Thursday, July 30, 2009

Funky Prepositional Phrase Placement du Jour

I'm not sure how I feel about this edit I just did. I changed:
German auto sales hit their highest mark since 1992 in March.

German auto sales in March hit their highest mark since 1992.

I just didn't like that "since 1992 in March." (Today I'm copy editing under the influence of too little sleep. So I'm none too confident in my abilities today. But I think this was an obvious choice and a clear improvement. Or maybe that "in March" should have kicked off the whole sentence ...)

Bookmark and Share

Friday, July 24, 2009

'Populated With' or 'Populated By'?

A colleague just asked me this and, after giving my standard long-winded speech about how such things are usually a matter of idiom (meaning: your best guess is as valid as anybody's), I looked it up.

Webster's New World online gives usage examples containing both.

"(populated) with: Producing the sort of analyzes we have discussed needs a well-designed database populated with the right data."

"(populated) by: It is certainly a beautiful place, populated by friendly folks."

There's a subtle difference there that I can't quite articulate. Too bad Webster's didn't bother trying to articulate it either.

Bookmark and Share

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Moments in Copy Editing

"The student body here is very diverse," said John Doe, the school's director of academic programs and outreach. "The student body is a clear reflection of the Los Angeles populous — a testament to our commitment to diversity."


I changed "populous" to "populace." Now, I realize this may have been obvious to many of you. But bear in mind that the passage appeared near the end of a very long and tedious story and it slipped by at least one editor before it got to me.

Aaah, sassifyin' ...

(As always, the excerpt was disguised to keep me outta trouble.)
Bookmark and Share

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

I'm Sorry, Mr. President, You Were Saying? (Or, 'How I Learned to Stop Listening to Anything of Substance and Love the Grammar Snobs')

Some years ago, a reader of my column e-mailed me to say (if I recall the full contents of the message correctly): "'The reason is because?' You should know better than to have written that in your recent column. I think you owe your readers an apology."

That last sentence is a staple of grammar-column-reader slaps. No kiddin'. I've heard that a number of times. It bums me out because I happen to know that scathing e-mails to real journalists often conclude with the more emphatic, "Shame on you." So it shames me that I no longer qualify for the slaps that real newsmen and -women get.

Anyhoo, that e-mail was my first introduction to the idea that "the reason is because" is a no-no if Fussbudgetville. Of course, all I had to do was open up a couple of books to learn that there are plenty of experts who say it's a perfectly defensible (if less than ideal) construction.

Still, a slap is a slap. And it can go on stinging. So, ever since, I've tried to replace "the reason is because" with "the reason is that." I figured, why invite trouble?

Of course, when you do that, the grammar terrorists win. Years later, you can find yourself watching a one-hour press conference by the leader of the free world who's discussing issues of great interest to you -- healthcare, the economy, racial profiling of people who lose their house keys -- and instead of taking in all the valuable information, all you can do is count the number of times he says, "the reason is because."

(I counted three times, but I tuned in 12 minutes after it started, so who knows?)

Funny how effective bullying can be, huh?

Bookmark and Share

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The Queen of Extreme Editing

Say, here's a fun fact I just came across -- something that will strike awe in the heart of every editor who has ever taken a name like the California Institute for the Study of Polyunsaturated Fats on Rodents and Other Small High- and Low-Productivity Mammals and Some Reptiles to and chopped it down to just "the institute."

I'll present it in the form of a little trivia quiz. According to Wikipedia, whose name is this: María Rosario Pilar Martínez Molina Moquiere de les Esperades Santa Ana Romanguera y de la Najosa Rasten?

Answer: Someone who pared her whole identity down to just two syllables. You know her as Charo.

And, on behalf of editors everywhere, I say bravo and coochie-coochie.

Bookmark and Share

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Words I'm Looking Up


I don't think I ever saw this in print until today. But, according to Webster's New World, this one-word spelling of this adverb is correct.

