Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Is Wal-Mart Now Walmart?

In the new issue of the Copyediting newsletter, Paul R. Martin writes:

Today's lesson, class, is about the differences between company names and brand names or logos.

Hey, that's my lesson!

Paul goes on to discuss the latest example of the signs-don't-match-the-name phenomenon. The stores of Wal-Mart Stores Inc., which once bore signs reading WAL*MART, now bear signs reading Walmart*. We grown-up publications types don't go for starbursts or asterisks (or all caps when initials aren't involved, for that matter), but should we now be writing about Walmart rather than Wal-Mart?

Short answer: No.

Long answer: As with J.C. Penney Co. Inc. and its JCPenney stores, and Exxon Mobil Corp. and its ExxonMobil service stations, we're faced with one rendition for the company and another on the signs it uses. Because it would be rather silly outside of a discussion like this to write about "J.C. Penney Co. Inc. and its JCPenney stores" or "Exxon Mobil Corp. and its ExxonMobil service stations," we grown-up publications types need to pick one rendition or the other, and it makes sense to choose the one that's on file with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

If you're still rooting for "Walmart," by the way, the company behind the stores, as Paul Martin points out, makes a bid for the "most refreshing bit of logo candor" award in its news release announcing the change in typography:

In its 46-year history, Wal-Mart has freshened up its logo on a number of occasions. Its last revision was in 1992.

Wal-Mart, eh? Well, there you go.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Capital Idea

You know, I can't really blame them. At least until this country moves into the 21st century and gets fully behind telecommuting.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Tot Mom Update

Casey Anthony did not work at Universal Studios. Universal Studios is a filmmaking operation near Los Angeles, roughly 2,519 miles from the Orlando home of the mother of the missing Caylee.

She may not have worked at Universal Studios Florida, or the Universal Studios theme park in Orlando, either, but that's the place people are talking about when they keep saying "Universal Studios."

I feel better now.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Another Grey Area

Why use the preferred spelling when an alternative one fits your layout better?

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Fewer 'Less' Complaints, Please

"Sir, do you have 10 items?"
"I have less."
"Great -- come to this line, then."

Did the man say "I have less items"? No. He said he has less. It could mean less than that, or less stuff or it could simply mean less. Be the annoying stickler if you like and criticize him, and the signs, if they say "less items" or "10 or less items," but "less" is a perfectly good concept and a perfectly good word on its own, and "10 items or less" is perfectly fine. Don't go inferring a supposedly implied word to create an error so you can criticize it.

I have plenty to complain about at the supermarket as people park their shopping carts in the middle of aisles and pay with checks in the 21st goddamn century; I will not be joining the chorus of fussbudgets insisting that signs be made silly and pedantic.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

David Foster Wallace, 1962-2008

I never met David Foster Wallace, and he was much cooler and more successful than I'll ever be, but I always felt a certain kinship. He was almost exactly my age (two months younger), and we shared a love for tennis as well as a passion for language. A couple of links:

  • A clip about a usage peeve from an interview with Bryan Garner.

  • An essay about descriptivism vs. prescriptivism.
  • Sunday, September 07, 2008

    Waldorf Equals Astoria?

    Yes, that's an "equals" sign in the logo of the famed hotel. In any publication run by grown-up editors and not xerographers, of course, it's Waldorf-Astoria, with a hyphen.

    Friday, September 05, 2008

    A New Look

    My friends, when I started writing about editing on the Web more than 13 years ago, there were no blogs, there obviously wasn't any Web 2.0, and I had not yet written a book. Sites were just sites, and it hadn't dawned on a lot of us site owners that short, snappy URLs were the way to go. Oh, The Slot would come soon enough, but first there was The Crusty Old Man's Copy-Editing Peeve Page. For those of you who don't remember that address, it was http://www.access.digex.net/~bwalsh/editing.html.

    Today I do most my ranting here on Blogslot. I could just redirect www.theslot.com, but I'm loath to give up all the pre-blog resources at my main site, and, frankly, I just enjoy the design and the programming. But it was time to clean things up and give the important stuff more prominence, and so I redesigned The Slot's home page. My signature color scheme and stuck-in-the-'90s aesthetics remain, but things are more compact and pared-down. I hope you like it. If not, there's always Slot Classic.

    Tuesday, September 02, 2008

    Ms. Palin, Meet Mr. Drysdale. And Jethro.

