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August 24, 2003

By my ear and hand
Posted by Teresa at 09:03 PM *

I was sitting on the bed, editing a manuscript. Patrick looked up from his computer. “I’ve found a weblog entirely devoted to copyediting,” he said. “This is from his right sidebar.” And he read:

Listen to me, I know style and how to use it. The point of the site is to advance the dialogue of style, usage and grammar as it pertains to newspaper copy editing. Everything posted here reflects my opinion on how style should be used.
“There’s the true voice,” I said; meaning the true voice of the copyeditor: a distinctive thing.

I got up and had a look. There, in large black letters, was the title of the weblog: COPY EDITING, DAMNIT. “Whoops, he’s misspelled it,” I said; ‘damn it’ if two words, ‘dammit’ if one.”

“There’s the true voice,” said Patrick.


Update: The weblog in question renamed itself Stylin’ and Smilin’. Some weeks later—Tuesday, September 16, 2003, to be precise—I ceased to feel any qualms about having made fun of it, because that’s when it ran this piece:

Soon, I will have a comments option to obtain feedback about my posts. But until then, here is a sample of what has been said about Sylin’ and Smilin’ on other sites.

(This site was once called “Copy editing, damnit” and apparently the misspelling of dammit/damn it caused some commotion in certain corners.)
Le coin, c’est moi, et LanguageHat aussi.
Click on each quote to find the source.
What follows are eighteen quotes about the weblog. One could, technically, classify them as reader feedback, since nine of them, nos. 5-13, are lifted directly from the comment thread for the very post you’re reading right now. Their source is never cited. It’s not even mentioned.

Five of the “links” one supposedly clicks on to see the sources of the quotes don’t work and never did. That’s because their URLs were formed by appending the e-mail addresses of their authors—Jonathan Lundell, Tim Kyger, Robert Legault, Robert Legault, and Terry Karney—to S&S’s own URL. The other four links—to Tina, Arthur Hlavaty, LanguageHat, and me—do connect to their authors’ websites, but only to their general addresses. What they don’t connect to is remarks about S&S.

This has two especially ridiculous aspects to it. First, at this remove, S&S would have been working from my archive, not my main weblog. That means he’d have had to go to extra effort to cite my general URL, instead of just copying the URL at the top of the page he was on.

Second, one of the other nine quotes not lifted from my comments thread was also written by LanguageHat; and in that instance, S&S did actually link to the source material: LanguageHat’s offhandedly magisterial demolition of his website, opinions, and general copyeditorial virtue—which demolition, by the bye, explicitly linked to my own piece.

That does it. Smilin’ and Stylin’, I am officially saying “neener, neener” to you. Having a tin ear for style is a misfortune that could happen to anyone. Being a wuss is a matter of choice.

Comments on By my ear and hand:
#1 ::: Jonathan Lundell ::: (view all by) ::: August 24, 2003, 10:05 PM:

Hopefully, I'll never write for his paper. "Maie" not a noun? Tell it to the editors of the OED. The guy's got a tin ear for idiom, not to mention for Dave Barry. Dammit.

#2 ::: Tina ::: (view all by) ::: August 25, 2003, 01:35 AM:

I have no joke here, I just like saying "I was sitting on the bed, editing a manuscript."

(I may be one of the only people to find this amusing, not because it was what Teresa was doing, but because it fits my 'picture of editor' so much more nicely than "I was sitting at my desk, editing a manuscript." I can't explain why.)

#3 ::: Tina ::: (view all by) ::: August 25, 2003, 01:47 AM:

Also, I've just read through this blog, and have this intense urge to visit the blogger and hit him repeatedly with a copy of the Chicago Manual of Style. I'd use Strunk & White, but the CMS is much heavier.

It's less the specific advice than the way in which it is written, you understand.

#4 ::: Elric ::: (view all by) ::: August 25, 2003, 08:13 AM:

So, I was sitting at my desk editing this book....

Yup, doesn't sound as pleasant as as on the bed, though I've done that, too. Also on the couch, and outside in a comfy chair with birds and chipmunks offering their editorial insights from the magnolia tree.

Idyllic moments like that last tend to diminish when working on stuff with lines like "The deputy caught a bullet and collapsed, clutching his crouch" or "we need to catch the next stage couch" as the high points of the text. Thank goodness for the good, well-written books!

#5 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: August 25, 2003, 08:28 AM:

Try Webster's Third Unabridged. It's a canonical reference, and it packs considerably more footpoundage.

I had a dream once in which I did Wolverine's snikt! maneuver, only my hands came up armed with sharpened red and blue pencils.

Snapshot: I do a lot of editing at home. I don't always work on the bed, but when I do, I have a folding wooden stand -- I believe it was meant as a breakfast tray -- that comes in very handy. I like to have six or eight pencils in my working color so I can work longer without getting up to sharpen them (I find editing easier with a sharp point), but the electric sharpener's in the kitchen, which keeps me from going too long without moving.

#6 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: August 25, 2003, 09:07 AM:

Have you seen the 0.3mm mechanical pencils? They do have coloured lead for those these days...

#7 ::: Jordin Kare ::: (view all by) ::: August 25, 2003, 10:15 AM:

>I had a dream once in which I did Wolverine's snikt! maneuver, only my hands came up armed with sharpened red and blue pencils.

So _that's_ what you use to disemvowel people...

#8 ::: ers ::: (view all by) ::: August 25, 2003, 10:46 AM:

You should see what she uses for semi-colostomies and appendectomies!

(I just love the Wolverine-as-copy-editor image. Revenge of the Grammatically Vigilant!)

#9 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: August 25, 2003, 11:28 AM:

Wolverine's a line editor. He sits on an old sofa with his feet up, smoking a cigar, periodically scribbling notes in the margin like "Don't think so, bub; it was green two chapters back," or "The safety's on the other side on that model."

#10 ::: Kate Nepveu ::: (view all by) ::: August 25, 2003, 11:48 AM:

TNH said: Wolverine's a line editor. He sits on an old sofa with his feet up, smoking a cigar, periodically scribbling notes in the margin like "Don't think so, bub; it was green two chapters back," or "The safety's on the other side on that model."

Oh, thank you, I needed a laugh.

(Sick dog last night, unhelpful last-minute uncertainties and people vanishing when I need to talk to them today . . . *sigh* )

#11 ::: PiscusFiche ::: (view all by) ::: August 25, 2003, 12:31 PM:

My awe of Teresa never ends. She can even spell "snikt" correctly.

I wish I was an editor. I wish I had blue and red pencils. Do you get to read all day long or is that just a pleasant image I have in my head?

#12 ::: Tina ::: (view all by) ::: August 25, 2003, 12:52 PM:

The fact that editing involves reading doesn't necessarily make it pleasant. I mean, okay, sure, there are books or stories or essays or what-have-you that are fun to read, but what if you get stuck editing something on a topic you dislike, or with a storyline that bores you, or with characters you want to smack into next week?

The fact that editing involves gleeful use of the Red Pencil of Doom, THAT makes it pleasant.

Note: I am not a trained editor. Do not try this at home. Some restrictions may apply.

(Note to self: do not read this journal before drinking coffee. It results in weird followups.)

#13 ::: MLaidlaw ::: (view all by) ::: August 25, 2003, 02:06 PM:

The misuse of "damnit" in the title of the blog appears to be deliberate. It's consistent with the fact that the titles for most of his daily entries feature an obvious error.

#14 ::: Tim Kyger ::: (view all by) ::: August 25, 2003, 02:34 PM:

Am I the only one to notice (tsk, tsk!) that this guy also doesn't believe in the use of the serial comma? (Said lack of use is, of course, the cause of the current fall of Western Civilization, As We Know It.)

#15 ::: Michelle ::: (view all by) ::: August 25, 2003, 04:30 PM:

The fact that editing involves reading doesn't necessarily make it pleasant. I mean, okay, sure, there are books or stories or essays or what-have-you that are fun to read, but what if you get stuck editing something on a topic you dislike, or with a storyline that bores you, or with characters you want to smack into next week?

Being a person who will read the nutritional information on the side of the box if there is absolutely nothing else around to read...that doesn't sound too bad.

#16 ::: PiscusFiche ::: (view all by) ::: August 25, 2003, 05:02 PM:

Ditto on that. I read cereal boxes and shampoo bottles and the circular fliers that come with the newspaper. I read the Spanish poems on the bus. I am a Compulsive Reader(tm). Plus, I have snarky voices in the back of my head which make comments on subjects I don't like or on badly written stories.

(BTW, the best thing about reading packages in Canada was the fact that since I didn't understand French, I could run through the words and try to make links to their Latin suffixes to try and figure out what they said before reading the English translation.)

My mother used to take away the cereal boxes from me every morning because she was tired of me lurking behind the box and reading the ingredients list.

