Monday, March 30, 2009

Monday Word Miscellany

Saw this in Paul Krugman’s NY Times column today:

Discussing the causes of that crisis, Mr. Summers pointed to things that the crisis countries lacked — and that, by implication, the United States had. These things included "well-capitalized and supervised banks" and reliable, transparent corporate accounting.

The lack of suspensive hyphenation caught my attention. I would have written "well-capitalized and -supervised banks.” I think a hyphen before "supervised" could have added just a tad more clarity.

Saw this in a U.S.News & World Report story on Yahoo today:

Research by Atlee Burpee, the world’s biggest seed company, found that $50 of seeds and fertilizer can yield $1,250 worth of produce.

Setting aside the incredible fun that is the name Atlee Burpee (finally, a name for my first-born, should such a first ever be born), what interested me here was “$1,250 worth of produce.” In non-numeric form, a structure like this is often considered a “quasi-possessive,” which calls for an apostrophe. “You can grow hundreds of dollars’ worth of produce.” But “$1,250’s worth of produce” would be (most would agree) silly. I never noticed that before.

From a Los Angeles Times headline this morning on an article about job hunting:

It’s still all about whom you know.

Whom? Really? What would I have done if I were the editor making the call on “who” versus “whom” here? I’m not sure. Yes, newspapers are held to a sometimes unreasonably high standard on using “whom,” but the expression “It’s who you know” is such a popular figure of speech that “whom” seems awkward here.

I suspect that, after agonizing over it a bit, I would have gone for “It’s all who you know” – then spent the next day letting all my calls go to voice mail.

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Thursday, March 19, 2009

Words I'm Looking Up and Going-Dark Notice


I'll be going dark until about March 30. Until then, I leave you with this thought: I have problems with the word "brickbat." Mainly because it has problems with me. I feel like "brickbat" tries to stay as far away from me as possible. I know it's out there. I know someone is using it. But almost never does this word crop up in my world.

Is it old-fashioned, like "nifty" and "23 skidoo"? Is it a regional thing like "wicked hot" or "dang hot, y'all"? I don't know. It's like a ghost word in my world that I have now, finally, looked up. Here's American Heritage Dictionary:

brick·bat (brĭk'bāt') n. A piece, especially of brick, used as a weapon or missile.
An unfavorable remark; a criticism.

Word History: The earliest sense of brickbat, first recorded in 1563, was "a piece of brick." Such pieces of brick have not infrequently been thrown at others in the hope of injuring them; hence, the figurative brickbats (first recorded in 1929) that critics hurl at performances they dislike. The appearance of bat as the second part of this compound is explained by the fact that the word bat, "war club, cudgel," developed in Middle English the sense "chunk, clod, wad," and in the 16th century came to be used specifically for a piece of brick that was unbroken on one end.

Now I know ... sort of ...

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Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Words I'm Making Up (First in an occasional cleverly named series on words that are not but should be)


It's when you get bludgeoned by a curmudgeon. I'm sure any grammarphile with grammarphobe tendencies will agree we could use such a word.

I realize curbludgeon would be a more natural formation, but 1. it's too similar to bludgeon and 2. it's just not as much fun. So don't curcludgeon me about that.

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Monday, March 16, 2009

Weird and Random Monday Ramblings

* Further evidence AP and Chicago are conspiring to make my head blow up:

AP Style for capitalizing titles of works: "How to Turn Your Trash Into Cash"

Chicago Style for capitalizing titles of works: "How to Turn Your Trash into Cash"

AP says to lowercase conjunctions, articles, and prepositions of three or fewer letters. Chicago isn't down with quotas -- so no three-letter maximum for them.

* Lately I've been very distracted by cleaning the house and rigging our kitty cams. (A neighbor said recently that there have been a few break-ins in the area. So we rejiggered our cameras and fixed a connection issue with our remote survelliance to assure that no Thai-restaurant-menu deliverer will go undetected.)

Actually, a funny story about that. A few months ago our camera saw/recorded a man who was delivering fliers and who, once he put the flier on our front door, plunked down in the chair on our porch. He sat there for about three minutes then got up and left. It's a very weird feeling to see a stranger lounging on your front doorstep. Weirder yet, if I remember right I was home watching it take place live.

Ah, technology.

* In the past, I have mentioned that I hate the word "horrific." Well, this just in: I still hate the word "horrific." It still sounds to me like a self-consciously weak word destined to forever reach for greater and greater shock value. I predict it will one day evolve into "horrificorrible" and "horrificawfulageous."

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Thursday, March 12, 2009

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


I was always completely comfortable with this word until I ran across it today while copy editing a sentence that started like this:

"Now that you’ve ascertained that the ocean-view room you reserved does indeed have an ocean view ..."

To me, "ascertain" connotes a somewhat lengthy and difficult process of investigation -- like you have to work a little to find out what you want to know. So it seemed a bad word choice in the sentence. I mean, to find out whether your hotel room has an ocean view, all you have to do is look up or maybe take three steps toward the window. I wanted to change "ascertained" to "confirmed." But first I looked it up.

From American Heritage at
ascertain. To discover with certainty, as through examination or experimentation. See Synonyms at discover.

Ignoring my gut feeling, I left the passage unchanged.

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Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Moments in Copy Editing

The park’s four-acre Conifer Forest will turn into a primeval habitat, crawling with life-like robotic dinosaurs that roamed the earth 65 to 150 million years ago.

I changed to:

... life-like robotic dinosaurs like the ones that roamed the earth 65 to 150 million years ago.