    I covered this two years ago, but I can't resist repeating it as I hear Sarah Palin and her fans mention, over and over again, how she has fought "the good-old-boy network."

    The "old-boy network" and "good ol' boys" are practically opposites. As highly respected usage commentators usually do, I'll draw an example from "The Beverly Hillbillies." In the above photos, the old boy is on the far left. The good ol' boy is on the far right.

    Then again, maybe in Alaska they're the same thing.

    (Yes, that time stamp is accurate. If you have a comment, please make it quietly.)

    Saturday, August 30, 2008

    More From The Post

    The ombudsman expresses concern about the evolution of the copy editor's role, as do some reporters. I make a semi-coherent cameo appearance (click on my name and you can read about a dead football coach).

    Wednesday, August 27, 2008


    Yet another of my many grievances: How is it that the most editing-intensive job in the newsroom earns you a title without the word "editor" in it? Copy chief sounds like the person in charge of the xerographic reproducification machine. Copy desk chief is a little better, but it still sounds like an administrative if not clerical position. Slot sounds like, well . . .

    Monday, August 25, 2008

    What He Said

    My Post colleague Jeff Baron on what exactly it is that we do:
    We all need editors. When we write, we might know what we mean to say, and we become blind to the looseness in our language and the gaps in our facts. Friends will ignore slips in e-mails, but newspaper readers should be able to expect a higher standard.
    Keep reading.

    Friday, August 22, 2008

    Put Away the Branding Iron

    We had Bush-Cheney '04, and now we have Obama for America and John McCain 2008. (Given the current air of manufactured mystery, I'm surprised we don't have Obama-???? '08, with Matthew Lesko, or maybe the ghost of Frank Gorshin, floated as a trial balloon.) The campaigns are free to call themselves what they like, and in some sense those names are registered as corporofinancial entities of some sort, but outside of forensic-accounting stories the McCain campaign and the Obama campaign should be referred to as "the McCain campaign" and "the Obama campaign."

    Same for such pseudo-brand-name entities as Yoknapatawpha County Public Schools. No matter how nice the logo might be, it's "the Yoknapatawpha County school system" in any dignified publication.

    Tuesday, August 19, 2008

    Parental Discretion Is Advised

    If you publish and you're imperfect, you'll have errors. If you're also conscientious, you'll have corrections. At McSweeney's, David Copper speculated on what a corrections column in Penthouse Forum might look like. One example:

    In the letter "And Wifey Makes Three," the letter writer stated: "My wife was eager to engage in a threesome with me and our incredibly hot 19-year-old babysitter." The sentence should read: "My wife was disgusted, repulsed, and, in every imaginable way, opposed to the thought of engaging in a threesome with me and our incredibly hot 19-year-old babysitter." Nor did the wife "wildly undulate" while seated on the face of the babysitter, or "moan in unending pleasure" as she watched her "superstud" of a husband give the babysitter "a good seeing-to." The letter writer also doesn't fight crime on the weekends from the confines of a secret underground lair.

    Tuesday, August 12, 2008

    Spelin Erurs

    Another fine LOLcat from I Can Has Cheezburger.

    Monday, August 11, 2008

    Are You the Bestest?

    To celebrate the Oct. 15 release of her book "Things That Make Us [Sic]," Martha Brockenbrough is running a contest to find the best copy editor in the United States.

    If you're wondering just how one would measure such a thing, especially given how hard it is to simply find a competent person to fill an opening (remember when we had "openings" to "fill"?), well, so am I, but Martha has her ways. Apparently there's a find-the-errors test, and if you pass that you get to write a little something.

    Now, now, don't get too cynical. The contest is in memory of Martha's friend Steve Higgins, a Dow Jones copy editor who died of a brain tumor last year, and 10 percent of the proceeds from the book will go to the Brain Tumor Society.

    Thursday, August 07, 2008

    Web Two-Point-Whatever-We're-at-Now

    This will be review for a lot of people, but I tried to round up the various forms my language blogging now takes. I've also cleaned some cobwebs off the home page of The Slot.

    Tuesday, August 05, 2008

    Rules Grammar Change

    This just in (well, over the weekend) from Onion Radio News.

    Blogrolling in Our Time

    Boy, do I miss Spy magazine. But anyway ...

    In the Web tradition of pointing readers where they should be pointed, competition be damned, the New York Times' usage site points people to The Slot. And I return the favor. This is a nicely done page.