Reminds me of a line from an old Simpsons episode (doesn't everything?). In a spoof TV infomercial for some cleanser, show hosts scrub the grime off the tombstone of Edgar Allen Poe. Co-host Troy McClure, dazzled by the results, exclaims: "Quoth the raven: What a shine!"

Bookmark and Share

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Copy Edit du Jour

(As always, passage disguised to protect the innocent, by which I mean me.)

Here's the original passage:
Explorers on foot can view sea stars and hermit crabs, while snorkelers in the water can swim with moray eels and manta rays.

Though I applaud the writer's conscientious inclusion of land snorkelers, I went ahead and deleted "in the water."

Bookmark and Share

Tuesday, July 14, 2009


In a blog post about my 2006 book tour, I wrote about some ironic occurrences, culminating with my experience with a certain Milwaukee hotel.

The short version is that I'm a sober person and former heavy smoker. I was having a rough time on the book tour -- feeling kind of roughed up and vulnerable. After checking out of the Seattle hotel at which the manager had kindly sent a bottle of wine up to my room (no, I didn't open it), I checked into my hotel room in Milwaukee to find a pack of cigarettes and a lighter on the bed. I set them out in the hall. Shortly afterward, I found a mysterious pill in the middle of the bathroom floor.

Today I came across a news story reporting that players of several major league baseball teams have reported supernatural occurrences -- ghosts even -- at Milwaukee's Pfister hotel. That's the place. That's the hotel where the cigarettes and a mysterious pill were set right under my nose.

The news story was actually an AOL news "photo gallery" -- one of those things you click through to look at pictures and get all your information from captions that say stuff like, "Major League Players swear Milwaukee hotel is haunted." Because it was not a real Web page, I was unable to link it here. So I Googled "Pfister" and "ghosts" and found the original story, which appeared in the Chicago Sun-Times. And, not five minutes after I had posted today's blog entry about major publications' typos, I saw the headline:

Major League Baseball players sweater Pfister Hotel haunted

I don't believe in ghosts. I'll change my position on that the minute I see one. But I sure do believe in irony.

Bookmark and Share

I Swear It's Not Schadenfreude

... But I love it when top publications make typos. I love it because my own typos dog me. Lots of them. Some for years. Some likely forever (like how in the first printing of "Grammar Snobs" I had written "tachometer" when I meant "odometer").

Then there are the typos I should have caught as an editor or copy editor -- flubs that appeared under another writer's byline, making her or him look bad even though it was my job to catch them. Nothing like letting people down ...

So when the big boys make typos, I see it not as a chance to laugh at them but a chance to laugh off my own mistakes. The wilier errors are twice the salve because they prove that I can catch mistakes -- at least sometimes.

With that in mind, here's a passage from an article on the New York Times website today.

The sweeping living room is a reflection of Ms. Robinson’s deep interest in early 20th-century American art; she started her career in the early 1970s at Sotheby’s. Most arresting is a life-size oil portrait by Ron Sherr of Ms. Robinson. It it she wears a strapless black dress, much like the one Madame X wore in John Singer Sargent’s famous 1884 painting, and the same choker worn by the little elephant in the drawing in the study.


The typo is "it it" in place of "in it." And it got past someone -- several someones -- who get paid a heck of a lot more than I do for their copy-editing and proofreading skills.


Bookmark and Share

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Lazy, Lazy Summer

I'm dark for a couple of days. I 'spect I'll resume posting Monday or Tuesday.
Happy weekend, all.
Bookmark and Share

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Wonderings and Googlings (Wherein I wonder about words, then I Google them)

run-on sentence = 373,000 hits
misplaced modifier = 40,100 hits

I don't believe in run-on sentences. My working theory is that they're bogeymen invented by professional writers in order to scare the crap out of aspiring writers, divert newbies' attention from more important issues like misplaced modifiers, and thereby thin out the competition.

In all my years of copy editing novice writers and reading friends' never-to-be-published novels and memoirs, I've never seen a sentence like: Joe heard footsteps they crunched on the leaves his breathing quickened he broke into a run it was too late the hot breath was on his neck. (Of course, I've never edited Cormac McCarthy, but that's another discussion.)

