Friday, August 28, 2009

Interesting Relative Clause Placement

Copy editing somewhat-green writers is starting to affect me. On several occasions lately I have found myself mentally editing the sentences of someone talking on TV or radio. Not a good sign.

That may be why I found this sentence in today's New York Times so striking. Then again, maybe the sentence is striking. It's from a review of Big Fan starring Patton Oswalt (whose standup comedy I love, by the way). What interests me is the placement of the "who" clause.

He’s a regular guy or as close to regular as any 35-year-old can possibly be who sleeps under a poster of his favorite football star while tucked under a coverlet imprinted with the names of N.F.L. teams.

I can see why the writer/editor didn't want to put it immediately after "35-year-old," which is where, in a shorter sentence, it should probably be. To do that you'd have to move the verb phrase "can possibly be" all the way to the end of the sentence. Still, it seems the Times could have found a better way.

True, I'm not coming up with anything better -- at least not with so little coffee in me. But that's why I can't land a job at the Times.

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Thursday, August 27, 2009

Nothing to do with language, but ...

8'FED and I were talking in the comments section here about caramel apples versus toffee apples versus candy apples and it led me to the Kraft foods website, where I saw this image of a delicacy Kraft calls Spooky Eyeball Tacos.

Here's the recipe, just in case this looks like good eatin' to you.

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Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Hush Technology

BusinessWeek has "put together a list of outdated tech terms," which includes intranet, extranet, Web surfing, long-distance call, and push technology.

You'd think that, what with the biggest economic collapse since the Great Depression, business publications wouldn't be cranking out stories that evoke the phrase "slow news week." But there it is.

I clicked the link hoping for a little nostalgia -- you know: baud, floppy, token ring, boot disk, clicks and mortar, dot-com millionaire. But no. Nothing more exciting than ASP.

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Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Copy Edits du Jour

It's as enticing as the caramel topping on a candied apple.

(changed to)

It's as enticing as a caramel apple.

* * * *

Autumn is a great time to enjoy the region's ambient weather.

(changed to)

Autumn is a great time to enjoy the region's weather.

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Monday, August 24, 2009

Words That Should Get a Divorce (One in an occasional series on words whose relationships have grown tired)

short and shrift

On some level, I like the expression short shrift. But I just can't condone such unhealthy codependency. Like trove and amok, shrift is devoted to a partner that doesn't return the loyalty. On any given day, short can be seen running around all over town with everything from sell to order cook to man's disease.

This case of codependency is so bad that shrift has pretty much lost its own identity. and American Heritage via don't give shrift an entry at all. Dictionaries that do tend to treat it as archaic and define it as: "a remission of sins pronounced by a priest in the sacrament of reconciliation," which leaves the reader wondering how this resulted in the short shrift we know today, which roughly means "careless treatment" or "scant attention." tries to shed a little light on the matter, but doesn't fully connect the dots. In other words, shrift gets short shrift.

I say shrift needs to go out on a date with long. A long date.

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Thursday, August 13, 2009

Words I Almost Forgot Existed


Does anybody gargle anymore?

It seems that, in the '70s and '80s, every other TV commercial and sitcom dad was dedicated to gargling. But I suspect the word has lost relevance. A comparative Google search supports my theory.
gargle = 840,000 hits
gargoyle = 2,160,000 hits

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Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Poor Kids

Here are a few grammar questions from a sample ACT college admissions test I found online.

2. As a result of his method for early music education, Shinichi Suzuki (has been known as one) of the world's great violin teachers.

A. has been known as one
B. had been known as one
C. is seen as one
D. is being seen as one
E. has been one

16. Each night when night came (and the temperature fell,) my parents lit the fire in the bedroom.
A. and the temperature fell,
B. and that the temperature did fall
C. and that the temperature fell
D. and because the temperature fell
E. and when the temperature fell

21. Because she (had an) astounding memory, Sue has never forgotten an important equation.
A. had an
B. could have had
C. has
D. did have
E. has had

And here are the answers, according to the site:


In other words, according to the authors of the questions, it's wrong to say: "As a result of his method for early music education, Shinichi Suzuki has been known as one of the world's great violin teachers." You must say "is seen as."

And it's wrong to say: "Each night when night came and the temperature fell, my parents lit the fire in the bedroom." You must lose the comma and insert a "when" before "the temperature."

And finally, according to the authors, it's wrong to say: "Because she had an astounding memory, Sue has never forgotten an important equation." You must lose the article before "astounding" and put the verb in the present tense: "she has astounding memory."

I don't have a copy of a real ACT test in front of me, so I don't know whether the idiocy of these questions and answers comes from the real test or just from the sample test-question authors.

But I sure hope it's the latter.

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Monday, August 10, 2009

True Confessions of Irrational Language Peeves

I try not to be peevish about language. But try as I might, I can't stop hating "hi-tech."

I prefer "high-tech."

Because "hi" is a separate word, it seems you lose too much by ditching the G and H.

Aaah. I feel better now.

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Thursday, August 6, 2009

Spellings Sew Sneeky

I get why people type "sneak peak" instead of "sneak peek." None of us are immune. (I, for one, make a ton of typos.)

What I don't get is why professional wordsmiths, like the writer and editor behind this AOL News link, haven't learned to double check the spelling before publishing it to a
professional site. It's like "lead" in place of "led" -- an issue proofreaders know to watch out for.

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Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Moments in Copy Editing

As of now, the program is slated to continue till Dec. 1.

Changed to:

The program is slated to continue till Dec. 1.

"As of now" crops up in my own speech and writing. But I never realized today how detestable it is, at least in journalistic writing. (It's like I'm having some kind of hate epiphany.) In journalism, where economy of words is a virtue, "as of now" is ridiculously obvious and adds nothing but a speed bump.

Hope I can learn from this one ...

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Saturday, August 1, 2009

Words I'm Looking Up (One in an occasional cleverly named series on words I'm looking up)

From American Heritage online:

cow: (v. tr.) To frighten with threats or a show of force. See synonyms at intimidate.

bully: (v. tr.) To treat in an overbearing or intimidating manner. See synonyms at intimidate.

I spend a lot of time thinking about words, but never realized before today that, if someone's intimidating you, you're being both cowed and bullied. Gotta love this language.

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