Wednesday, October 03, 2001

Reviewing the Bible

I wrote a brief review of the newly updated Associated Press Stylebook for the October-November issue of the newsletter Copy Editor. Click here to get a copy of the review in Adobe Acrobat PDF format. (There's a good chance the Adobe Acrobat reader is already on your computer, but click here if you don't have it.)

Friday, August 03, 2001

It Was an Impact All Right

Recently at a newspaper close to my heart, a perfectly good sentence about something's impact on something else was changed by an editor who apparently interprets the maxim "Impact is not a verb" to mean "Impact is not a word." Worse yet, this editor changed the noun not to effect, but to affect. Moral: Master the basics before attempting to cultivate pet peeves.

Monday, July 16, 2001

Smoothies Are Something Else Altogether

It appears to be time to smooth things over.

On Page 205 of my first book, I warn against getting confused by soothe and adding an e to the verb smooth. "Never seen that one before," one of my co-workers commented. So I felt a little vindication when a recent edition of Style & Substance, The Wall Street Journal's excellent in-house usage newsletter, pointed out such an error in the Journal, saying "Misspelling smooth does not soothe."

A few days after I read that newsletter, the aforementioned co-worker missed a smoothe in a story he edited.

A few days after that, a Washington Post story (not in my section) contained the phrase "sooth your soul."

Never seen that one before.

Wednesday, June 27, 2001

It's Called a Byline for a Reason

Here's a major gripe of mine that, amazingly, I've never before discussed in print: bylines without the word "By." I'm not talking about publications in which that's the style; that affectation is annoying, but at least it's intentional. I mean stories on which the writer has apparently never read the publication before and the editor has neglected to notice the most basic of errors at the very beginning of a story, where fatigue is no excuse. It's true that ignoring such "furniture" is an occupational hazard, but the byline is a pretty important piece of furniture. Read past it and you'll miss not only the very common "By"-gone goof, but also the more-common-than-you'd-think phenomenon of writers spelling their own names wrong.

Thursday, March 08, 2001

An Unforced Error

Carets and Sticks is not intended as a forum for pouncing on the missteps of other editors, but just as I couldn't let "hi-tech" or "T-ball" go without comment, I must comment on the mention of tennis legend "Jimmy Conners" on the front page of the March 7 Wall Street Journal (another of my favorite publications). As a tennis fanatic, I'm especially sensitive to the misidentification of such a major name. In fact, my wife spotted this error; when I should have been reading the day's papers I was off playing tennis. The amazing thing about the "Conners" error is that, unlike Barbra Streisand and Nicolas Cage and Courteney Cox Arquette and countless other celebrities, Jimmy Connors spells his name the normal way. There are Connerses out there, I'm sure, but I can't remember ever hearing of one. My guess is that a non-tennis-fan copy editor assumed that a reporter writing about tennis couldn't possibly flub one of the biggest names in tennis history. We copy editors make these kinds of judgments when we're short on time, which we almost always are. Note to writers: The copy desk is just the backstop. You're still expected to get things right in the first place.

Sunday, March 04, 2001

Hello, Technology

On the cover of the May 11 issue of Entertainment Weekly, one of my favorite magazines, a headline reads "STAR WARS GOES HI-TECH." Hi, tech! Hello, technology! How's it goin'? Hi-fi was one thing, a whimsical spelling to accentuate a rhyme. But you wouldn't write "hi-fidelity," and there's no point in writing "hi-technology" or "hi-tech," no matter how tight your headline specs might be. Even the abbrev-hpy high-tech industry isn't trying to foist the "hi" spelling on us.

Saturday, February 17, 2001

Is All Publicity Good Publicity?

This might not be truly ironic in the eyes of a constipated purist, but I'm pretty sure Alanis Morissette would let me get away with that term. My book, which decries bad writing and editing, received a good review in the Feb. 12 issue of the Weekly Standard. Tracy Lee Simmons, director of the Dow Journalism Program at Hillsdale College, called it "thoroughly delightful" in a review in which he also praised Barbara Wallraff's "Word Court." But you might not get a positive impression of the two books if you merely look at the headline. "Writing Right: A pair of recent books get it wrong," it reads. The reviewer and the magazine's managing editor have apologized for that very odd misstep. Damn copy editors! Isn't it ironic? Don't ya think?

Thursday, February 15, 2001

Falling Off a 'Cliff'

"Cliff Notes to the Post's 'Deadlock' series," reads a Slate headline. You'll find "Cliff Notes" on 14,214 Web pages, according to AltaVista. I used Cliffs Notes as much as anybody, but apparently only I (and the authors of a pitiful 5,382 Web pages) remembered seeing an "s" in "Cliffs." I wish this didn't bother me so much.

Tuesday, February 13, 2001

No Uhmail or Webzits Here

With dictionaries and other mainstream publications tripping over their feet to use "website" and "email" in an attempt to look like Techie McTech to their readers, I find it deliciously amusing that the excellent PC Magazine, of all publications, continues to stick with "Web site" and "e-mail." I guess that's the difference between being secure in your knowledge of the subject matter and being a big, fat poseur wanna-be.

Friday, February 09, 2001

But No Country Muffins

A new retronym came with my overpriced Web order from Joe's Stone Crab in Miami Beach. A retronym, for the uninitiated, is a term that seems redundant but may (or may not) have become valid as the world evolved. Before the electric guitar, acoustic guitars were simply guitars. Before roller skates, ice skates were simply skates.

And so now Joe's Stone Crab sends me its signature product packed in wet ice. Yes, I know about dry ice, but wet ice? . . . Several of my co-workers are arguing with me in defense of a similar term: unique visitors. Webheads writing for dimwits use this term to make it clear that multiple visits to a site by the same person are not counted as multiple visitors. Duh! Note my use of the terms visitors and visits. If you told me four of your relatives came over for dinner last night, I'd rule out the possibility that it was just Uncle Joe and Aunt Minnie but both stepped out for a smoke at one point. Visitors means visitors.