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?