Thursday, October 26, 2006

Punctuation Is Dying

"Punctuation, online at least, is dying. It's so badly misused that it's a rare occasion when I can catch up on my feeds without flinching at some of the horrendous punctuation. The worst part of it all is that nobody seems to notice this gradual decline; or care. I fear it may be the latter."

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Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Fixing the Gate

We've had another spate of "-gate" incidents recently. Well, two (does two qualify as a spate?): Foleygate and Pine tar-gate (or Smudgegate or Pinetargate). What to do with these "-gate"s?

Well, other than avoid them because they're ever-so-lame cliches, you have to look at the root word to discern how to append "-gate." If it's one word, like "Foley," you don't use a hyphen: "Foleygate." But if it's two words (and Webster's has "pine tar," although I've seen it one word), I'd tell you to join the second word and "-gate" with a hyphen. The L.A. Weekly would tell you to use an en dash, which we'll get into another day.

And, finally, I'd just say that everyone should leave Kenny Rogers alone. So he had some pine tar in his glove. Big deal! Every pitcher in the Majors uses the gunk. Hell, I've heard Tony La Russa uses it to color his hair.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Ordonez vs. Ordoñez

Magglio Ordoñez, the patron saint of Detroit, is from Venezuela, where they do funny things with names. For instance, Magglio's dad, Maglio, added an extra "g" to his little slugger's name for good luck.

They also like to put those funny accent thingys (when I want to impress the ladies, I call them diacritical marks) over certain letters. Like "Ordoñez." But then why do most newspapers and Web sites do "Ordonez"? It's because many publications take a scorched-earth style policy to accents. They figure that they print in English, English doesn't use diacritical marks, they don't need no stinking diacritical marks.

I agree with that, except for names. "Resume" looks dumb with those cowlicks sticking off each "e," but a name is a name. So long as the name is impossible to read as spelled (let's say some punk rocker named Fred spelled his name "#$%@!^^^^" -- I'd still want to spell it "Fred"), I think publications should honor name spellings.

And, honestly, we should do whatever Magglio asks these days. Viva los Tigres!

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Pith vs. Pithy

During a freelance proofing job recently, I came across the following sentence in a caption: "To zest an orange, remove only the thin outer layer of skin, without the white pithy underlayer, using a sharp paring knife, vegetable peeler or zester, and mince."

I chuckled at the use of "pithy," which, I learned upon consulting Webster's, wasn't incorrect. In fact, its first definition ("of, like, or full of pith") told me that it was absolutely the correct usage. But I recommended changing it to "pith." Why?

Because when I read "pithy," I was inferring Webster's second definition: "terse and full of substance or meaning." Even though the word was being used correctly, I made the judgment that Webster's second definition was what would come to readers' minds, which would probably lead them to chuckle much as I did (well, not exactly. I mean, I have a pretty distinctive chuckle -- think Ed Grimley).

My point? Copy editing isn't always about rigid rules. Sometimes you have to go on feel, like the way Jim Leyland puts together a lineup. If a construction hits you as peculiar, you've gotta change it.

And, if you're wondering, it does not bug me that I changed an adjective to a noun. I think it still works. So there.

Saturday, October 07, 2006


The Japanese have an "r"/"l" problem. The reason is that their alphabet has only one representation of what we know in English as two sounds, "r" and "l." Apparently, they just can't get their tongues in the right place (come on, people, back of the teeth for "l"!).

More unintentional butchering of the English language here:

Friday, October 06, 2006

In Defense of the Apostrophe

This smashing Web concern was forwarded to me by TOSC Midwestern Bureau Chief Leslie Rotan, who wields the grammarian's bitch-slap at The Detroit News.

Cheers, Rotan!

Monday, October 02, 2006

These Are the Thoughts That Shoot Through My Head Whilst Proofreading

Why do writers want to incorrectly hyphenate every prefix-word construction under the sun ("multi-dimensional") except for "recreate,"* one of the few such words that should take the hyphen? And then I think, maybe it's a little gift from the writers to me. It's the writers saying, "Hey, Craig, here's an easy little mistake for you to knock off. You won't have to go searching all over the place for the answer, and you'll feel good about yourself for cleaning up the copy."

And, you know what? I do feel better about myself. Thanks, writers.

*"To create again" should be "re-create" because otherwise it would be confused with the verb form of "recreation."

Who Knew?

"Elbowroom" is one word according to Webster's. Neat!