#17 ::: Tina ::: (view all by) ::: August 25, 2003, 05:29 PM:

You know, I feel a lot better realizing I am not alone in this cereal-box reading thing.

#18 ::: Andrew Willett ::: (view all by) ::: August 25, 2003, 05:30 PM:

Am I the only one to notice (tsk, tsk!) that this guy also doesn't believe in the use of the serial comma? (Said lack of use is, of course, the cause of the current fall of Western Civilization, As We Know It.)

::applauds by wiggling fingerbones::

#19 ::: Andrew Willett ::: (view all by) ::: August 25, 2003, 05:32 PM:

::heaves heavy sigh::

#20 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: August 25, 2003, 06:00 PM:

PiscusFiche, I thought I was the only one.

#21 ::: India ::: (view all by) ::: August 25, 2003, 06:44 PM:

Am I the only one to notice (tsk, tsk!) that this guy also doesn't believe in the use of the serial comma?

That's AP style, I'm afraid--and a very good reason not to read newspapers.

#22 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: August 25, 2003, 07:05 PM:

Canadian packaging has Strange Words in it. You discover that peanut butter has spiders in it, and that grapefruits have flamboyant personal lives.

#23 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: August 25, 2003, 07:07 PM:

Logan: "Jean, what was this guy thinking?"

Manuscript work on the bed is a marvelous thing. Not only is it comfortable (at least, once you get the pillows properly feng shuied, which is part of the total preparatory ritual) but there's room for all the various piles of sub-sorted pages one develops, and the coffee and oatmeal cookies can stay on the bedside table, comfortably separated from the paper.

Having a queen-size bed helps, but it's good for other things too.

Re cereal boxes: does anyone (else) recall "The Chex-Press," the parody newspaper that long ago adorned the back of Chex boxes? Various stories, weather reports, and the "No Pictures Comic Strip," a fine dramatic serial which an editorial apology that space restrictions did not allow publishing the illustrations. (Nurse Weems: "EEK!" Sound: Thud.") I found out years later that these were written by Ron Goulart.

#24 ::: PiscusFiche ::: (view all by) ::: August 25, 2003, 07:22 PM:

I read Chex religiously until I was about eighteen, but I don't remember this. When did they run these?

#25 ::: DaveK ::: (view all by) ::: August 25, 2003, 07:47 PM:

Hopes that something I wrote managed to at least evoke a smile and not too many red marks before being thrown over to the recycle pile.

#26 ::: Arthur D. Hlavaty ::: (view all by) ::: August 25, 2003, 08:08 PM:

Ah, someone in the tiny "more anal than I" group. I think "male" is a perfectly reasonable substantive, and if "everything is unique and nothing is," then if we can't talk about "more unique" (in more ways or more interesting ways), then we can't use the word at all.

#27 ::: Alan Bostick ::: (view all by) ::: August 25, 2003, 08:24 PM:

TNH: Wolverine's a line editor. He sits on an old sofa with his feet up, smoking a cigar, periodically scribbling notes in the margin like "Don't think so, bub; it was green two chapters back," or "The safety's on the other side on that model."

Wolverine, you say, or Jim MacDonald?

#28 ::: Alan Bostick ::: (view all by) ::: August 25, 2003, 08:28 PM:

John M. Ford: I found out years later that [the Chex-Press was] written by Ron Goulart.

Makes sense, actually. Goulart got his start writing for the Daily Californian, the student paper at UC Berkeley.

#29 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: August 25, 2003, 09:24 PM:

"Wolverine, you say, or Jim MacDonald?"

Jim Macdonald, perhaps. Maybe this "MacDonald" guy knows "Delaney"?

#30 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: August 25, 2003, 09:29 PM:

Mike: Oh, good line. Pity we can't get Doug Ramsay to interpret [somebody-or-other's] copyedits.

Pillow feng shui. Just so. Also the sub-stacks of paper, and the separate-but-accessible munchies. There's your real virtual reality setup: This is text, Neo. It has infinite connections throughout time and space. It goes on forever. You'll find the rules are different here...

Certainly I remember the Chex Press. I don't know why they discontinued it. There's little enough gets put on cereal boxes that anybody remembers for any reason. And didn't Life used to have reading matter on its box? Or am I confusing one square shreddy cereal with another?

Someone should hold Ron Goulart at gunpoint until he produces a complete primary bibliography of his work, since there's no other way you could ever compile one.

I expect you'll remember the great copy they had on the original Screaming Yellow Zonkers box. My mother and father and I were all startled by it: Hold it, that's actually good! It seemed only logical to find out, years later, that it had been written by Tom Disch.

Elizabeth, I don't recall the publication dates of the Chex Press, but I was both small and literate at the time, which narrows it down considerably if you also know that I was born in 1956.

Kate: Dog is okay? Should I go look?

DaveK: You are a writer. I can tell. Calm down and stop fretting. If you worry about whether other people enjoy your writing, you're almost guaranteed to be better than most of the slush pile.

Alan: Can't be Jim Macdonald if he's smoking a cigar. Must be someone Jim knows from Panama.

#31 ::: FranW ::: (view all by) ::: August 25, 2003, 09:40 PM:

Only, =only= Teresa could (at her desk, or wherever) edit a =one line postcard.=

It's a truly awesome thing to find in your mailbox at 7 a.m. :-D

#32 ::: FranW ::: (view all by) ::: August 25, 2003, 09:43 PM:

Only, =only= Teresa could (at her desk, or wherever) edit a =one line postcard.=

It's a truly awesome thing to find in your mailbox at 7 a.m. :-D

#33 ::: Elizabeth Bear ::: (view all by) ::: August 25, 2003, 09:44 PM:

You know, I feel a lot better realizing I am not alone in this cereal-box reading thing.

Cereal boxes. Dictionaries. I used to read the Collier's and World Book encyclopedias at my grandfather's house for fun. No wonder nobody liked me.

Celestial Seasonings tea has infinitely readable boxes, but they don't change them often.

#34 ::: Kate Nepveu ::: (view all by) ::: August 25, 2003, 09:59 PM:

Teresa, the dog is fine, thank you for asking. We think that the stress from not getting along with the other dog yesterday, plus the numerous and varied unfamiliar treats she was plied with while trying to get her to like the other dog, led to, err, considerable intestinal distress. And me being up basically since 3 a.m. for various reasons related thereto.

She's fine now (sleeping cutely on the floor; pictures have been taken, look for them in a few weeks at a website near you) and I'm going to bed Real Soon Now.

#35 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: August 25, 2003, 10:10 PM:

"We need sushi. Lots of sushi."
"I'm the . . . uh . . . one . . ."
"Stow it, flyboy. You picked up the blue pencil. And there's -one- 'n' in 'Zion.'"

#36 ::: Tina ::: (view all by) ::: August 25, 2003, 10:21 PM:

Teresa said:
"If you worry about whether other people enjoy your writing, you're almost guaranteed to be better than most of the slush pile."

I don't know how much you're joking here, but it occurs to me to ask: WHY would someone submit something to be published if they didn't at least WONDER whether or not other people would enjoy it? Or are you drawing a distinction between 'wonder' and 'worry'?

Which I could see. "Wow, look at my writing. Wonder if anyone would like it? Well, who cares? I just want to be paid for it!"

Anyhow. It really makes me wonder (there's that word again) what does end up getting submitted. I've heard all sorts of interesting stories, of course, but I would kill for a week alone with a slush pile just for the sake of morbid curiousity.

Probably also a roaring fire -- or, in a pinch, a shredder -- would be useful in that case.

(It also makes me wonder if any editor has ever been tempted to return a query with the words "CRAP, CRAP, CRAP!" written all over it. Well, no... strike that. It makes me wonder if anyone actually HAS.)

#37 ::: Robert L ::: (view all by) ::: August 25, 2003, 10:39 PM:

Piscus: Yes, you really do get to read all day long if you're a copy editor--but not necessarily what you would like to be reading. If you're lucky, though...
I too am an inveterate reader of any sort of packaging, or indeed any printed matter of any sort whatsoever...
The Copy Editing, Damnit guy is a little too tendentious for my taste. His posting on "whether" shows signs of tin ear. Give him a whack with that dictionary for me...

#38 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: August 25, 2003, 11:18 PM:

Elizabeth, I used to keep my dictionary in the bathroom...I "read" it hypertext fashion (remember hypertext before personal computers, the Web, etc? it was cumbersome), looking up words, reading down the page, cross-referencing, and taking the invitation "(see)" as a command.

It was fun.

I've only actually read one dictionary cover to cover, and it was a usage dictionary, so not quite as dry as your basic words & defs doorstop.

#39 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: August 25, 2003, 11:28 PM:

Teresa: sometimes when I read a little bit of dialogue between you and Patrick -- without ever doubting that you report it verbatim, mind you -- I think you must secretly be named Peter and Harriet.

I can only dream of having such a relationship. But oh, what a dream!

