Monday, October 29, 2007

If You Could Talk to the Editors . . .

I made a brief cameo appearance in the Post ombudsman's column Sunday. Meanwhile, some much more articulate dude is answering questions about language on the New York Times site.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Nothing From Nothing Leaves Nothing

"One time less," to the extent that it makes any frickin' sense at all, would obviously mean zero. So, how could "35 times less" suddenly make perfect sense and mean more than one time less? And how could "one time more" possibly be the exact same thing as "two times more"? I don't often disagree with the Boston Globe's Jan Freeman, who was kind enough to cite me elsewhere in the same column, but I have to take issue with her take on such innumerate usages.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

What We Talk About When We Talk About Editing

Could an editor be behind the distinctively minimalist style of Raymond Carver? The New York Times explores the long story behind the short stories.

Monday, October 15, 2007

So Much for That Ed.D.

Bill Cosby is either one kinky bastard or a guy who never learned about the comma of direct address. Or both.

(Thanks to loyal reader Charlotte for the tip.)

Friday, October 12, 2007

Headline of the Day

The Grief
That Made
'Peanuts' Good

(The Wall Street Journal, on Bill Watterson's review of "Schulz and Peanuts: A Biography," which details Charles M. Schulz's depression.)

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Last (and First) Call for Internship Applications

The Washington Post

Oops -- it's getting late. Nov. 1 is the deadline to apply for a 2008 summer internship at The Washington Post. (The editors rejected me in 1982, but they've learned a thing or two since then.)

Executive Editor Leonard Downie Jr., a former intern himself, and three of this year's interns, including copy editor Ethan Robinson, answered questions about the program on

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Two, Two, Two Words in One

I recently lodged a protest when the Copy Editor newsletter, of which I am a board member, decided to change its name to Copyediting. (The
-ing is fine; it's the onewordization that bothers me.) A majority of the board members approved of the name change, citing, among other things, the inevitability of two-word compounds becoming closed up. My dissent concluded:
If consistency and "inevitability" are our guiding principles, then ballplayer means we must use baseballplayer, and cabdriver means we must use taxidriver and truckdriver. If we recognize that taxi driver and baseball player endure because readability matters, and that tap dancer endures just because it does, then we should let copy editors be copy editors and recognize copyeditor and copyediting as industry jargon. There are worse things than using industry jargon in an industry publication, of course, but by doing so we are missing a chance to lead by example.
Later I came across an April 2007 entry from the Wall Street Journal's Style & Substance newsletter making a similar objection to waitlist and lifecycle. A stylist after my own heart wrote:
Lifestyle and cellphone became single words in our style only after serving many years as two words. Health care remains split. Let’s keep wait list and life cycle in a longer courtship before their wedding. A rule of thumb: If the term doesn’t appear as one word in Webster’s New World or the stylebook, use the two-word version, or hyphenation for adjectival usage: Wait-list game, life-cycle funds.
After all that, I continue to marvel at how often people, even veteran copy editors, err in the other direction, leaving a space in compounds celebrating many years of wedded bliss. There are plenty of questionable and hard-to-remember onewordizations (cabdriver, highflier, hardworking, Sunbelt), but I'm talking the simple stuff. Repeat after me:

  • Bookstore.
  • Drugstore.
  • Nightclub.
  • Schoolteacher.
  • Stylebook*.

    *The illustration is from 1950.