Monday, February 19, 2007

M!ch!gan Madness

I've always told people that the more official adjective for my people is "Michiganian," while the colloquial term is "Michigander." Imagine my surprise, then, when I learn today that American Heritage and Webster's lists "Michigander" as their first preference!

I can't imagine why that'd be. I seem to remember that most newspapers use the term "Michiganian." And it sounds more official, more conservative, doesn't it? (By the way, I've never in my life heard of a "Michiganite," which Webster's lists.) If there are any lexicographers out there in the TOSC readership, lemme know.

This will now, of course, force me to do some deep soul-searching about who I am and what I call myself. I've always insisted on the "Michigander" label; the word's slight gawkiness and what I assumed to be alternative nature held much more appeal to me. Jim Blanchard is a Michiganian; I'm a Michigander. Or am I? Now that my two main dictionaries have spoken, do I attempt another verbal flipping of the bird at The Man by going with "Michiganian"? Or by doing that am I falling right into The Man's hands? By slavishly rebelling against the dictionaries' proscriptions, am I in fact giving The Man even more power?

My guess is I'll stick with "Michigander." For one thing, it's what I'm used to. For another, I feel it allows me to better show off my nasally dominated Upper Midwestern accent. To sound like me, you've gotta hit a hard, hard "a." None of that soft-vowel crap that Californians like to pull.

And, anyway, that's what the dictionaries would have me say.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Barely Conscious*

Lately there’s been a dreadfully appalling misuse of a word that’s crept into the popular consciousness: conscious. Perhaps it’s foolish to attempt to redirect the rising tide of bad grammar; today’s phrase-mangling misusage is often, after all, tomorrow’s hip phrase to drop at parties. But we must make a stand, a last surge, if you will, to win this war before “conscious” becomes the new “quality.” As in “That book has quality.” Yes, but what kind of quality? Good? Bad? Neither? Sideways? It’s similar to how people employ the word “poetic” to mean “good poetry” (“Her jump shot was poetic”). Just because something is termed poetic — which is, after all, merely a form of expression — doesn’t mean that it’s inherently good poetry.

Let’s examine the recent trend of using the word “conscious” in sentences such as “He’s a conscious rapper.” The speaker appears to mean that the rapper is of a higher consciousness, perhaps more socially evolved or politically aware than others. The message could also be that the rapper is conscious of the world around him, that he’s focused and living in the moment. (It seems to imply — at least subconsciously — that the rapper is operating from his subconscious.) Maybe the speaker is actually opining that the musician has a conscience of some sort. However, what he’s literally saying is that the rapper is awake, which is hardly remarkable in itself (apart from the amount of chronic said rapper might have smoked). Yes, one can be a “conscious” rapper, but is he of a higher or lower consciousness? A rapper with a conscience doesn’t suddenly become a conscious rapper — these are two different words and meanings. (Though a rapper with a conscience should presumably be conscious, at least part of the time, to fight the power.) It must be noted that there isn’t yet a clear, formal consensus on whether it is desirable to even possess a conscience. Some rappers are now celebrated for having a conscience, and yet pro-basketball star Kobe Bryant claims that he was actually praising the shot selection of Gilbert Arenas when he stated that Arenas did not have a conscience. (Of course, style arbiter Bryant often uses words in contradictory, perhaps even deceptive, ways, such as when he insisted that he didn’t mean to strike Manu Ginobili in the face during a wildly theatrical follow-through in attempting to draw a foul from Ginobili.)

Fact is, this new “conscious” fad is a clumsy conflating of the unconflatable. (Er, is “unconflatable” a word? Perhaps to mean “to be against the contrary inflating of life rafts, balloons and such things,” among other possibilities? Only time — and popular misusage — will tell. But this might be inventing a word, as opposed to misusing a perfectly understandable word like “conscious,” a much more serious crime.)

Are you still conscious?

—Falling James

*Revised at 6:30 p.m., Thurs., Feb. 8

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Just to Clarify ...

... Derek isn't actually 4 feet tall. He is of average height.

We do enjoy the new photo though. See how much fun copy editors can have at work? We're a virtual recruiting poster.


  • I hear from one of my people in the editing community that AP has made a change: It's now "backyard," one word, in all instances. Boss Caplan should be happy about that.

Monday, February 05, 2007

And the Humble Apostrophe Causes Chest-Beating and Wailing and Gnashing of Teeth at Albertsons

It's come to my attention that Albertsons is suffering from a serious case of apostropheosis. A quick survey of my private-label-loving apartment reveals that some products bear the "Albertsons" mark while others read "Albertson's." My people, this is why the world needs copy editors. We're not just talking about a silly apostrophe; it's much deeper. One of L.A.'s major grocers is suffering from a crushing existential crisis. Does it want to be "Albersons": more than one Albertson? Or does it prefer "Albertson's": that which belongs to Albertson? Who is this Albertson? Why does he vacillate so on this issue of punctuational propriety? What black mark upon his soul renders him impotent when he faces this crucial decision: To insert or not insert an apostrophe?

Do you see, my people? Do you see what happens when the copy editors aren't consulted? We have nothing less than a full-blown psychic disaster on our hands. All because some brazen middle manager thought to greenlight an alternate logo without following the proper channels and procedures. Probably some hotshot fresh out of USC trying to make a splash. Instead he's caused bloody, bloody hell.

I hope this is a lesson to everyone. Copy editors are important, and you should consult them on almost all matters. God save your soul if you don't.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

On Properly Misspelling Words

There's only one instance I can think of in which purposefully misspelling words is justified: When the writer is trying to impersonate a drunkard. This is a tricky proposition, because the writer wants to maintain a level of quality and clarity to his work, but also make his prose just jagged enough to seem like he's put a serious dent in a bottle of Beam.

If I may, a great example of this can be found on a blog attached to another little project of mine. The Star Blog (follow the links on the site if you're curious about the back story; I won't take up your time here) is written by a good friend of TOSC. His first post on the site is written in what's supposed to be a drunken stupor. I'm biased, but I think the writer does a bang-up job. Here's the money line:

In closing, I’d like to say that it is an honor and a privilege to server the great community of Great HAven with this new websit.

Notice how the sentence is still easy to read; the reader doesn't need to go back over the line to gather its meaning. But it's strewn with just enough errors -- believable errors -- that he seems credibly drunk. And angry. And a little pathetic.

My guess is The Star Blog is going to feature a few more drunken rambles, so connoisseurs of the inebriated word may want to check back in.