    Monday, August 04, 2008

    Hi, Tech!

    Now that I've invited you to join the cause on Facebook, allow me to introduce The Slot on Twitter. It's taken me a while to warm to the Twitter concept, even though it's basically like my favorite part of Facebook, the status update, writ large.

    But this seems to be what all the kids are doing, and so -- let's call it an experiment -- I've decided to do my tweet-tweet-tweeting not about the fact that I'm at Nationals Park or I can't wait for "Mad Men" to start, but rather about usage-related stuff too small to blog about. You'll notice a new module on the right side of the Blogslot page (though it doesn't always work), but you can also follow my feed on the Twitter site or on your mobile computing device or, heck, maybe your jet packs or your tattoos (but check the site just to be sure).

    If you were already signed up, you would have heard me tweeting recently about the cruelly ironic squeeze on the dwindling numbers of copy editors, and the fact that nobody seems to include the CUNY part in references to Baruch College, and unforced errors by tennis commentators, and some insistent queries about the Burma-vs.-Myanmar dispute. Oops -- I guess that last part is far from being too small to blog about. Maybe someday.

    Saturday, August 02, 2008

    It's Not Scrabulous, but ...

    If you're on Facebook, you can sign up as a "fan."

    Friday, August 01, 2008

    And Don't Call Me on My Cell

    At left is a laptop. At right is a laptop computer. Go ahead and abbrev. away, go ahead and noun the darn adjective, go ahead and save your precious energy, in conversation, or in a Best Buy ad, or in a headline, or on second reference. All that is perfectly fine. Even I do it. But style and decorum dictate that you supply the actual noun at least once if you're writing anything even moderately formal for a general audience.

    Wednesday, July 30, 2008

    When Words Collide

    Sometimes a perfectly good headline is less than perfectly good. Recent history makes it clear that "world trade" and "collapse" are best kept apart in references to anything other than the World Trade Center's collapse, and the juxtaposition with a reference to seven years, seven years after 2001 in a New York newspaper, makes it all especially unfortunate. I cringed when I first glimpsed this headline, and I suspect it was changed for later editions.

    Wednesday, July 23, 2008

    It's the Dummy Type, Dummy

    Yahoo is apparently spending too much time on exclamation-point maintenance and not enough on copy editing. "Caption goes here" is embarrassing enough, but the profanity is particularly uncalled-for. If you must use dummy type, make it innocuous. (By the way, it's "damn it" or "dammit." "Damnit" is neither here nor there.)

    Friday, July 04, 2008

    We Use Frankfurters in Our Hot Dogs!

    I have trouble even stomaching the smell of Subway outlets, but I have to hand it to the folks at the mega-chain: Corned-beef Reubens really are the best kind of Reubens. (If only somebody would break it to them about the grilled rye bread.)

    I'm hoping the ubiquitous eatery follows up the Corned Beef Reuben with something equally distinctive: perhaps a roast-beef French dip, or a bacon BLT, or even a peanut-butter-and-jelly peanut butter and jelly.

    Thursday, July 03, 2008

    Obama Calls America Wicked

    OK, not really. But there was this:

    Obama emphasized what he called "the enormity of the American accomplishment," touring Peterson Air Force Base here, viewing the ultra-secretive North American Aerospace Defense Command, U.S. Northern Command headquarters and the Air Force Academy.
    It's not quite "misunderestimated," but it could be a little disappointing to . . . "some."

    Wednesday, July 02, 2008

    A 10-Yard Infraction

    This headline works well -- if the story is about a penalty in American

    But enough about helping verbs. What's new with you?

    Monday, June 30, 2008

    No, I Don't Have Any Blue Oyster Cult

    I came across a refreshing usage at work last night.
    Mark Rozell, a professor of political science at George Mason University, said the similarity of the attacks suggests a concerted effort to "build a picture" about Obama's character before the political newcomer has a chance to convince people of the truth of his rhetoric.
    Yes! For once, concerted means "concerted"! The story was about various McCain operatives working together, in concert. That's right: To make a concerted effort, despite widespread usage, isn't to try really, really hard to do something. That would be, perhaps, a determined effort.

    Even the notoriously permissive Merriam-Webster's dictionary doesn't accept the "trying rully, rully hard" definition.