#40 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: August 25, 2003, 11:39 PM:

My partner in The Other Change of Hobbit, Dave Nee, was quite chuffed to get a large batch of the CHEXPRESS boxes at one point. I know he still has them Somewhere.

Don't count on Goulart being able to put together a primary bibliography. Like many hacks, I'm quite sure he didn't keep a good list -- fortunately, since he's still alive, he's likely to remember bits when confronted with them. [Note that I'm attempting to use "hack" in a non-pejorative sense as "a person who writes for money and tries to make it as good as he/she can given the constraints", which I completely believe describes Goulart, a man with a bizarre sense of humor who has managed to make it pay for several decades.]

Does anyone here know the word that the OED defines as 1. Green 2. Brown? I run across it every so often when I'm browsing, and keep forgetting to write it down in a place where I can find it. It's one of my favorite oddnesses in the OED....


#41 ::: Henry Richardson ::: (view all by) ::: August 25, 2003, 11:56 PM:

PiscusFiche & Xopher: I'm simply amazed to discover two other Compulsive Readers(tm). (I've always called myself a textoholic, but I like Compulsive Reader better. Thanks PiscusFiche!)

As for the copy editor's weblog, I note that in the "Mail is a Noun, Male is an Adjective" entry he misspelled Caucasian as Caucasion.

#42 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: August 26, 2003, 12:49 AM:

Robert, I have duly gone and had a look at the whether post.


Have I been missing something? I've always assumed that an unaccompanied "whether" had its "or not" bundled up and stowed in the trunk of the car. You can't see it, but you trust that it's there.

For instance, I read "Did you ask her whether she's coming to the movie with us?" as having an implied or not, not as evidence that "whether" can do without its company.

#43 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: August 26, 2003, 01:09 AM:

Some environments are really hard on compulsive readers.

Weekend before last, I was in a buffet in Las Vegas, desperately trying to stretch the "How to Play Keno" pamphlet through a large breakfast . . .

#44 ::: Barbara Nielsen ::: (view all by) ::: August 26, 2003, 01:11 AM:

Not only did I read all the labels in the bathroom medicine cabinets, but finishing that I would resort to counting the letters. How many E's? How many A's? I always rooted for the A's to beat the E's. (Pardon, AP Stylebook) Didn't happen. Then I would try to find the meter of the copy on the cereal boxes. "Kalamazoo, Direct to You. Kalamazoo, Michigan" I don't even remember the product, but the text had a good beat.
When I was young, reading material could be scarce, and one summer at the ranch all that I could find--other than the Bible--were the White House Cookbook (original edition) and the Complete Works of William Shakespeare. I read both and thus became an English major.

#45 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: August 26, 2003, 01:42 AM:

Mike: Oh, good line. Pity we can't get Doug Ramsay to interpret Sara Schwager's copyedits.

In this thread of all threads I am free to note that it was "Ramsey".

Tom: I am pretty sure that the word you want is "sinople". Neil Gaiman threw it into The Kindly Ones.

#46 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: August 26, 2003, 01:43 AM:

The common slush writer does not wonder, nor worry, if others will like his work.

He knows, with a solidity that makes mountain roots seem frothy as an egg cream, that anyone who reads so much as one line of his work will love it with a passion known hitherto only to five of the greatest lovers of the Classical Age. If it were not for those Cruel (and blind, and insensitve) Editors, barring the gates to all save Celebrities, his works would be published forthwith, and instantly leap to the top of whatever best seller list you cared to name. The confidence of a slush-heap writer in the brilliance of his prose, his plot, his characters, cannot be understated.

#47 ::: Brooks Moses ::: (view all by) ::: August 26, 2003, 01:44 AM:

Tina wrote: "I don't know how much you're joking here, but it occurs to me to ask: WHY would someone submit something to be published if they didn't at least WONDER whether or not other people would enjoy it?"

I'm fairly sure that the alternative being alluded to is the set of people who are absolutely positively certain that other people will enjoy what they've written; the question of whether other people would find it worth reading has never entered their minds....

#48 ::: Mary Kay ::: (view all by) ::: August 26, 2003, 01:49 AM:

Ah, compulsive reading. The worst 2 weeks of my life where when I had the 'bad' measles and wasn't allowed to read anything at all. It was thought to damage the eyes. Yes, cereal boxes, labels on food containers, the sticker the quick change oil place puts in the upper left hand corner of the windshield, if there's print in front of me I must read it. Even if I've read it often enough to know it by heart. I wonder if this *is* some sort of cognitive disorder. A sort of opposite of ADD.


#49 ::: Brooks Moses ::: (view all by) ::: August 26, 2003, 01:53 AM:

And I read the reply that James D. MacDonald wrote while I was writing mine, and I bow to a master of the art.

#50 ::: neil gaiman ::: (view all by) ::: August 26, 2003, 03:52 AM:

Actually sinople is 1. red 2. green -- and crept into The Kindly Ones after someone told me about it on Genie...

#51 ::: Elric ::: (view all by) ::: August 26, 2003, 07:24 AM:

And scarlet was originally a woolen fabric that came in two main colors--red and blue. I doubt you'll find any dictionary entry that says 1)red 2)blue for it though....

Serial comma? Nancy's favorite example of the importance of that little comma comes from a book that was honestly dedicated:

To my parents, Ayn Rand and God

What more need be said on that topic?

I'm also a compulsive reader. Yes, reading is a good thing. But there really are books you work on for which it becomes a chore. Usually when they are so badly written that the internal lack of consistency reduces you to yelling at the author, and at whatever turkey-brained idiot failed to look up in the shower that morning and celebrated their survival by buying the damned book. (I'm thinking of a nonfiction book I once had to go over, on which I found an average of three factual errors in every six- to twelve-line travel-guide entry. And I wasn't even fact-checking the book! Let's not even go into the grammatical flaws.)

#52 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: August 26, 2003, 07:48 AM:

Neil, there's also "vermeil", which either means "gilded silver, bronze, or copper" -- that is, bright metallic gold -- or "bright red". It makes up for this confusion by being the mnemonic that reminds us that "vermilion", a closely related word, is not spelled "vermillion".

David Goldfarb, happens I had the "proper names" default switched off the day the Spelling Fairy hit me on the head with her fairy-dinger. It's funny; I know that if ramsay/ramsey were a common noun or adjective, or if Doug ramsey were the scientific name of a plant, I'd have it down pat.

I have the same glitch with books and their titles. I remember the texts, but my memory for their titles can be alarmingly mutable.

#53 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: August 26, 2003, 07:48 AM:

Elric: Yes, I've heard that one about the dedication.

#54 ::: Kip W ::: (view all by) ::: August 26, 2003, 08:47 AM:

Reading cereal boxes: my favorite (probably due to youth) was Twinkles, "the only cereal in the storybook package." The back had a panel that opened out, and you read in the order of the numbered paragraphs, which went all over the box. Sadly, even in my pre-kindiegarden days, it took just one quick read and it was all over.

Zonkers: excellent package. So good that it was used (if memory serves) on the National Lampoon Radio Hour, possibly even in a commercial for 7-Up. I myself used my favorite tag line, albeit adopted, in AZAPA once: "Your dog will be amazed."

Reading dictionaries. Do encyclopedias count? I was younger, and anyway it was more a matter of diving into them like a dolphin and burrowing around in them like a gopher (I always stopped short of throwing them up in the air and letting them hit me on the head). I can think of at least one dictionary I did read all the way through: A Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue, written some centuries back in Old Blighty. Like Joe Miller's Jests, parts of it remain current, and others give a peek into a remarkable world I'm just as glad not to be living in. I was particularly fascinated to learn of the "choke-pear" (or "choak-pear"), a small metal gizmo in the shape of a pear that was thrust into someone's mouth. A key being turned, it became too large to remove, and ransom was demanded for its removal. At the time, I was pleased enough to see that my own age was not uniquely depraved, and there were even some bad things that we didn't do.

#55 ::: Anne ::: (view all by) ::: August 26, 2003, 09:53 AM:

I'll see your cereal boxes and raise you a phone book. I jokingly said to a psych prof that I have text-based OCD, and instead of laughing she said "Hm, I should do a study on whether grad school is a cause or an effect."

This summer I had a very odd experience: I read myself sick. I went through an astonishing number of words (starting with all of Brust except the new one, and ending with a half-dozen Dozois and Datlow/Windling anthologies) in something less than a week, and then wandered aimlessly around wondering why I didn't feel like reading anything. I didn't think it was possible! I'm looking forward to seeing if I can replicate the experiment. (Especially since it made all my emails come out sounding like Paarfi.)

#56 ::: Michelle ::: (view all by) ::: August 26, 2003, 09:56 AM:

One of the best things about being a Compulsive Reader and a grownup, is that I can bring books and magazines to the table and no one will yell at me for doing so.

