Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Of Showstoppers and Deal Breakers

I try to avoid the "increasingly common error" trap, so I will allow that maybe it's just coincidence, or heightened awareness on my part, that the first and second times I've noticed a misuse of "showstopper" occurred in quick succession in the past few days.

A "showstopper" is a good thing. Webster's New World:
1 a song or sequence in a musical theater production, show, etc. so exciting or impressive that applause from the audience interrupts the performance
2 anything so exciting, impressive, showy, etc. that it attracts much attention
It is not a synonym for "deal breaker."

10 comments:

Eric "Babe" Morse said...

I've never thought of show-stopper (may I buy a hyphen?) in the negative, but it seems that it's been used that way for over a decade by computer folks in talking about bugs that halt production. It's Wikipedia's first definition. There's a 1994 book about Microsoft with the title "SHOW-STOPPER!", and it doesn't seem to be referreing to the stunning preformance of Windows.
So, perhaps the halt-production connatation is growing outside the computer realm.

ACM said...

there's also a third possibility in between thriller and turn-off, which is close to the equivalent of "conversation-ender." as in, somebody says something that brings an otherwise pleasant exchange to a sudden halt.

I'm not advocating this usage, just noting that is's a more drifty misusage (rather than a full inversion) . . .

Dr. Zoom said...

Wow ... I was shocked to see show-stopper used as a negative, considering my theater background. Sacrilege!

Roy said...

Recently I heard the term "showstopper" at the phone company--it is a flag to stop all work on a particular kind of project because there are too many problems, or one big problem that needs to be resolved before going on. So, the negative connotation.

Eric "Babe" Morse said...

My brother worked for Ernst&Young, and said that was their term for anything that needed to be fixed before they could move forward.
Looks like we're stuck with it. Are there other words that have gained definitions that are opposites? I think of "bad", but that's moving into slang.

Lynn said...

My husband uses "showstopper" that way all the time. I will have to show this to him. Although I wonder about Erik "Babe" Morse's comment, because hubby is in computer science.

Where can I ask a question about the possessive for names ending with s? I have always followed the AP stylebook and made it James' book. I'm being excoriated by some MLA junkie who says it's James's and everything else is wrong.

Lynn

Bill said...

AP style is "James'," but formal style (and even Washington Post style) is "James's."

Charles said...

My (i.e., Charles's) examples for Mr. Morse's edification: "cleave" and "sanction."

Stephen Jones said...

Dear Lynn,
James' or James's
Use whichever sounds better. The distinction is certainly not between formal and informal.
Kilpatrick had an article on it a couple of days ago in the "Arab News". I don't know if the syndication is in synch, but you can find the article on his site. He pointed out that Dylan Thomas's poetry is much more euphonious than than the alternative.
On points of usage Kilpatrick is nearly always right (though the reasons given often aren't).

WhichThat said...

I've always preferred s's for proper nouns myself, but if your publication uses AP style, then it's James' or hold a style meeting.

Also, FWIW, I've always read James' as "Jameses."

Why does AP prefer that, anyway? Space considerations? I've always wondered if there should be a "Vatican 2" for newspaper writing now that the technological shortcomings that forced bad habits on us over the years are diminishing. To name one, having to put both song titles and album titles in quotes is annoying when you're writing about an album's title track ...