Friday, April 29, 2005

That Wasn't So Hard, Was It?

I'm watching "Survivor" and I see a commercial for Wal-Mart's digital photo-processing services. And I see and hear something remarkable.

It's quick, it's easy, and the price is terrific.
Parallel construction! In a TV commercial! You know, I'm not sure I've ever seen that before in a case in which it would be so easy to get things wrong. Given that same set of points, 99 out 100 advertising people would have foisted on us:

It's quick, easy, and the price is terrific.
What's wrong with that? Well, it implies either that "easy" is a complete thought on a par with "It's quick" and "The price is terrific" or that "It's the price is terrific" makes sense. Either "it's" applies to all three items or it applies only to the first one; it can't apply to the first two and not the third, at least not in that construction.

If you want "it's" to apply to the first two items and not the third, you need to close off that series by giving it its own "and":

It's quick and easy, and the price is terrific.
That way or the Wal-Mart way -- either is fine.

Saturday, April 23, 2005

ur kidding lol

The normally astute Wall Street Journal has decided that email is a word. A tear is running down my cheek, much like the one on the proud Indian's face in that anti-littering commercial from the early '70s.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Rules That Aren't

I forgot to mention this to the empty-handed people in the room, but a handout for my presentation at the ACES conference in Hollywood is available here. Choose your format: Web, Microsoft Word or Adobe Acrobat.

For a more frivolous look at the conference, see Off-Topic.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Comment? No.

Not long ago, I criticized writers who report a "no comment" but then quote something that looks very much like a comment.

I saw the flip side of this issue the other day. The passage went something like this:

Harvey Baxter, chairman of Philosoph Enterprises, said last night, “I have no comment on this issue at the present time.”
Now, that is a "declined to comment." Don't waste your publication's paper and ink and your readers' time by printing such quotes.

Monday, April 18, 2005

Can You Hear the Hyphens?

A couple of ads, one on television and one on radio, show why compound-modifier hyphenation is more than just an esoteric issue confined to the nerds of the written word.

There's the Geico ad on TV in which the dorky executive and the gecko go door to door to charm customers, including reading to their children. One line from the fake storybook says something about a "small car insurance bill." The written equivalent would be "small-car insurance bill" -- an insurance bill for a small car. Obviously, the actor was supposed to say "small car insurance bill," as in "small car-insurance bill," as in a small bill for car insurance.

Another ad, on a local radio station, for a product I can't remember, mentions "high energy efficiency." The meaning, of course, is not high-energy efficiency, as in efficiency that's particularly energetic, but rather "high energy efficiency," as in energy efficiency that is high. (No hyphen needed, though "high energy-efficiency" would be an acceptable style decision.)

The fact that "small car" and "high energy" are oft-heard word pairs makes these pronunciation mistakes especially annoying, though perhaps they contributed to the errors. My point is that compound-modifier hyphens, or the lack thereof, affect the way phrases are pronounced as well as the way they're read by those of us who can do so without moving our lips.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

It's My Party, and I'll Hyphenate if I Want To

It was a 100th-birthday party, not (barring coincidence) a 100th birthday party, at which Trent Lott said those nice things about Strom Thurmond that cost Lott his Senate leadership position a couple of years ago.

Am I being too fussy in insisting on that hyphen? No.

Everybody knows that the reference is to 100 birthdays, not 100 parties, but is that a principle that can be applied to all such instances? Of course not. Only a 1-year-old can have a first-birthday party, but you may have had your first birthday party at 2 or 3 or 47. The icing-on-the-face thing gets pretty old somewhere between 3 and 47.

Monday, April 11, 2005

In the Pubic Interest

Another typo to keep an eye out for.

Sunday, April 10, 2005

Copy Editors Run the Show, of Course

What's missing in this Chicago Tribune account of the Mitch Albom making-stuff-up affair is any sense of whether a mere copy editor could have made substantive changes in Billionaire Superstar's writing without being fired, or whether anyone would have listened if a mere copy editor had mentioned that Billionaire Superstar should wait until things happen before reporting them.

Ideally, of course, a copy editor should have risked his or her job to prevent obviously false statements from being published. (Also ideally, housing and food would be free. Let's not equate letting Mitch be Mitch with standing by while innocents were tortured.)

Saturday, April 02, 2005

News to Me


No, it doesn't. I'm picking on the Miami Herald headline because the Herald was one of the first papers I saw this morning, but I'm sure many papers defaulted to similar treacle in light of the unfortunate papal situation.

I'm sorry to be so crass, but there is a lesson to be learned here about inclusiveness. Not everyone is a Catholic. Not everyone is a Christian. Not everyone believes in God. Not everyone thinks religion is a force for good. A large majority of the world's people, I'm sure, are sorry to see an old man dying, but a great many don't think kneeling and whispering will make things better.

Most examples of this kind of presumptuous writing are less profound than coverage of a papal deathbed. Breezy references to "taking the kids for hamburgers," for instance, assume that everybody's a parent and nobody's a vegetarian. I'm not saying that we must screen every sentence for possible offense to transsexual nudist vegans, but we do need to avoid writing with a smug sense of "everybody's like me."