    Thursday, June 26, 2008


    If you're reading this blog, you don't need to be told this. But just in case:

    Copy editors must check all telephone numbers in the material they're editing. That means picking up the phone and calling the number. Telephone-number corrections should be virtually nonexistent. (As you also no doubt know, they're pretty common.)

    The same goes for Web addresses.

    Wednesday, June 25, 2008

    Mission Viejo Masala

    Welcome to the OC, bitch.

    Saturday, June 21, 2008

    They Like Us; They Really Like Us

    On the heels of Lawrence Downes's sincere elegy to copy editors in the New York Times, Gene Weingarten tips his hat as only Gene can do in the Washington Post.

    UPDATE: Chris Wienandt and David Sullivan respond to the Times piece.

    Thursday, June 19, 2008

    More Fun With (the Lack of) Helping Verbs

    Lesbians like straight men
    No structural problem here, just a humorous linguistic coincidence that makes me think the headline writer was a robot, not a human.

    Monday, June 09, 2008

    Presumptions, Presumptions

    Yes, it's wrong to call either Barack Obama or John McCain a nominee until the conventions decree them so. They've clinched, claimed and even secured their parties' nominations, but they haven't received or accepted those nominations. So go ahead and insert "presumptive" before "nominee," but don't feel the need to repeat "Presumptive nominee! Presumptive nominee! Presumptive nominee!" like a parrot forced to watch MSNBC. It's especially silly to write about how Sen. Barack Obama is planning his strategy for the November general election against Sen. John McCain, the presumptive Republican nominee. Obama is just as "presumptive" as McCain is, the currency of his headlines notwithstanding, and that hedge after the mention of McCain isn't much of a hedge at all -- it's basically saying that Obama is going to face McCain in November whether McCain gets the nomination or not. But a truly prudent sentence would be truly comical, so how about we just let hypotheticals be hypotheticals and talk about the November matchup between McCain and Obama? I'd rather be presumptuous than type "presumptive" a few dozen more times.

    Thursday, June 05, 2008


    (More LOLcats here.)

    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.

    Wednesday, April 30, 2008

    See? It's Not So Hard.

    With more resources than most other publications, the New York Times is able to afford the necessary helping verbs.

    As I Saying . . .

    Okay, so two people fired guns toward a school building and then the cops hauled in somebody who was learning to use Microsoft spreadsheets?

    [Yes, there's something missing from my headline. A helping verb.]

    Monday, April 28, 2008

    Rules That Are

    If you've read many of my rants or attended any of my presentations, you've probably heard me address "rules that aren't" -- those little superstitions have become the public face of grammardom even though they have little or no basis in fact. Split infinitives? They're just fine, and often preferable to the alternative. Ending sentences with prepositions? Beginning sentences with conjunctions? Nothing inherently wrong with either practice.

    But I'm far from being entirely descriptivist. There are plenty of very common usage habits that have to be called inadvisable or just plain wrong, even when they produce perfectly understandable sentences. One such no-no is the dangler. I sometimes draw a blank when I have to come up with an example of a dangler, but I came across a couple of them in quick succession as I started to read the autobiography of Muhammad Ali's trainer, Angelo Dundee, and I thought I'd share.
    Unable to renew his unrenewable youth, Ali's skills had declined during his enforced layoff.
    It was Ali who was unable to renew his unrenewable youth, not "Ali's skills." Recast.
    Awkward and rugged, it seemed as if Ali had underestimated him and his strength.
    It was "him" (opponent Oscar Bonavena) who was awkward and rugged, not "it." Recast.

    Thursday, April 10, 2008

    Help Yourself to a Helping Verb

    USA Today tells us that 150,000 scrambled after more flights canceled. After more flights canceled what? You can scramble after more flight cancellations, or after more flights are canceled, but you can't scramble after more flights canceled, just as politicians can't say a bill bad. That's an improper headline shortcut.

    Some more, from elsewhere:

    Dad arrested after
    dispute over which
    gang right for baby

    Comic says studios fear
    femme flicks not funny

    Watchdog group
    says law violated

    Doing Without Us

    As copy editors gather in Denver to talk of many things, including the reality that publications are getting less interested in copy editing as we know it, there is news of a rather drastic example of that trend.

    The graphic above, of course, is a joke. For now.

    Thursday, March 27, 2008

    'I'm Calling From the Trib'

    I was delighted to find that Hulu, the television networks' remarkable answer to YouTube, includes the first season (22 episodes) of "Lou Grant," the newspaper-centered series that ran for five seasons and ended in the middle of my college journalism studies.