Even though my parents are both Readers, meals were a time for Conversation not for reading. However my parents were made to regret this, as my brother and I could not stand to be in each other's presence for the better part of 15 years.

My favorite, and probably most annoying, reading habit is reading road signs. Aloud. Then making random comments about them (Of course being from West-by-God-Virgina makes this easier, as we have places like Big Ugly and Beaver which just invite commentary that can last for miles.)

#57 ::: Robert L ::: (view all by) ::: August 26, 2003, 09:58 AM:

Like a degenerate alcoholic who drinks the last drops of stale beer from nearly empty bottles, a true compulsive reader will read just about anything if nothing else is available. Even if it's not in English: I remember poring in fascination over a few pages of an Azerbaijani newspaper...
"Whether": sure it implies "or not," and I'm fine with "I wonder whether it'll rain," but to say "I'm going for a walk whether it rains" is true tin ear.
You shouldn't beat up on [a certain copyeditor who shall remain nameless]. I've seen her clean up difficult messes. There are better, but there are far worse, some of whom you know quite well and don't criticize.
Piscus, if you want a random sample, here's what's currently on my plate: a celebrity's self-help book, without too many problems on my end and which is actually decent enough, and even helpful, but is not really what I want to be reading; a comic novel with touches of magic realism, which I am thoroughly enjoying, but which needs a careful hand to fix some problems; and the index to a large restaurant guide, which is the reading equivalent of breaking up rocks with a sledgehammer--good exercise, but very exhausting, and not the sort of thing you want to do for too long at a stretch...

#58 ::: LNHammer ::: (view all by) ::: August 26, 2003, 11:06 AM:

There are worse voices to take on than Paarfi. While Geoff Chaucer is a better writer, he's less readable by the modern email audience (it took a week for Troilus and Criseyde wear off).

<wistful sigh at the thought of being a trade, instead of technical, copy editor>


#59 ::: Tina ::: (view all by) ::: August 26, 2003, 11:27 AM:

Oh. For some reason it never occurred to me that arrogance replaced worry (or wonder) in (some) people who submit their prose professionally.

You know, the more I hear about it, the more I think slush piles are much like collections of fanfic. I mean, there IS good fanfic, but it's rare and you have to wade through a lot of crap to get to it.

#60 ::: PiscusFiche ::: (view all by) ::: August 26, 2003, 11:39 AM:

Not only did I read all the labels in the bathroom medicine cabinets, but finishing that I would resort to counting the letters. How many E's? How many A's? I always rooted for the A's to beat the E's. (Pardon, AP Stylebook) Didn't happen.

Barbara: Oh, you've reminded me of some things I used to do. I used to keep track of the last letter of every book I used to read. I really was excited when books ended in R or E. (R was my favourite letter when I was little. E is my first initial.) I also used to count syllables on the cereal box ingredients--niacinamide with five syllables was the longest one I remember from the Chex box.

Robert: That listing of restaurants sounds a little scary. Addresses? Or menus too?

#61 ::: Alan Bostick ::: (view all by) ::: August 26, 2003, 11:48 AM:


"Spelling flames are the last refuge of the incompetent." — Salvor Hardin
(Quoted in the "Iteration" trilogy: Iteration, Iteration and Decrement, and Second Iteration.

#62 ::: erik nelson ::: (view all by) ::: August 26, 2003, 01:20 PM:

You can't tell by merely a small sample of text whether you are hearing the true voice of anything. Alan Turing had something to say about that.

#63 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: August 26, 2003, 01:46 PM:

Robert, I'll of course believe you if you say she's cleaned up some serious messes. Please believe me when I say she's caused more than a few of them. The worst that come back under her name tend to be marked in two different hands. I know your views on subcontracting aren't as severe as mine, but those copyedits were definitely not an argument in its favor. She also seems to have poorer judgement, a worse ear, and a real lack of sympathetic imagination when it comes to variant or specialized English -- fantasy, sf, historical, military, etc. Her track record's better with modern literary English.

I don't mind the failings as much as I mind her not knowing she has them.

I'm not sure which inadequate copyeditors you have in mind. I know quite a few.

(Just watch. I'll bet you that if Terry McGarry reads that, she'll be worried that we mean her.) (Yo, Terry! Of course we don't mean you.)

Erik: I'm sure that Mr. Turing formulated a perfectly splendid general rule.

#64 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: August 26, 2003, 01:51 PM:

Robert, on second thought, tell me about it in e-mail.

#65 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: August 26, 2003, 03:40 PM:

A sort of opposite of ADD.

No, it's perfectly compatible with ADD, which I have. (Actually I have ADHD, which is the same thing PLUS you can't sit still.) ADD is slightly misnamed; it's actually a diffusion of attention, and an inconsistency. ADD people have a hyperfocus that's very intense; it's why it's hard to get us back on task once we're distracted.

So: the text is just one of the distractors in the field. If the text is long you may go hyperfocus OR be distracted by something else.

And Elric, of course she's heard that one about the dedication, it's in "On Copyediting." I agree with you that it shows beyond doubt that a rule against serial commas (like most rules as opposed to principles) will have a stupid result in many cases. I've never seen an example where a serial comma caused confusion (or can't think of one right now), so maybe a rule mandating them (like NESFA Press's) isn't such a bad thing. But I think flexibility in the hands of a person with a good ear/eye promotes elegance.

#66 ::: David Hertzig ::: (view all by) ::: August 26, 2003, 03:56 PM:

Here's my own most irritating compulsive reading habit.... one of the reasons I have grown to loathe hand dryers in public restrooms is that I am compelled to read the operating instructions on them every single time....

(I've been lurking at this blog for a few weeks now... I enjoy it tremendously.)

#67 ::: Jeremy Leader ::: (view all by) ::: August 26, 2003, 04:00 PM:

Before I could read, I was fascinated by old copies of the Yellow Pages (back when each town only had one) that my folks let me play with. All those pictures, and surely all the information in the world contained therein!

Yes, I too read cereal boxes, labels, and more. But many years ago I realized that not only can't I read all the text in the world, I won't even be able to read all the good stuff. For one thing, you stinkers keep making more! But I'll still at least skim just about anything textual that passes in front of my eyes.

#68 ::: Holly M. ::: (view all by) ::: August 26, 2003, 04:17 PM:

Gawd, stop griping about slush piles. I'm depressed enough as it is. /whine

#69 ::: language hat ::: (view all by) ::: August 26, 2003, 04:26 PM:

to say "I'm going for a walk whether it rains" is true tin ear

It's also true straw man; no native speaker of English would ever say or write such a line. This is one of the many things that irritate me about self-appointed style mavens; they think nothing of inventing ridiculous sentences to "prove" their point.

And let me join the mob and say the linked ("DAMNIT") blog is extremely annoying. Saying James Brown (!) should say "I am well" rather than "I feel good" goes beyond silliness into downright insanity. Pretending "hopefully" can't be used as a sentence adverb (unlike, say, "happily"?) is dumb. And why suddenly say "This isn't one to make a big stink about because practically everybody does it" when it comes to "I could care less"? Feh. This particular editor is not impressed.

#70 ::: BSD ::: (view all by) ::: August 26, 2003, 04:30 PM:

Ah, Compulsive Reading. Even when I know what it says, even when I just read it, even when I don't care what it says, even when it's all of the above, written material draws my eyes like a magnet.

And I still lose time if I pick up a book when I shouldn't.

#71 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: August 26, 2003, 04:38 PM:

language hat, I'm sure you know that sometimes a nonoccurring sentence is "invented" to point out that a certain usage is NOT possible...I read that example as showing that sometimes the 'or not' bit can't be left out.

I think you're wrong that a native speaker of English couldn't write that. They could, if they edited a perfectly normal sentence, and were too sleepy to proofread. No, they wouldn't say it, and wouldn't write it straight out. But it could occur as a result of misediting.

All of which is beside your point. But 'whether' includes 'or not' in some cases, but not others, and perhaps Robert should have said "No one, of course, would write

*I'm going for a walk whether it rains
--and no one should let it go past in copyediting, either!" But he wasn't writing a linguistics paper, after all.

#72 ::: aphrael ::: (view all by) ::: August 26, 2003, 04:57 PM:

Teresa - I have the same reaction as you (that a stand-alone 'whether' carries an implied 'or not'). A stand-alone 'whether' with no implied 'or not' would sound as wrong as a stand-alone 'neither'.

#73 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: August 26, 2003, 05:09 PM:

Which of these alternatives works? Neither.

Looks atand-alone to me.


#74 ::: tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: August 26, 2003, 05:13 PM:

"stand", not "atand"

#75 ::: language hat ::: (view all by) ::: August 26, 2003, 08:12 PM:

Xopher: Your suggested rewording is fine with me.

#76 ::: Robert L ::: (view all by) ::: August 27, 2003, 12:08 AM:

Here's the man himself. I assume he is a native speaker of English:

Sentence 1: Whether or not you come with me, I'm going.
Sentence 2: I'm going whether you come with me or not.
Sentence 3: Whether you come with me, I'm still going.
Sentence 4: I'm going whether you come with me.

