say: Grammar Are Great.
And then I'll use a piping tip and buttercream to draw editing marks that fix the grammar

--a series of cupcakes, each labeled w/ the name of a part of speech: (transitive verb, preposition, pronoun, appositive, etc.). 
I'll make the labels either out of something edible (writing w/ frosting, maybe), or print them onto pieces of paper, cut out, and tape to a toothpick.

My husband suggested creating a sentence in which the grammar is wrong because of the word order, and making a mini loaf of cake for each word.

Any other ideas?

(I have a cake idea for National Punctuation Day, but I'm saving it.)

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Comma, No Comma

a square, fondant-covered cake


a square fondant-covered cake

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Comma, No Comma?

This is an ongoing issue for me. I constantly read copy (either published by someone else, or passed to me in the office) in which someone else's judgment about the comma in the coordinate adjectives is different from mine. 

I find it hard to explain why I put them in and take them out. Especially when I am challenged.

Ian brought me a puzzle this morning.

The phrase:

tall, red boots

He and another copyeditor argued with the editor that the comma should be out:

tall red boots
But they couldn't explain why.

So, I'm going to be posting similar examples now and then, and ask for your vote.

Here's why I agree w/ Ian. But I can't find backup for this anywhere.

"Tall" is form; "red" is color. They are not coordinate, and therefore no comma.

What's your vote, and why?

And here, many other phrases I'm running across, and am wondering if I'm right.

a small stiff, flat base

Friday, January 23, 2009

Improving, How?

In today's copyediting puzzle, we have this sentence:

[product name here] treats your skin day and night, improving the look of dark circles, puffiness, and crow's feet.

Hmmm. Improving.

Improving a negative. Does that mean, making it a better version of the negative? (darker circles, puffier eyes, crow-ier crow's feet?)

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Today's Word Misuse

In beauty copy today, a semi-homonym switch:

Environmental stressors can wreck havoc on your skin.

"Wreak" is the word she needed.

It actually might be a good thing, to be able to wreck havoc. Once the havoc is damaged, wouldn't things get better?
He Didn't Look Distraught!

In my newspaper today:

A brief bit about hedge-fund manager Arthur G. Nadel, who disappeared six days ago, around the time he owed investors a $50 million payout.

The last line:

. . . he left his family a note in which he appeared to be distraught.

It was a note. He didn't look like anything in the note.

I really wish they'd used "seemed."

I konw that "appear" can be used metaphorically, but when there is such a strong literal situation (a single piece of paper, not a series of actions and writings), the "appeared' just hit wrong.

Whattya think?