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Monday, March 9, 2009

The Ear of the Beholder

“Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.”

I’ve always thought that statement was overblown. For example, I’ve known a lot of people who claimed to be unimpressed with the looks of a young Farrah Fawcett. But I never met anyone who would brush her aside for a date with Bea Arthur.

Jennifer Aniston is to Brenda Vaccaro as Pamela Anderson is to Judi Densch as George Clooney is to Colin Mochrie as top-quality pizza is to that stuff you microwave at 7-11.

People like to brag about how individualistic their tastes are. But the truth is our tastes are a lot less original than we’d like to believe. Yes, I know that somewhere out there is a man who thinks Bea Arthur is the hottest woman who’s ever walked the face of the earth and there’s a person who thinks 7-11 microwave pizza is manna from heaven. But they’re such rare anomalies that they cannot all by themselves prop up the far-reaching statement “beauty is in the eye of the beholder.”

And that’s why I seldom talk about how I feel about spoken German, Russian, and Hebrew languages. I find them beautiful. But, when I say so, people simply don’t believe me. Many go so far as to correct me. No, they say, the Romance languages are beautiful. German, Russian, and Hebrew are harsh on the ears -- abrupt, unkind, and without music.

I’ve had people tell me straight up that I’m mistaken. Surely I’m confusing German with Italian. Or perhaps I’ve simply never heard spoken French.

Yes, the Romance languages are soft and lilting and very well-paced. But to my ear, a number of non-Romance languages are just as beautiful if not more so. I even like the sound of Arabic and Farsi (though not as much as any of the languages mentioned above) and I find Haitian Creole and Ibo (Nigeria) to have a sort of thumping, rhythmic beauty all their own.

I don’t have an ear to appreciate Scandinavian or Far Eastern languages. And there’s something about Brazilian Portuguese that weirds me out. (Every other word sounds, to me, French, while the words in between sound Spanish and the accent sounds like neither. I find that fascinating but disorienting.)

George Clooney, charming as he is, is not my type. But I’ll confess -- here and now for posterity -- that he’s hotter than Kevin James if you’ll just believe that I really do find the German, Russian, and Hebrew languages pretty.

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Sunday, March 8, 2009

Something Everyone Should Know About the Financial Crisis

I realize that people don't come to this blog for public policy analysis. But yesterday, while getting my taxes done, it came to my attention that my very intelligent and well-informed accountant didn't know an important piece of history regarding our economic situation. So I thought I'd use a normally blog-post-free Sunday to pass along the info.

Here it is.

In 1933, Congress passed the Glass-Steagall Act, which limited the types of investments commercial banks could make. According to Investopedia, the act's proponents argued that the law was needed because "commercial banks took on too much risk with depositors' money." They believed that these risks led to the Great Depression.

In 1999, legislation introduced by Republican Phil Gramm and referred to as Gramm-Leach-Bliley repealed those provisions of Glass-Steagall.

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Friday, March 6, 2009

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


I could have sworn that, years ago, I learned that the proper plural was "indices" and that "indexes" was a less-preferred form that was slowly gaining dominance.


Webster's New World, American Heritage, and Merriam-Webster all list "indexes" as the first choice for the plural. A Google search shows that users feel the same way, 75 million to 42 million in favor of "indexes."

So I pulled out my 1955 Oxford Universal Dictionary, certain I'd find evidence that the preference for "indexes" was a recent development. Nope again. This big dusty book also prefers "indexes."

Too bad. I like "indices." If it were preferred, it would be like a fun plot twist in the middle of written work -- something to keep you on your toes. But no.

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Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Words I Wish Would Go Away Now


Men may not have noticed, but "plump" has been gaining popularity as a transitive verb. Seems everywhere I turn, some youth pusher is offering to plump my business. They're hawking products that promise to "plump" my lips and "plump up" my wrinkles.

Here are Google News search results for "plumping" for the last nine years (using March 4 as the beginning of each one-year period):

2008-9 = 672 hits
2007-8 = 786 hits
2006-7 = 832 hits
2005-6 = 753 hits
2004-5 = 672 hits
2003-4 = 513 hits
2002-3 = 389 hits
2001-2 = 269 hits
2000-1 = 219 hits

In addition to its day job as an adjective (a plump Christmas goose), "plump" has long worked as a verb. And before the era of Botox and collagen injections, it was mainly a cool one. Its definitions include "to drop abruptly or heavily: plumped into the easy chair," "to give full support or praise: plumped for the candidate" and "to throw down or drop (something) abruptly or heavily: plumped the books onto the table."

"Plump" also has some fun gigs as noun (a heavy or abrupt fall or collision), an ajective (blunt, direct), and an adverb (with a full or sudden impact: walked plump into the pole).

But its recently popularity as a marketing tool for beauty products is working my nerves. I don't want to buy something that plumps me or any part of me -- at least not while I'm working so hard to squeeze into skinny jeans.

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Monday, March 2, 2009

Gimme a !@^#! Break

Taking its cue from a 10th-grader, Los Angeles County has designated the first week in March as No Cussing Week.

I've always been fascinated with profanity because it has a built-in paradox. By labeling words no-nos, we give them a unique power that they otherwise would not have.

True, obscenities are not completely arbitrary in that they're grounded in natural taboos about reproduction and elimination. But when control freaks draw a line between a word like "crap" and a word like "shit," they give the latter unwarranted power.

In other words, by opposing profanity, one actually creates profanity.

I look forward to a day when we teach kids that words are their servants and not their masters.

George Carlin must be turning over in his !#^@! grave.

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