What just sounds the best? I say the third. But most people would say the first or second. Here's the problem with those: The "not" is standing in for "don't." As in you "you don't come with me." Where does "not" logically fit in? "Whether you not come with me"? I don't think so.

Just trust me on this one, "whether" stays on its own, whether you agree with me is another story.

(Note that the last "sentence" is two sentences run-on.)

Piscus: Nope, just name of restaurant, address, cross-streets, phone, and cuisine, grouped by neighborhood (so that I have to note not merely that the address appears correct, but that it's in the right category. Finished that; tomorrow they offered me big $$ to read another. At this point I should tell you that I'm a former NYC taxi driver and thus have a much more detailed knowledge of NYC geography than the average Gothamite--and it's improved considerably as a result of working on things like this a good bit over the last few years. So that I can see a lot of things and be pretty sure they're right or wrong without looking up every last one. This kind of walking-encyclopedia knowledge (film and popular music are two of my things) for "damage control" fact-checking is a basic skill one ought to have for this sort of work--it's often essentially knowing how to spell, but extending it to proper names.

#77 ::: Faren Miller ::: (view all by) ::: August 27, 2003, 12:23 AM:

A closer thing to an ideal job for a compulsive reader might be mine -- book reviewer for a mag that doesn't encourage you to review trash just to make fun of it. The pay's strictly "supplemental," and I have to get plenty of magazines and British cryptic crossword books to cover my mealtimes, but overall reviewing is pretty satisfying (if not as useful as good copy editing). I used to copy edit as well, for Locus, but it just made me fanatically finicky -- though my hatred for misuses of "comprise" dates back to my college days, and is ever with me....

#78 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: August 27, 2003, 04:57 AM:

The "God and Ayn Rand" serial comma thing is possibly apocryphal, but there's one along the same lines that Rob Hansen spotted in the TV listings of The Times:

Planet Ustinov - Monday, C4, 8pm

By train, plane and sedan chair, Peter Ustinov retraces a journey made by Mark Twain a century ago. The highlights of his global tour include encounters with Nelson Mandela, an 800-year-old demigod and a dildo collector.

#79 ::: cd ::: (view all by) ::: August 27, 2003, 06:46 AM:

David Herzig: this (in a slightly different way) is the way almost every Swede learns his sole Finnish sentence: "Ei Saa Peite4e4". (It means "do not cover", and is a warning label on heating elements.)

Very useful as a swearword, too.

#80 ::: Jo Walton ::: (view all by) ::: August 29, 2003, 08:47 AM:

I want the book dedicated by Ayn Rand's messianic son, I wish I knew what it was.

As for reading everything, in Britain sometimes ingredients come in a multitude of fascinating European languages, and one can spend a pleasant hour in a doctor's waiting room reading a Toblerone wrapper and musing on the variant forms of "honey/miel" and "almonds" across continental Europe.

#81 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: August 29, 2003, 08:55 AM:

BCN, PiscusFiche (hi Mom, hi Elizabeth): I didn't root for one vowel over another, but once I'd learned to type, I played games with right hand vs. left, looking for interesting patterns, symmetries, one-hand words, etc.

My peculiar relationship with vowels is that I know where they are. Sometimes, if I can't remember a word I want, I'll nevertheless remember how long it is and where the vowels fall in it, though I won't remember which ones they are until I remember the word itself.

Language Hat: Amen, amen. The natural phrase is I'm going for a walk[,] even if it rains, or I'm going for a walk[,] whether or not it rains.

Damnit's I'm going for a walk whether it rains (which Robert justly deprecated) is confusing rather than concise. It takes maybe one second to say or read that supposedly superfluous or not. It takes longer than that for the reader to figure out what the sentence means without it, which interrupts the flow of compiled meaning. In spoken language, using Damnit's preferred construction would mean the hearer wouldn't properly assimilate the next sentence or two while they were sorting out the confusion.

"I feel good" is purely colloquial and instantly understandable. "Hopefully" has been used as an adverb for centuries. And to strain at those gnats but swallow the camel-gauge "I could care less" is just bizarre.

The heart of copyediting isn't applying correct rules; it's making good judgements.

Thomas, Atandalonë was a Numenorean records clerk, famed for her rectitude.

#82 ::: Robert L ::: (view all by) ::: August 30, 2003, 12:12 PM:

Teresa: You mean judgments. And to anticipate: OK, go find 100 American books. Shouldn't be dfficult in your pad. I'll wait....Ok, got 'em? Now, turn to the front or back of each one and see if it has an acknowledgments page. See how that word is spelled on each one.
Jo: European labels are great. You get not just French, like Canadian things, but Spanish, Italian, German, Ditch, Portuguese...soon they'll have to include Hungarian too.

#83 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: August 30, 2003, 12:30 PM:

When we were blowing up the tropical island at Westercon (How many worldcon chairs does it take to blow up a tropical island? Two, but they need lots of help...). it was great fun to look at the instructions in something like 20 languages, including several I just couldn't identify. Fortunately, we didn't need the instructions to flatten the island (How many Worldcon Chairs does it take to flatten a tropical island? Three, and they can almost do it alone).

And figuring out where to put the periods in those parentheses is a very interesting exercise....

tom, not attending worldcon and missing many friends

#84 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: August 30, 2003, 09:34 PM:

I meant judgements, Robert, and acknowledgements, just like I did the last several dozen times we've disagreed about them. I acknowledge that your preferred versions are the preponderant American usage, but I like the other spellings better; and liking them is within the range of allowable variation as long as one is consistent about it, which I am.

I've never understood why this bothers you so much.

#85 ::: Tina ::: (view all by) ::: August 31, 2003, 12:56 AM:

I only need to crack open *one* book to see that 'judgement' and 'judgment' are equally correct. That book would be the dictionary. And I'm *pretty* sure the American Heritage Dictionary is, y'know, American.

(Although strictly speaking I did not crack open a book; I looked it up online, that being where I was. The source remains the same.)

I hate the latter spelling. It looks incomplete. I sha'n't use it.

#86 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: August 31, 2003, 01:16 AM:

Tina, I should warn you that while you're perfectly welcome to be there, the territory where you're standing is in the line of fire.

#87 ::: Robert L ::: (view all by) ::: August 31, 2003, 02:09 AM:

Well, Teresa, you should know I'm tweaking you by now. And of course, if you were British, or even Canadian, you'd get no smart remarks from me. I even know more than one American who affects to write "favour" (etc.) too...and if they enjoy themselves, who am I to rain on their parade? Or, for that matter (since I believe you're at Worldcon) if they want to wear 3-foot peacock feathers in their hats and refer to themselves as the Grand Poo-bah. (I realize that last bit has grammatical problems, for that matter, but I don't feel like fixing them.)
But if you ask me whether I think they're being silly...

#88 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: August 31, 2003, 08:18 AM:

No, silly is beliving in the real existence of "subtext."

#89 ::: Kip W ::: (view all by) ::: August 31, 2003, 09:55 AM:

I won't even point out what I'm not pointing out here.

(Nor will I mention that, nine times out of ten, I type "memers" in my URL and have to correct it.)

#90 ::: Clark Myers ::: (view all by) ::: August 31, 2003, 05:20 PM:

Possibly apocryphal has long been a peeve of mine given my understanding that the implication of possibly apocryphal is certainly apocryphal; taking apocryphal to mean of dubious origin not to mean contrived or made up. That it should pass without comment in this group leaves me wondering if I should accept possibly apocryphal as popular usage, perhaps implying a different sense? Of course possibly apocryphal embraces certainly apocryphal just as or embraces both and/or and XOR in common usage but the usage still brings me up short.

Not sure the American Heritage Dictionary is all that American - or perhaps Jacques Barzun of the usage board has been absorbed. He did a marvelous piece for the American Scholar years ago on the value of a good copy editor and yet the joy of being able to claim his standing on the usage board should allow him to veto the editor's dictionary reference.

#91 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: August 31, 2003, 05:59 PM:

Clark, there's a world of difference between knowing and suspecting that something is of dubious origin.

You may simply doubt its origin.

You may or may not possess the information that establishes that its origin is dubious.

That information may or may not exist.

Your knowing whether or not that information exists is itself a separate piece of information, which you might or might not have.

Apocryphality is not a simple matter.

#92 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: August 31, 2003, 06:44 PM:

The precise origin of the wheel and axle is dubious -- there's a great deal of doubt about exactly how it happened. This does not make the wheel and axle apocryphal, at least in my book. Which is the inverse of what TNH was talking about, oddly enough.

Which leads me to a question, as I play with this -- can only stories be apocryphal, or (for example) might one think any of the following are apocryphal objects:
1. The Shroud of Turin
2. The Holy Grail
3. A faster-than-light drive
4. quarks
5. anti-matter
6. dark matter
7. dark energy

Or am I throwing cats among the pigeons?