Nope, the run-on sentence, in my experience, is not a real problem for writers. However, I do frequently come across misplaced and poorly placed modifiers: Wilson took a three-year hiatus in 1994.

The Google search affirms my suspicion: run-on sentences are overhyped.

Bookmark and Share

Monday, July 6, 2009

And I Thought Writers Just Found Copy Editors Annoying ...

The Washington Post had a good piece a few days ago about an increasing number of typos in their paper -- a trend that corresponds with a decrease in the number of copy editors there.

The article cites a decade-old study that emphasizes how messy copy can hurt a newspaper's bottom line (that means money, to all you publisher types). The idea is that "each misspelled word, bad apostrophe, garbled grammatical construction, weird cutline and mislabeled map erodes public confidence in a newspaper's ability to get anything right."

In times of extreme austerity, I tend to think of quality control as a luxury. I figure it's better to have good reporting with a few typos than to have pristinely edited fluff -- or worse. So it never occurred to me that copy editing is so integral to a news agency's money-making ability.

Maybe if this idea catches on I could someday be emboldened to ask for help paying for health insurance.


Bookmark and Share

Friday, July 3, 2009

I Guess I Didn't Get the Memo (with late addendum)

An LA Times story today reports:

Two senior Los Angeles Times editors were given new responsibilities Thursday as part of an effort to create a 24-hour newsroom serving multiple mediums.

Now, back in my day, starry-eyed wannabe wordsmiths were taught that the the plural of "medium" is "media." Yes, we knew, dictionaries grudgingly allowed "mediums" as a plural, but only because the ignoramuses were gaining influence.

But in an LA Times article about LA Times editors, such an egregious mistake seemed improbable. So I went to the LA Times' fall-back dictionary, Webster's New World College Dictionary, which says that "mediums" is preferred to "media."

American Heritage and prefer "media" but allow "mediums." Merriam-Webster online, like Webster's NW, actually prefers "mediums."


Here's the Webster's New World definition, which does seem to suggest that the Times should have opted for "media":

medium definition me·dium (mē′dē əm)
noun pl. mediums -·di·ums or media -·dia (-ə)
1. a. something intermediate; b. a middle state or degree, mean
2. an intervening thing through which a force acts or an effect is produced copper is a good medium for conducting heat
3. pl. media. any means, agency, or instrumentality; specif., a means of communication that reaches the general public and carries advertising: in this specif. sense, a singular form media (pl. medias) is now often used
4.any surrounding or pervading substance in which bodies exist or move
6.a sterilized nutritive mixture, as enriched agar, for cultivating bacteria, viruses, etc.
7. pl. mediums. a person through whom communications are thought to be sent to the living from spirits of the dead
8. any material or technique as used for expression or delineation in art9.a liquid mixed with pigments to give smoothness
Bookmark and Share

Thursday, July 2, 2009

'Fine' Works by 'Excellent' Sign Makers

Sign makers get a lot of grief for their typos. So I try not to add to their woes. But a blog I came across recently is just too fun not to pass along.

It calls itself The "Blog" of "Unnecessary" Quotes and has pictures of some doozies like:
Please "No" Men Inside Ladies Room

(I love the "You know what I mean, nudge, nudge, wink, wink" quality of that one.) And:
Nonviolence is a way of life for courageous people. "Dr. Martin Luther King Junior"

(Kind of long for a nickname. I'd have just opted for "Marty.")

Anyway, enjoy!

Bookmark and Share

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Wonderings and Googlings (Wherein I wonder about words, then I Google them)

"it doesn't faze me" = 612,000 hits
"it doesn't phase me" = 1,740,000 hits

Some of the latter are, no doubt, people explaining how to use the word "faze." But one appears to be a bona fide error by an AP writer that got past an AP editor then past a Charleston Daily mail editor.

Either way, I'm shocked that the "phase" version occurs almost three times as often as the one with "faze."

Bookmark and Share


Bookmark and Share