    If you're of roughly my vintage, you might enjoy Tony L. Hill's Canonical Lou Grant Episode Guide (founded in 1995, just like The Slot!). That's where I stole the screen grab above. Bannon's character, Assistant City Editor Art Donovan, was smart, funny, well dressed and, in a goofy-kid-stuff way, my journalistic role model. (Bannon's mother, I just learned, was Bea Benaderet, an actress whose claims to fame include being the voice of Betty Rubble.)

    The saga of Lou, Art, Joe Rossi, Billie Newman, Charlie Hume, Animal and the other staffers at the Los Angeles Tribune is one of the series I've been waiting in vain to see on DVD, so this is a special moment for me. A second special moment came when I searched Amazon.com to confirm that the series still isn't on DVD: Although that's still true, Amazon does offer low-cost downloadsof episodes from the first three seasons (you can also buy a season at a time). So, if your favorite episode is from Season 1, it's free on Hulu. If it's from Seasons 2 or 3, it's a couple of bucks at Amazon. (Tony Hill tells me Lou also shows up on iTunes.)

    Unfortunately, the following episode is from Season 4:

    EPISODE 71 - Nightside (22 September 1980)
    Written by: Michele Gallery; Directed by: Gene Reynolds

    SYNOPSIS: Lou takes a turn filling in on the night shift and sees an unusual side of the paper.

    UPDATE: I'm finally getting around to watching. Here's a bit of plus ca change dialogue:

    Art Donovan: "Mrs. Pynchon is very interested in endangered species."
    Lou Grant: "Yeah. That's why she owns a newspaper."

    That aired on Jan. 3, 1978.

    Wednesday, March 26, 2008

    Love and War

    Just as you celebrate a wedding anniversary and not a marriage anniversary, the recent milestone in the "war" in Iraq was the fifth anniversary of the invasion, not of the war. I'm just not sure what the fifth anniversary of a war (or a marriage) would be; it sounds like an observation of the full event -- the end, not the beginning.

    In other news, a "terrorist suspect" would be a suspect who is a terrorist. (Maybe the guy with the Glock on that 7-Eleven surveillance tape looked like Osama bin Laden?) A person suspected of terrorism is a terrorism suspect, or, if you must, a suspected terrorist. It's murder suspect, after all, not murderer suspect.

    Monday, March 24, 2008

    Ask Merrill

    Merrill Perlman at the New York Times is once again up to bat for "Ask the Editors." Any questions?

    Thursday, March 13, 2008

    When Style Gets Serious

    If you can't fix a broken leg, I'm not calling you "doctor."

    For many years that was the smart-aleck, in-a-nutshell version of my honorifics policy when it comes to Ph.D.s. In "Lapsing Into a Comma," I got more precise:

    Doctors are doctors. People with doctorates are people with doctorates.

    It's best to avoid the issue altogether, and unless your publication routinely uses courtesy titles (Mr. Clinton met with Mr. Kohl), it's a pretty easy issue to avoid. If Marcus Welby is a physician, say physician Marcus Welby. Otherwise you have to make tough decisions on where to draw the Dr. line. Dentists? Veterinarians? Chiropractors?

    If you think I'm being a Nazi about this . . .

    At least seven U.S. citizens working as researchers in Germany have faced criminal probes in recent months for using the title "Dr." on their business cards, Web sites and resumes. They all hold doctoral degrees from elite universities back home.

    Thursday, February 28, 2008

    The Illinois Senator and the New York Senator

    Barack Obama, Illinois senator? Well, he was, but now he's a U.S. senator! OK, OK, OK -- this is a story about pedantry and the all-sorts-of-different lines that can be drawn in its name, and I'm just telling you where I stand. I try to avoid "Illinois senator" and "New York senator" in references to Obama and Hillary Clinton. There, I said it, though I grant that I would never use "Illinois senator" or "New York senator" alone to refer to a state senator. Call it a nicety, one of those let's-be-absolutely-clear gestures that only a copy editor would make. Of course, the natural alternative -- "senator from Illinois" -- has its own problems if you're a true pedant. Obama isn't from Illinois (but Clinton is). Still, I say OK to the latter idiom but not, except under duress, to the former idiom. Such is the delicate balance a copy editor must strike.