#93 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: August 31, 2003, 08:57 PM:

The existence of the Shroud of Turin is not apocryphal. It's there. We've seen it. Where it came from and what it signifies -- well, that's something else again. The Holy Grail is apocryphal in that it may not exist (in any normal sense). Both items have their apocryphal aspects, and additional stories are told about them that may be apocryphal in their turn. And then there's the Pastafazool Cycle.

#94 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: September 01, 2003, 12:57 AM:

"Apocryphal" means secret, hidden, or obscure.

#95 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: September 01, 2003, 04:59 AM:

Robert L writes:
Sentence 1: Whether or not you come with me, I'm going.
Sentence 2: I'm going whether you come with me or not.
Sentence 3: Whether you come with me, I'm still going.
Sentence 4: I'm going whether you come with me.

What just sounds the best? I say the third.

I was just reviewing the comment thread and I'm amazed this hasn't attracted comment -- in my idiolect, sentences 3 and 4 are just wrong. I don't know whether others parse them all right....

(Anyone got a good rule on when "whether" can be used as a standalone? It's not obvious to me.)

#96 ::: Anne ::: (view all by) ::: September 01, 2003, 09:19 AM:

My favorite definition of "apocryphal" is "it didn't happen, but it should have."

Teresa, what is the Pastafazool Cycle, and where may I lay my hands on a copy?

#97 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: September 01, 2003, 01:39 PM:

The Pastafazool Cycle is a meme invented by TNH which is included in her truly wonderful volume MAKING BOOK, which describe the problems involved in research from secondary sources. If you do not own a copy of MAKING BOOK, you should. I have no financial interest in the book, even though my name appears in it a few times....

#98 ::: LNHammer ::: (view all by) ::: September 01, 2003, 02:34 PM:

Short shameful confession: I've sometimes thought of writing a canto of Pastafazooliana, just to ease some of it's apocryphality.


#99 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: September 01, 2003, 04:48 PM:

Returning to my question, is "apocryphal" only an adjective to describe texts, unless used in an imprecise metaphorical manner as Patrick ascribed to my use of violence in regard to communication in another forum (and I actually applaud his desire to keep words and phrases meaningful)? If so, are there other words which only relate to texts rather than physical objects? It's an odd _linguistic_ question, which is the spirit in which I brought it up.


#100 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: September 01, 2003, 08:07 PM:

Those who want to buy a copy of Miss Teresa's Making Book need only look at the link under her picture here in this web log.

#101 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: September 01, 2003, 10:17 PM:

A more immediate-gratification way of getting Making Book.

#102 ::: Kevin J. Maroney ::: (view all by) ::: September 01, 2003, 11:33 PM:

There are people who are paid a little money to spend a lot of time puzzling over what words mean when people use them. The fruits of these efforts are compiled into texts which can be accessed for the betterment of mankind.

1 : of doubtful authenticity : SPURIOUS
2 often capitalized : of or resembling the Apocrypha"

I would say that none of the things Tom listed are "apocyrphal". However, the tale of the Shroud being the burial cloth of Jesus of Galilee is apocryphal or probably apocryphal, depending on the degree of certainty you bring to the subject.

#103 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: September 02, 2003, 06:36 AM:

Kevin -- yes, lexicographers and dictionaries exist. This forum, however, contains a significant number of highly sophisticated users (and abusers!) of the language, who can talk about a usage question in a much more sophisticated manner than anything short of an Espy or Safire essay. The usage question remains:

In your (generic "you" for the readers of this blog) mind, does the term "apocryphal" refer (in general usage, not allowing for the occasional metaphoric) only to stories, or can it refer directly to physical objects as well?

I'm actually curious about this. I found that in my mind it does refer to stories, and I'm wondering whether this is true for others. Dictionary citations, unless they specifically refer to this distinction, are a sidebar.


#104 ::: Anne ::: (view all by) ::: September 02, 2003, 10:18 AM:

James: Thanks! I'll also pick up _The Price of the Stars_ while I'm at it. I got the whole Mageworlds series at Half-Price this weekend, but failed to notice that a cat had marked _TPOTS_ as its very own...

Tom: In my idiolect, "apocryphal" is used for stories only. For an object like the Shroud of Turin, I'd say "of dubious authenticity." But I've no idea what adjective to use for an object that doesn't exist but ought to, like the Holy Grail or Nimue's working notes. I will continue to cudgel my brain.

P.S. I just solicited a colleague's opinion, and she agrees that "apocryphal" is only for stories, and that the equivalent for objects will take some thought.

#105 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: September 02, 2003, 10:52 AM:

Tom -

That Depends.

The various mystical powers attributed to the Oriflame, frex, are pretty clearly apocryphal, while the Oriflame itself is not.

I don't think there's a use of apocryphal laundry I wouldn't have trouble with; very careful Douglas Adams style humour, perhaps, but it would be a tricky thing.

Something mentioned in traveller's tales that ought to be a real thing -- the apocryphal furred trout of Lake Superior, the apocryphal Clapping Mountains of Baffin Island -- would be ok.

I think it has to at least reference a story somewhere to be a good use of apocryphal.

#106 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: September 02, 2003, 11:00 AM:

Such a thread.

I would have to weigh in that, "apocryphal" is for stories. Things are, or they aren't.

I also wan to chime in that I think judgement, and aknowledgement need that "e".

For the rest, I am all over the map. I agree that this blogger has a bit of a tin ear for some of the language, but some of his peeves are mine (unique isn't modifiable, and I dislike the misuse of hopefully [then again, I often feel I am fighting a forlorn, rear-guard action for the salvation of the adverb. I so want to ask people, "at what?" when the respond to, "How are you?" with, "I'm good."]).

On the other hand, he is arguing for newspaper, not literary, nor even colloquial usage, and as such I am willing to cut him some slack. Certainly that he is willing to make the effort to get people looking at the language is not to be gainsayed. I tend to think those who read his blog are going to be those with some interest in usage, and as such will do, as we are doing, a bit of noodling on the arguments he makes, whether, or not, they agree, and that is not a bad thing.

Terry K.

#107 ::: Alan Bostick ::: (view all by) ::: September 02, 2003, 01:17 PM:

Usage is king. Prevailing American usage is to leave the "e" out of judgment.

(The principle that "usage is king" is as likely to start fights in this crowd as it is to settle them.)

#108 ::: Anne ::: (view all by) ::: September 02, 2003, 01:23 PM:

Weak brainstorm, in between classes: objects such as perpetual-motion machines and the Holy Grail may be said to be "of debatable existence." Inelegant but comprehensible.

#109 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: September 02, 2003, 01:46 PM:

Since we're not a monarchy, Alan, usage being king doesn't carry quite as much weight as it might in some other society.

Ducks, running away rapidly.


#110 ::: little-minded hobgoblin ::: (view all by) ::: September 02, 2003, 03:59 PM:

Shouldn't it be "usag", then?

#111 ::: language hat ::: (view all by) ::: September 02, 2003, 05:01 PM:

I dislike the misuse of hopefully

You mean using it instead of, say, 'hopelessly'? The sentence-adverbial use is no more a "misuse" than that of "happily" or "sadly" or "fortunately." You have fallen victim to a gang of linguistic nostrum-peddlers; make sure you still have your wallet!

I too feel "apocryphal" can only be used of stories. (And James D. Macdonald, it does not mean 'secret, hidden, or obscure.')

#112 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: September 02, 2003, 11:13 PM:

"The dandelions brushed against my legs, hopefully leaving their seeds on me." Example of the old usage, made very confusing by the new usage.

Usage is king, but the majority does not rule. Usage can make something acceptable that previously wasn't, but it makes something UNacceptable much more slowly.

I just use my own judgement.

#113 ::: Lydia Nickerson ::: (view all by) ::: September 03, 2003, 12:20 AM:

I think that things can be apocryphal if they are a story element. Hence, the Holy Grail is apocryphal; it's primary existence is as an element of a story. Physical objects that are easily seen and touched acquire a reality which prevents them being apocryphal. The Flatiron building may be improbable, but it isn't apocryphal. Should the Holy Grail show up tomorrow, it will lose its apocryphality, but the stories will retain that same characteristic which I will not render a second time, since that noun is clearly some sort of serious crime. Should it be spelled with two ells, do you think?

#114 ::: Anne ::: (view all by) ::: September 03, 2003, 08:51 AM:

Dingdingding! Lydia's post reminded me of another thread, which gave me an epiphany. The equivalent of "apocryphal" for nouns is "MacGuffin."

Furthermore, I believe the noun form of "apocryphal" is "apocryphalnessosity."

#115 ::: Anne ::: (view all by) ::: September 03, 2003, 09:34 AM:

By the way, Lydia, words should be spelled with two ells only if they are made up out of whole cloth.

