Monday, September 25, 2006

Depends on How Important 'Is' Is

Headlines, like all specialized forms of language, have their own rules, customs, assumptions and expectations. One of these is the customary dropping of some helping verbs. So, in a headline like this . . .

2 Killed at Football Game

. . . someone used to reading newspapers assumes that two people were killed, as opposed to two people doing some killing. Shake things up a little, however, and that understanding gets muddled.

Security Fears Rise After 2 Killed at Football Game

Does that sound odd to you? It sure does to me. The articulation of the rule (if you can call it that) is sparse, but the Washington Post stylebook explains:
Auxiliary verbs and forms of the verb to be may usually be omitted, but they are required in the progressive and after says.
Says usually is the culprit when a helping-verb omission goes wrong -- this strikes me as just as bad as the last example:

Police Say 2 Killed at Football Game

Somehow the implied were or are is clear in the first example, but I find myself asking "Two killed whom?" when I read the second and third, in which the "are" (or "were") seems much more nakedly missing. Why? I'm not sure. I guess the convention goes only so far.

Is all this hopelessly arcane? Am I elevating a custom, a nicety, to the level of a must-be-remedied ambiguity? I don't think so, but I'm curious to hear how widely observed this distinction is. In my experience, it's one of those "If you don't get it, you don't get it" concepts, something difficult to teach even to some experienced and excellent headline writers. Sometimes I explain the idea and an associate responds by using the helping verb whenever it's possible to use a helping verb -- the problem is solved, even if the point is missed.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

It's French for 'Pear Again'

For the severalth time, I came across the bizarre misspelling "repoire," for rapport.

Friday, September 15, 2006

I'm the Blogger Here

A cousin to the confusion of blog entries with blogs is the confusion of blog comments with blog entries. On the political blogs, you'll occasionally see a blogger on one side accuse a blogger on the other side of making a particularly extreme statement, and then you'll see the accused blogger indignantly point out that said statement was not in a blog entry but rather in a comment from a particularly rabid reader. In the mainstream media, you'll see readers who post comments (some of them particularly rabid) referred to as "bloggers" when in fact they do not have blogs of their own. The distinction gets confusing with blogs that have more than one authorized poster and with those that are basically free-for-all forums.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Ceci n'est pas une blog

This thing filling your browser window? A blog. These few lines here? A blog entry. I'm seeing a disturbing number of references to the "latest blog" of somebody who has but one Web log.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Internship, Anyone?

The Washington Post

It's not too early to think about spending next summer at The Washington Post.

UPDATE: Executive Editor Leonard Downie Jr., a former intern himself, answered questions about the program in a chat.


It's the Democratic Party and Democratic politicians, not the Democrat Party and Democrat politicians.

Is it a little odd that Republican is the same as a noun and an adjective while Democrat (n.) and Democratic (adj.) are different? Sure -- English is rife with such inconsistencies. Is it a little unfortunate that one party's adjective, when lowercased, has warmer and fuzzier connotations than the other's? Perhaps.

But . . . tough. That's the way it is. There was a time when the -icless adjective might have been read as an attempt at linguistic correction. Today, it is bound to be read as a show of solidarity with Republican propagandists. Use of the big-D word doesn't mean that the big-R people aren't interested in democracy, and use of the big-R word doesn't mean that the big-D people are enemies of our republic.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Oh, Boy

Webster's New World:

good old boy
[Informal] a man of the S U.S., variously characterized as easygoing, companionable, assertively masculine, and strongly identifying with his regional lifestyle

old boy
1 [sometimes O- B-] [Informal, Chiefly Brit.] an alumnus, esp. of a boys' preparatory school 2 a man belonging to a social, professional, etc. group regarded as prestigious or influential, whose members provide one another with assistance or preferential treatment

The confused use of "good old boys' network/club" to mean "old boys' network/club" is pretty common, but I still found it jarring to read it in a report from a government inspector general:

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement "relies on five different sets of penalties for workers," the Department of Homeland Security's inspector general reported, "resulting in the perception that a 'good old boys' network still existed where certain infractions were simply made to go away."