Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Not a Typo

USA Today (a slightly different headline with the same problem is in the print edition):

Typos can lead you to imposter credit sites
This is a very common misspelling. "Imposter" is an impostor.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Mottled U.N.

The area involved in Thursday's agreement runs from Ohio west to Kansas. If the region were its own country, the World Resources group estimates, it would be the globe's fifth-biggest producer of greenhouse gas emissions behind the United States as a whole, Russia, China and India.
And it would be the sixth-biggest if a region running from Pennsylvania west to Kansas were its own country. Make up a region running from New York west to Colorado and then it drops to seventh. Now, let's say East Asia were a country . . .

Do you see how frickin' ridiculous this sort of thing is? Only slightly less spurious is the oft-repeated idea that California has "the world's fifth-largest economy." Oh, yeah? It's a bigger economy than that of, say, the Pacific states? The American West? The continental United States?

If you must humor the playground statisticians, at least run these claims through the non-crazy-talk reworder:
The group estimates that the region produces more greenhouse-gas emissions than all but four countries: the United States, Russia, China and India.

California's economy is larger than that of all but four countries.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Overriding Concerns

The House did not override a Bush veto. It voted to override that veto. If the Senate also votes to override, then there's an override. If not, there's no override, so how could the House have overridden?

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

A Lot of People Is Confused

No, this isn't another entry on notional agreement, but it is about one of its cousins -- another of those subject-verb matters that send self-styled sticklers into a tizzy and prove once again that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing.

A recent Washington Post article used a plural verb with the noun politics. The same article used a singular verb in a parallel example, and a reader pointed out that we were inconsistent (true) and that the latter was correct (false). Observe:

Politics is a noble pursuit. My politics are none of your business.

Economics was her first choice for a major, but she opted for business. The economics of the idea make it unfeasible.

Genetics is a multibillion-dollar enterprise. Our genetics conspire to make having children a very bad idea.

All of the above are correct. Citations? I have plenty.

The Washington Post stylebook:
Words ending in -ics, such as politics, economics and tactics, may be singular or plural, depending on context: Politics is my business. Their politics are dirty. Tactics is a science. His tactics are irrational.

Garner's Modern American Usage:
Politics may be either singular or plural. Today it is more commonly singular than plural (politics is a dirty business ), although formerly the opposite was true. As with similar -ics words denoting disciplines of academics and human endavor, politics is treated as singular when it refers to the field itself (all politics is local) and as plural when it refers to a collective set of political stands (her politics were too mainstream for the party's activists).

The Associated Press Stylebook:
Usually it takes a plural verb: My politics are my own business.

As a study or science, it takes a singular verb: Politics is a demanding profession.

The New York Times Manual of Style and Usage:
Politics can be singular or plural. Use a singular verb when the word refers to an art or science: Politics is the study of government. But use a plural verb in reference to practices: His politics are contemptible.

The Wall Street Journal Guide to Business Style and Usage:
It can take a singular or plural verb. But as an art or science, it is singular: All politics is local.

I would quarrel only with the emphasis of the Garner and WSJ entries (I think most writers and editors would start with a bias toward the singular and would need a prod in the plural direction) and with the use of "All politics is local" as an example of the discipline usage as opposed to the practice usage. Quite the contrary, I think it's a tricky exception to the rule. The politics in "All politics is local" look(s) to me identical to the politics in "My politics are none of your business," but the former expression, attributed to Tip O'Neill, is well established, and to give it a plural verb invites the reader to interpret it as referring to each and every "politic" being local.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

The Perils of Wordplay

New York Marathon Crosses New Bridge: Cancellation Risk
So, I'm looking at the Saturday Wall Street Journal, and I glance at this headline. At first I'm thinking, oh, they changed the route and the runners are going over a bridge they never did before? No, wait, cancellation risk. Oh -- a bridge got rebuilt, or maybe didn't get rebuilt, and the race may get canceled because people are all jumpy about bridges since that Minneapolis collapse. Yeah, that's it. Oh, wait.


(The photo of an actual bridge didn't exactly speed my brain's slow, slow recognition that the marathon is figuratively crossing a new bridge.)