Friday, May 28, 2010

Words I Will Never Be Cozy With


Stanch is one of those words that's always on copy editors' radar. Like "founder" (to sink) vs. "flouder" (to flail), the stanch vs. staunch issue seems to make itself known to copy editors early in their careers. So I've been aware of the word "stanch" ever since I first started reading style guides.

Today stanch is all over the news, as BP execs talk about how they can stanch the oil leak. It's the perfect word for the job. But, at the same time, it's one of those words that seems unnatural somehow -- maybe because it doesn't seem to come up in everyday speech.

It's none too easy on the ears, either.

I guess that's why I'll never feel like I have a relationship with "stanch."

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Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Unclear Antecedents from a Cleary Questionable Source

I clicked on a link to a personal finance article today and saw this:

They hid in the wrong stocks. They hid in the drug stocks. They hid in the medical stocks. It's where you are supposed to go in a slowdown. And they betrayed the hiders. I am talking about the big mutual funds and hedge funds that rushed into the big drug stocks like Lilly , Merck , Bristol-Myers , Pfizer , Glaxo , Johnson & Johnson , Sanofi and Novartis , and they hid in biotech like Amgen and Celgene . They figured people still had to take drugs, right? And they got betrayed twice.

It's from an article by Jim Cramer (yeah, that guy). I couldn't see the whole article because it's at a subscriber site of TheStreet, but I'm pretty sure this is the first paragraph. And the editing alone is enough to make me not want to subscribe. From what I can tell, the first three "theys" refer to mutual funds. But in sentence six, with no explanation, "they" appears to pair up with a different antecedent as "mutual funds" shed their "they" nickname to become "the hiders."

If I can't trust 'em with pronouns, I'm sure as hell not going to trust 'em with my money?

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Tuesday, May 25, 2010

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


Came across this recently in my editing work. I was editing marketing copy, so I just assumed the writer made a mistake. I started to change it to "predominantly," but then stopped and looked it up.


to have ascendancy, authority, or dominating influence (over others); hold sway
to be dominant in amount, number, etc.; prevail; preponderate

Related forms:
predominately: adverb

In other words, predominately is a lot like predominantly.

I changed it anyway.

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Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Question from a Reader About New Yorker Style

Abigail, commenting on this old post, asks: Does anybody know if The New Yorker has an editorial style guide that one could lay one's hands upon? As an editor myself-- known as The Comma Queen by some whose work I have put a pencil to-- I would be most interested in seeing it.

Me, too.

I Googled "New Yorker Style Guide" and found a third-party mention of it here

But I didn't look much further. Anyone know?

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Wednesday, May 12, 2010

OED's Definition of 'Siphon'

According to this article, the Oxford English Dictionary had a faulty definition of "siphon" for 99 years.

Having worked in publishing for so long, I don't think that's stop-the-presses surprising. If authors and journalists and highly regulated oil-extraction companies and everyone else can make errors, there's no reason that lexicographers responsible for the enormous OED should be any different.

What interests me more about this article is how it's written. The second sentence is "Siphons don't work, it turns out, because of atmospheric pressure, as the OED has been saying since 1911."

Here's another way to say that. "Since 1911, the OED has been saying that siphons work because of atmospheric pressure. That, it turns out, is not true."

But, no. The writer relegated the most important piece of information in the whole article to a subordinate clause: "AS the OED has been saying." That annoys me. The placement of "it turns out" annoys me, too. Usually, that phrase cues the reader that something they already know about "turns out" to be wrong. But in this article, you learn that something "turns out" to be wrong before you learn what that something is.

Maybe I've been copy editing too much lately, thereby focusing too much on little issues like this, but I find all this rather irksome.

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Saturday, May 8, 2010

Valuable Typos

I always think of typos as bad things. But this AOL News story is a reminder that they can be valuable. The story lists nine published works that, in early typo-laden printings, are worth some money. They include old works like a 1600s Bible and newer stuff like an error-riddled early printing of "The DaVinci Code."

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Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Fortune Cookie Misfire

It was as fine a sentiment as any you'd get from a cookie: "You have good luck in your personal affairs."

Unfortunately, when my husband pulled the fortune out of the cookie, it tore in half. All we saw was, "You have goo in your personal aff."

We're just glad the last word wasn't "associations."

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From the Department of Clever Wordplay

A full-page ad in today's LA Times.

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Tuesday, May 4, 2010

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


I'm teaching on online copy editing course (or, as the school calls it, a copyediting course). This week, students are learning about "acronyms."

I've long had an issue with this word. People use it interchangeably with "initialisms." But not all dictionaries support that.

Webster's New World College Dictionary, which is the designated resource in the newspaper copy editing work I do, says that an acronym is a set of initials pronounced as a word: radar, NASCAR. Initials that are pronounced as individual letters are not acronyms but initialisms: FBI, FAA, CIA.

BUT, Merriam-Webster, which is the designated dictionary for the Chicago Manual of Style, which is what we follow in the course, does allow using acronym to mean initialism, albeit reluctantly.

The author of the textbook for the copy editing course mentions this distinction in a footnote, but adds that it's common to call initialisms acronyms -- then she proceeds to do so throughout the chapter. I couldn't leave it alone. I informed students that, according to another widely used dictionary, this use of "acronym" is an error and that, even according to our dictionary, it's questionable.

I recommended that, as copy editors, they observe the distinction.

I have no doubt that the dictionaries will soon be changed to reflect real-world usage of the word "acronym." But, until they do, I think that people who aspire to careers as copy editors should take the more conservative approach. (Or at least be made fully aware of the controversy.)

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