Tuesday, February 28, 2006

No Hyphen in 'Revenge'

If you thought the copy editors you read about at Common Sense Journalism were harsh, wait till you see this.

Friday, February 24, 2006

A Portrait of the Editor as a 13-Year-Old

It's slightly off topic, but I invite you to enjoy the April 25, 1975, edition of the Leningrad Socialist, which you could say was the first newspaper I ever worked on.

Was I a teenage Bolshevik? Good guess, but no. This was a social-studies assignment at John Page Junior High School in Madison Heights, Mich., and my friend Paul Olsztyn and I were teamed up with a classmate or two of the tag-along-and-do-no-work ilk. No matter, because Paul and I had a blast. The main theme, you'll see, is propaganda in the Soviet press, but there's a lot of whimsy in there as well, not to mention a frighteningly accurate parody of the mid-'70s Detroit Free Press.

We did a "women's page" featuring fashion preview and a couple of borscht recipes, a comics page including a "Charlie Brawnschky" starring Snoopy as Stalin, a "new ad section" with the latest in tractor technology, even a page of columnists including Erma Blabsky. Not bad, aside from a surfeit of exclamation points. My favorite headline is on the sports page: "Odessa creams Minsk."

Looking at these pages you'd think I had found my calling, but no. Taking the journalism class and working on the school paper didn't occur to me until my friend Kathy Hulyk pretty much insisted on it.

(Be patient -- each page takes a few seconds to load -- and don't be scared off by the poor reproduction quality of the front page; the rest of the pages are better.)

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

A Bunch of Us Is Wrong ©

Ever the contrarian, I seem to be in a small minority in one debate currently raging online and, so far, utterly alone in another.

On the ACES board, this question was posed:

"An additional $18 billion in six-month bills was auctioned at a discount rate of 4.545 percent."

"An additional $18 billion in six-month bills were auctioned at a discount rate of 4.545 percent."

Which one do you like better, and why?
It's obvious to me that "were" is correct. It's obvious to almost everybody else that "was" is correct. (Congratulations to Autumn, though, who replied first and got it right.)

There are interesting issues along these lines, as many people pointed out, but that isn't an example of them. My final thought:
It's easy to get distracted by the dollar amount in the original example. . . .

Yes, as many pointed out, you say $18 million was, not were -- but that's not the issue at all in this case. Forget the dollars and imagine it was "a lot of bills were sold" or "a bunch of bills were sold." "Lot" and "bunch" are singular, but your ear, and those synesis principles that Garner describes, should make it clear that the plural "bills" requires a plural verb. Sums would behave no differently -- the specifics on that side of the equation are an irrelevant distraction.

Others that actually are close calls:

"A group of doctors is/are going to meet." Depends. The AMA is going to meet, but Drs. Brown, Smith and Jones are going to meet. In one case we're really talking about a group; in the other we're really talking about some doctors.

"Eighteen million barrels of oil is/are consumed each day." Are we counting the very countable "barrels," or are we simply using them as a unit of measurement for a non-countable entity? I'd say the latter (just as we were talking about bills, not dollars, here we're talking about oil, not barrels), but here's one where I might expect such vigorous debate.
(I claim bonus points for illustrating how easy it is to confuse millions and billions.)

Meanwhile at Newsdesigner.com, somebody who makes posters using images of newspaper pages was taken to task for thievery and copyright infringement and whatnot.

My current attitude toward copyright law is "I don't even know who you are anymore," and so Newsdesigner and the commenters who came before me may well be correct, but here's what I had to say:
It's not theft, any more than taking a photo of somebody in public is stealing his or her soul. Am I not allowed to take a photo of the side-by-side newspaper vending machines displaying such pages and call it art? How about whipping out my brush and dashing off an oil painting? What happened to fair use?

"Copyright" nonsense has gotten way out of hand, as the Washington Nationals' imminent name change to the Washington Natsxxxindc64071@aol.com (it was the only name not previously thought of) is proving.
Flame away, but be careful about violating this copyright.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

'Down,' Boy!

Knockdown is one word. Rundown is one word. But you might have a knock-down, drag-out fight in a run-down neighborhood.

See what's happening here? The space-hyphen-solid decision is complicated by a coincidental word, and the difference is a lot more subtle, and likely to fool even experienced word people, than, say, bare foot (n.) vs. barefoot (adj., adv.).

A rundown, obviously, is a summary -- nothing to do with decrepitude. But a knock-down fight involves knockdowns. You might even dispute my contention that the solid form does not apply, but I think the juxtaposition with drag-out makes the truth clear.

Do any other examples come to mind? Heck the linguists probably even have a cute term for the phenomenon. If not, let's make one up.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Groundhog Day. Again.

Spoiling sport as only a copy editor would, I am compelled to suggest that the idea of repeatedly reliving the same events is not inherent in Groundhog Day, but rather traceable directly to the Bill Murray movie of that name. (Correct me if I'm wrong.)

This fact may or may not spoil whatever cute allusions a writer might come up with, but copy editors should at least keep it in mind, lest "Groundhog Day" become as widely misused as "deja vu."