#116 ::: Eloise Mason ::: (view all by) ::: September 03, 2003, 10:10 AM:

Neil, there's also "vermeil", which either means "gilded silver, bronze, or copper" -- that is, bright metallic gold -- or "bright red".

Ooh, ooh, I know that one!! When you're doing gilded illumination (in a medieval manuscript, frex), you first lay down a nice bright red, then put the glue on it and gild it. Why? Because the red gleaming through microtears in the gilding makes the gold glow better. However, if the glue gives out, you get red letters/pictures instead of gold ones.

Oh, and for emergency bathroom reading, nothing beats keeping a bottle of Dr. Bronner's Peppermint Soap around. All-One!

#117 ::: Caroline Yeldham ::: (view all by) ::: September 03, 2003, 11:07 AM:

Surely the equivalent of 'apocryphal' for things is spurious? (of which the noun form is 'spuriosity' - I love dictionnaries!)

I agree with David Goldfarb - Sentences 3 and 4 are wrong, and worse than that, ugly.

#118 ::: Tina ::: (view all by) ::: September 03, 2003, 01:36 PM:

Usage is king?

Well, in that case, we should be ending all "word's" that used to end in s with an apostrophe before the s, shouldn't we? After all, that's how most people seem to do it these days.

The prevailing American spelling of the word may be 'judgment', but you still find it as 'judgement' some places. It's not wrong, it's simply unusual.

This is a pet peeve of mine. Actually, not so much a pet as a ravening wild beast. 'Preferred' and 'correct' are not the same word by either definition or connotation, and 'alternate' still does not mean 'incorrect'. I prefer the spelling with an 'e' in the center. So do other people. Some American publications do use that spelling, even if it's less common than the one without. Harping on it not being the 'right' way is pointless.

I daresay it's even spurious.

(The word I most commonly associate with apocryphal is 'mythical', by the way.)

#119 ::: language hat ::: (view all by) ::: September 03, 2003, 04:23 PM:

Well, in that case, we should be ending all "word's" that used to end in s with an apostrophe before the s, shouldn't we? After all, that's how most people seem to do it these days.

Actually, that's how the apostrophe was originally used. I'd be very curious to know how you justify the current degenerate restriction to possessives.

#120 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: September 03, 2003, 05:37 PM:

Sorry, language hat, you're wrong there. Apostrophes were introduced to indicate where letters have been left out. Old possessives all had the extra vowel (so the poss. of 'Beowulf' was 'Beowulves', pronounced bay o wool ves). That vowel was dropped for most nouns, and the apostrophe instroduced to indicate its absense ('Beowulf's').

Note that the OED says it was used in plurals when an e was being left out, and in all possessives eventually. The greengrocers aren't hearkening back to a usage formerly correct, they're inventing a new one -- one that isn't correct today, but may be in a hundred years, if Titivolus so curses us.

Exception: if they say "Potato's" or "Mango's" or "Avocado's" they're using the old form. But it's still incorrect today, sorry.

#121 ::: Tina ::: (view all by) ::: September 03, 2003, 06:02 PM:

There's a difference, as Xopher has pointed out, between the original use and today's use, so in theory I don't really need to go on, but certainly, I'll expand on where I'm coming from here.

Lingual drift is inevitable. Words that once meant one thing now mean their opposite; specifics become generics; words derived from other words end up meaning things having nothing to do with their original derivation. I accept that. I use what dictionaries and grammars say are correct usage these days.

But the dictionary says that both spellings are appropriate for judgement (and acknowledgement), and the fact that majority use judgment in this country does not stop it from being also correct to spell it the way I prefer. (Likewise, current grammar books indicate that the apostrophe with an s indicates possessives, not plurals, and likewise do I stick to that.)

The argument here is not "but it used to be correct, so it should still be correct". The argument here is "it may not be the more frequently chosen spelling but it is a valid alternate".

If at some point, the majority becomes so vast as to cause 'judgement' to no longer be considered an alternate spelling for American English -- if it truly becomes incorrect, and not simply a matter of preference -- then I shall... well, likely I would continue spelling it that way anyhow, but I'd accept there was a point to correcting that usage.

As it stands now, however, that isn't the case. And if it were on this issue, it would still get my goat if people argued that 'preferred' and 'usual' were the same as 'correct'.

For personal usage, at least, I have some preferences that don't match typical American expectations. I tend to type 'colour' at least as often as I type 'color', presumably because I encounter it both ways regularly (British friends, British books, British clients at work). I write the colour that is between black and white as 'grey', because for some reason 'gray' looks wrong to me -- unless I'm discussing 'grayscale' images, in which case it's always with an 'a'. I use an 'e' in judgement and acknowledgement. But none of these are incorrect. They are simply not typical. (Likewise my usage of "sha'n't" instead of "shan't, which I only mention because it's an illustration of the "apostrophe replaces a letter" principle.)

Nobody has any trouble understanding these words if I spell them differently. Most people -- at least people online -- even probably frequently encounter those spellings. So kicking up a fuss because one prefers the other spelling seems specious, spurious, and probably some other words starting with 'sp'. I don't leap to correct someone if they say 'judgment', even though that spelling makes me twitch uncontrollably. I'd just as soon no one leapt to correct the alternate spelling.

#122 ::: Bill Higgins-- Beam Jockey ::: (view all by) ::: September 03, 2003, 09:08 PM:

Xopher writes:

"Usage is king, but the majority does not rule. Usage can make something acceptable that previously wasn't, but it makes something UNacceptable much more slowly.

"I just use my own judgement."

Me, I could care less.

#123 ::: language hat ::: (view all by) ::: September 03, 2003, 09:11 PM:

Xopher: Nice try, but talk about nitpicking! You know as well as I do that the people who decry the use in plurals don't give a damn whether "a letter has been left out" or not; their attitude is that the plural use is a damn'd innovation and should be pitilessly rooted out. I find it extremely amusing that the plural use is as original as the possessive, and I repeat that I would love to hear the attempted justifications once such purists learn the awful truth.

Tina: I have absolutely no problem with your usages or your attitude; so long as you "don't leap to correct someone" if they use a different form (and presumably don't look down on them), you're a linguistic democrat, my favorite species.

It should be clear, but I'll make it explicit just in case, that I do not think the centuries-old use mentioned in the OED has any bearing on what people should write today; whatever people use is "correct" (if one insists on that prescriptive word), and they are under no obligation to maintain the usage of long-dead ancestors. But prescriptivists who do lean on past usage for their justifications have some serious thinking to do.

#124 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: September 03, 2003, 10:33 PM:

Nitpicking. Me. Hmm.

Did you know that the use of 'they' as 3rd person singular indefinite-gender has a similar history? 16th Century IIRC.

#125 ::: language hat ::: (view all by) ::: September 03, 2003, 10:36 PM:

Sure, I wrote a post about it. And don't get me wrong, I love nitpicking - but you gotta pick the right nits.

#126 ::: Tina ::: (view all by) ::: September 03, 2003, 10:49 PM:

I prefer to think of myself as a linguistic moderate. :)

#127 ::: Robert L ::: (view all by) ::: September 04, 2003, 01:12 AM:

The prevailing American spelling of the word may be 'judgment', but you still find it as 'judgement' some places. It's not wrong, it's simply unusual.

Of course you do; those places are called England, Canada, New Zealand...the same plaes where they write "colour," "meagre," "oesophagus," and "manoeuvre"--and use single quotes instead of double ones...

I usage were king, not only would plurals end in-'s, but "accommodate" would be spelled "accomadate." Nevertheless, I think that not so long from now, "nite" will be the standard spelling...

#128 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: September 04, 2003, 10:27 AM:

Nitpicks are us (What did the dyslexic Russian pirate say? Ya, Ya, Ya. A transliteration joke for the seriously weird)

Xopher -- Ayrton spelled that "Titivulus", rather than "Titivolus" (nitpick from one of the few people who's actually read that wonderful book -- has someone pirated it online?).

Robert, are you imitating Ephless Elmer Purdue?
("I usage were king...")


#129 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: September 04, 2003, 10:35 AM:

To nitpick myself, that should have been "Perdue" rather than "Purdue" -- the problems of writing before my brain has fully engaged....


#130 ::: Robert L ::: (view all by) ::: September 04, 2003, 11:08 AM:

No, I just made 2 typos in my post--should've been "If" and "in -s'"...I always say (and a book on proofreading I saw the other day agreed) that the most difficul errors to catch are the ones in your own copy.
Who is Ephless Elmer Perdue? He sounds like Dr. Seuss character.

#131 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: September 04, 2003, 11:52 AM:

Elmer Purdue didn't have an F key on his typewriter.

I am not a fan.

#132 ::: Michelle ::: (view all by) ::: September 04, 2003, 12:59 PM:

Robert L:
I always say (and a book on proofreading I saw the other day agreed) that the most difficul errors to catch are the ones in your own copy.

