Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Why I Am Not a Cartoonist

Hey, I was 15. (I'm proud to see that I included the comma in "No, they didn't.")

Monday, May 19, 2008

An Anti-Child Law

Yahoo appears to be describing a pornography law as "anti-child." What the headline writer meant, of course, was "anti-child-pornography law." Be against hyphens if you like (I say "child-pornography law," you say "child pornography law"; potayto, potahto), but once you deign to use one, you have to agree to the terms of service. Hyphens join, and you need two hyphens to join three groups of letters. You can get away with health-care systems analyst as opposed to health-care-systems analyst (yes, it's an analyst of health-care systems, but it's also a systems analyst in the field of health care), but the law in question is against child pornography, not against children.

I'm not a big fan of the en dash, by the way, but in more bookish prose you could theoretically get away with anti–child pornography law.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Hillary Clinton and the Dead Parrot

I love Monty Python. I love writing headlines for Dana Milbank columns. The twain met yesterday, and the options were too many and yet too few. I chose This Is an Ex-Candidate, but it wasn't my favorite Milbank headline. There were a number of runners-up. Did I choose correctly? Do you have a better idea? My other options:

  • Preaching to the Choir Invisible
  • Pining for the Rose Garden
  • Pining, or Passed On? (Jacqueline's idea)
  • Hello, Polly!
  • White Americans and the Norwegian Blue
  • The Palindrome of 'Clinton' Would Be 'Notnilc' (for true enthusiasts)
  • Monday, May 05, 2008

    What We Talk About When We Talk About Talking

    One of the more arcane (but nearly universal) shibboleths of the copy-editing profession is the knowledge that that thing that everybody else calls a podium is actually a lectern.

    It's hard to argue with the pod-/ped-* root, but, as I keep saying, please use your brain and not the search-and-replace function. OK, fine, a politician doesn't stand behind a podium to make a speech, but he or she most certainly could take the podium. (Who's to say such a reference is necessarily to the thing the speaker is standing behind, as opposed to the thing the politician is standing on?) Of course, you have to make sure the context is a rally, or something of that sort, rather than the White House press room, where the lectern simply stands on the floor, but if you're going to get all eggheady about what podium means, you should stick around in that frame of mind and acknowledge that it does mean something, and you should realize that there are plenty of cases in which either word would work.

    *One of my favorite stupid everyday jokes goes something like: "We're going to be walking a lot, and we'll want to know how far, so don't forget to bring your pedophile!"

    Friday, May 02, 2008

    Leaving Room

    I've been waiting all night for someone like you
    But you'll have to do.

    -- The Psychedelic Furs

    We maintain distinctions not only to get things right this time, but also to leave room for next time, when we might mean the thing we don't mean this time. Did the youth in the (entirely correct) headline above lose his job? Of course not. But that's what readers are trained to read if publications omit helping verbs from headlines willy-nilly.

    Does the above lyric make you smile, or at least make the slightest bit of sense? It does, but only if you have some inkling that like is not the same thing as such as.