Thursday, December 28, 2006

Technology: It Makes Life More Convenient, Unless You're a Copy Editor

TOSC friend Mark M. writes:

Why does the L.A. Weekly cap the word "Internet"? And also, if memory serves me, "Web site" and "Web"? Do we consider technology so God-like?
Let me answer the last question first: Yes. The Other Style Council believes that technology is well on its way to solving all the world's problems, including: Our pesky inability to travel backward and forward through time, my costly knack for not returning my library books on time, and women's maddening refusal to speak to me.

But we have to leave those issues up to the cabal of God-like super scientists who secretly rule planet Earth. The Other Style Council will be content to just answer your style questions. Therefore:

Mark, there's some disagreement among the copy-editing ranks about this. "Internet," "Web" and "Web site" were capped when they first came on the scene because they were so singular, so life changing, that they seemed to demand the initial caps. I mean, the phenomenon that gave us has to be uppercase, right?

But now that we're a decade or so out from Bob Dole inventing the Internet (yeah, everyone thinks it was Gore, but it was actually the distinguished senator from Kansas), these terms have settled right down into the lexicon so comfortably that more and more copy folks are wondering if we shouldn't lowercase them. There's a pretty valid argument to be made that "Internet" etc. aren't proper nouns. They're not copyrighted phrases, and there's only one Internet. It's not like there's different proprietary worldwide computer networks that require distinguishing proper designations.

I, though, continually want to keep capping "Internet" etc. This is largely because I'm so comfortable with those phrases being uppercase that they reside in that part of my mind that allows me to expend virtually no brain power while reading them during the editing process: I see "internet," cap it and move on.

But the Internet also hits me as something more than just a big damn collection of wires. I buy into all this hokum about the Internet being a place, a community. Like Heaven, but with pitch-by-pitch updates of Tigers games. So I say we keep it capped.


Kate, we haven't forgotten your question about "momentarily." It's just that that query is going to take some research, and I'm getting ready to go to Michigan for New Year's, and, and ...

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

It Is Hoped That I'm Getting This Right

Joe D. (true-blue TOSC backer, surfer, vaguely proud Keystone Stater, renaissance man, sudden yeller of various exclamations) has asked for a post on "hopefully." I've stuck to the time-honored TOSC tradition of waiting days if not weeks to post after a request is made; now is the time.

My homeboy Bryan Garner, author of the priceless Dictionary of Modern American Usage, calls "hopefully" a "skunked term" -- its meaning has shifted over the years to the point that it's now mired in a lexical purgatory, forever haunted by its old and new usages. It's the Marley's ghost of words. (Okay, it's probably better to the call it the Virgil or words, but it's the Christmas season. And what snob would make a Virgil reference in a blog post?)

Your English teacher will tell you that "hopefully" is an adverb meaning "in a hopeful manner." By that strict definition, it should only be used to describe an action: "Joe pointed hopefully to the surf, searching for that one gnarly wave."

Your L.A. Weekly critic/feature writer/news reporter will tell you that "hopefully" means "it is to be hoped." So old sticklers go nuts over sentences like these: "Hopefully, Joe won't be eaten alive by that gnarly wave."

The second usage is far and away the predominant one, and sages like Garner have given up. "Whatever the merits of those arguments [against the new usage], the battle is now over. Hopefully is now a part of American English, and it has all but lost its traditional meaning." Webster's, in a huge cop-out, gives both as acceptable definitions.

So here we are, stuck again in the gray soup that is the English language. What to do? Let clarity be your guide! When it comes to a tweener word like "hopefully," let's forget the English teacher and just be sure we're using it in a way that conveys clear meaning. The masses won on this one, and, as the brilliant Bugs Bunny used to say, "If you can't beat 'em, join 'em."

Monday, December 04, 2006

To Apostrophe or Not To Apostrophe

TOSC reader David H. from Virginia Beach, Virginia, asks:

If I were to write about buying more than one compact disc I would write "I bought 17 new CDs." Is this correct? What makes me ask is that we were on I-95 today and I saw a sign that read "RV's and Trucks Welcome." The apostrophe s marks possessive, right?

The apostrophe-s does indeed denote possession. It's a rare case that an apostrophe is used for a plural, but it happens. "I got two A's and three B's on my report card" is an example of how apostrophes help to clarify the plurals of single letters. But this is an exception to the rule.

For acronyms, the standard is to pluralize them with a single s, although this standard is not particularly standard, especially among highway sign workers.