Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Stepping Up to the Plate

This had never occurred to me. An excellent point in another brilliant recap, this one for "The Apprentice," by Miss Alli at Television Without Pity:

In actual baseball, when you "step up to the plate," it's because it's your turn. It's not an act of courage! That guy isn't willingly putting himself in harm's way. He's not ballsy; he's next. So can we stop using "step up to the plate" as some kind of synonym for "volunteer"? Because it really, really isn't.
Off-topic: Alli is also a must-read for fans of "Survivor" and (coming soon, a new season!) "The Amazing Race."

Saturday, February 19, 2005

Don't Dis My Tamales

The now-almost-hoary slang term for "disrespect" is dis, not "diss." Don't be confused by the doubled s in disses, dissed and dissing.

Occasionally you'll read about a contact "lense" or a camera "lense" because of similar confusion: The plural of lens is lenses. Another such confusion, however, has resulted in a legitimate word -- at least in English. Tamales, in Spanish, is the plural of tamal. English speakers, ignorant but hungry, saw all those tamales and invented the tamale.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

'No Comment. Comment, Comment, Comment ...'

Company spokesman Bob Flacker declined to comment.

"The investigation will bear out the truth in due time, and until it is complete, we feel that it is inappropriate to say anything about the matter," Flacker said.

"We have no comment at this time" is a "declined to comment" comment. When you can save a good column-inch of space by cutting a non-comment, it's a safe bet that it doesn't qualify as a lack of comment.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Questions and Answers

I joined Don Podesta, Washington Post assistant managing editor for copy desks, for a chat.

Sunday, February 13, 2005

Mother and Child Reunion

A note on telecommunications history:

AT&T was "Ma Bell" when it was the parent of all the regional phone companies (the "Baby Bells," if you must).

The AT&T that was recently acquired by one of the so-called babies, SBC Communications Corp., was, almost by definition, not Ma Bell.

Friday, February 11, 2005

Pretend the Quote Marks Aren't There

Quotations are generally introduced with commas:

She said, "How are you?"

Unfortunately, a lot of writers and editors take that guideline to mean that every quotation mark must be accompanied by a comma. Observe:

The president was heckled by protesters who held signs with slogans such as, "Leave My Social Security Alone," and, "No More Lies," as his motorcade arrived.

What in the world are those commas doing there? To write that is like writing:

The animal lover has had pets including, piranhas, and, boa constrictors, over the past three decades.

Punctuate with your brain, not with the search-and-replace function. And, as I've said before, even a correct quote-introducing comma is negotiable if it also introduces awkwardness (as the incorrect ones do in the Social Security example).

Thursday, February 10, 2005

(The) Globalization Marches On

I have added ordering links to the Canadian, British, French, German and Japanese branches of to my "Elephants of Style" and "Lapsing Into a Comma" pages.

Bonus content: Note that I used "Elephants of Style" in an adjectival reference to "The Elephants of Style." Nothing wrong with that; in fact, it's preferable. For a related reason, don't go capitalizing the in something like "the Hague-based International Court of Justice," even if you normally cap The Hague. In that instance, the goes with International Court of Justice, not with Hague.