I don't know if you meant the spelling of 'difficul' or not, but it made me laugh. Thank you!

#133 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: September 04, 2003, 03:34 PM:

Tom - I don't know the book of which you speak...I got mine from medieval calligraphy traditions (via the SCA), wherein T. is the Patron Demon of Calligraphy. Spelling his name correctly is tantamount to invoking him; you will note you misspelled someone else's name in the very same post. Not that this is calligraphy, not by any stretch.

Seriously, I don't vouch for my spelling.

I got your Russian pirate joke. It took a minute.

#134 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: September 04, 2003, 03:58 PM:

Xopher -- I'd love to see a citation from before 1953, when Ayrton's book was published. Hint -- google only gives later citations, and not very many of them: a dozen with Ayrton's spelling, and two with the one you used here. As I said, it's an obscure book (TITIVULUS, OR THE VERBIAGE COLLECTOR, about a demon who collects bad English -- though he has large ears, he's completely deaf). Michael Ayrton is a fascinating writer (one of the many fantasy authors to do covers for his own books) -- his retelling of the Theseus legend, THE MAZE MAKER, is especially good.


#135 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: September 04, 2003, 05:16 PM:

Ayrton, that lately-come fellow? Tutivillus (sometimes Titivillus) is a staple of later Medieval literature, and can be found in a 15th century anonymous poem in the Bodleian, MS. Douce 104 (21678), f.112b; also in R. T. Davies, Medieval English Lyrics, p. 198, poem 103 (Faber, 1966):

Tutivillus, the devil of hell,
He writeth har names, sothe to tell,
Ad missam garulantes.

Better wer be at home for ay
Than her to serve the Devil to pay,
Sic vana famulantes.

Thes women that sitteth the church about,
Thay beth all of the Develis rowte,
Divina impedientes...

Says my source:
It is his specific job to collect together the syllables 91dropped92 by inattentive people during Masses and other services in church.
He also turns up in the play Mankind, where he speaks with an East Midlands accent. There his task is to bring humanity in general to perdition by means of lies and false rumour.

In any event, T*t*v*l*s is a folk motif and was named before the invention of orthography, so there is not now and never shall be a single correct spelling of his name.

#136 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: September 04, 2003, 05:45 PM:

Thanks, Teresa! I didn't have all that doc. My calligraphy teacher is in the process of moving to Bensonhurst, so I can't just call her up...

#137 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: September 04, 2003, 06:16 PM:

Thank you! Sources are always appreciated. Should have known he wasn't original with Ayrton....


#138 ::: Robert L ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2003, 12:39 AM:

Sorry, Michelle, it wasn't intentional--and thus I think I proved my point. It doesn't help that my keyboard has problems...

#139 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2003, 10:54 AM:

I'm just happy to learn that T*t*v*l*s has made himself a new career. And The Maze Maker is an astonishingly good book, so thank you for bringing it to mind. I should find another copy of it. I was trying to remember it a few months back, and couldn't remember the author, nor anything about the title except that it had something do to with mazes or labyrinths. But the sequence where he casts the gold bees I remembered in detail, with great pleasure.

#140 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2003, 11:44 AM:

IIRC, I loaned you TITTIVULUS at one point, T, because I thought you needed to read it.... THE MAZE MAKER went through many editions, including paperback, and should be relatively easy to find. There are 63 copies on ABE, for example, starting at $3 plus postage for a paperback (reasonable hardbacks start around $10 and go up to $75). I'll look and see if I've got a spare pb.

ABE is a good alternative to Big Chains -- it's mostly small bookstores networked together. It's also indexed through, which accesses many bookselling services, but which doesn't catch everything on ABE (or even catch ABE each time it searches). ABE's advanced search page (in the dogbert.abebooks domain, wonderfully) is quite easy to use, though their "trailing wildcards" feature is erratic.


#141 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2003, 11:54 AM:

Are you sure? I thought you loaned me The Maze Maker. I hope I returned it when I was done.

#142 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2003, 02:01 PM:

That was long ago, and in another county....
Not sure. And my books are in a storage locker 700 miles away, so it's a bit hard to check, but I'm not worried if it was THE MAZE MAKER; I had both UK and US hbs on that one, and several pbs. When I get to Seattle I'll check on TITTIVULUS and arrange to send it to you on loan if I can find it (imagines 10x20 locker; sighs).

#143 ::: C.E. Petit ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2003, 11:21 PM:

Perhaps showing bad judgment by rushing in here:

In legal writing (whether US or UK), the correct spelling for the thing that comes at the end of a lawsuit is always "judgment." In legal writing, when one sees it spelled "judgement," one can be pretty sure that it's related to a case or controversy involving religion.

I dislike silent letters. We don't have 'em in my native language (Deutsch, natürlich). Hmm. Maybe that explains some of the antipathy between the French and Germans: Germans don't believe in silent letters; the French do with a vengeance.

#144 ::: julia ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2003, 09:16 AM:

As (at least as far as I know) the first typesetter to weigh in here, can I air a pet peeve?

The new New Yorker makes me terribly sad. I used to have a goal of being That Good, and now I want to grab whoever they're using by the scruff of the neck and shake them.

I'm not convinced anyone actually looks at it after it's flowed in these days.

#145 ::: Daniel Martin ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2003, 09:35 AM:

And now for some web geek copyediting; in the paragraph beginning "Five of the 93links94 one supposedly clicks on", your criticism of him is misplaced. What you probably meant to say was:

Instead of actually linking to the source of the comment, what he's apparently done is use the link which Moveable Type automatically forms around the author's name. However, he's gone and mangled every one of the mailto: links so that they don't actually work - he's deliberately stripped the mailto: prefix so that the html actually reads <a href="username@mailmachine.stuff">. On top of that, the other four links97to Tina, Arthur Hlavaty, LanguageHat, and me97do connect to their authors92 websites, but only to their general addresses. What they don92t connect to is remarks about S&S. It's a bit hard to know what one does with such willful ignorance of one's own medium (both the technical - how urls work - and the social - citing the completely wrong page as the source). Presumably, one either ignores the author or copyedits aggressively.
On a related note, whenever I see a link that should point elsewhere that instead appears to begin with the URL of the current page, my first suspicion is that someone botched the link and made a relative link by mistake. You occasionally see this when people link to <a href=""> instead of <a href="">, or when by a typo they drop the : in the same link. It's one of those things that either indicates deep ignorance or a temporary lack of coffee; only the frequency with which the error is repeated lets you distinguish.

#146 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2003, 11:01 AM:

Begad, Daniel Martin, that's undoubtedly what I would have said about those non-links if I'd thought about them longer.

I'm not sure he's completely clueless about the technicalities. I think it's possible he's middling clueless, and is trying to create the impression that many people at different locations have commented on his website. And if I had confirmation of that hypothesis (which is not likely), what I would further infer is that he's not much in the habit of clicking through on links.

Mr. Petit, you're welcome to weigh in on the side of judgment as opposed to judgement (Robert certainly won't disapprove), and that's an interesting datum about legal writing.

I prefer judgement and acknowledgement because I don't see why those root words should lose their terminal letters when combined with -ment. We have no trouble reading judge and acknowledge. Why oblige ourselves to also recognize less familiar truncated versions?

Julie, keep talking.

#147 ::: Robert L ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2003, 11:55 AM:

And you didn't even mention that he's silently corrected your spelling of "judgment" in his quotation of you. You must be getting soft...

#148 ::: Robert L ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2003, 12:12 PM:

I have some problems with The New Yorker's stylistic quirks, and sometimes with their fiction (though other stories can be excellent), but I still like their articles. The one on the "Jake Leg" this last ish was great...
They have also slipped somewhat in their proofreading and fact-checking. I think they may have gotten better lately, but during the Tina era I was surprised how many mistakes I found. My favorite was an artcle about DJs, which at one point cited several of a DJ's favorite funk recording artists, something like, say, "Parliament, Rick James, Fatback, and Bette Davis." The guy obviously (to any rock'n'roll geek) meant Betty Davis, cult funkmeistress and ex-wife of Miles Davis, but someone had knee-jerkingly corrected it to "Bette"--which caused me to send it to a friend at the magazine with a New Yorker-style addendum: "And, yo, check out Joan Crawford's phat 12-inches."

#149 ::: David Stewart ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2003, 01:16 PM:

I am less than impressed with him. I called him on what I perceived as an error on his Weblog. specifically he was putting a full stop or period after contractions (Dr, Mr) when in fact one should only put a full stop after abbreviations (Miss., Capt.) He claimed not to be aware of the practice.

#150 ::: Anne ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2003, 01:28 PM:

David: I think that just means he doesn't know anything about British conventions. In American English, using a period after Dr., Mr., etc., is perfectly acceptable. (And using the British style may be seen as pretentious in certain circles.)

#151 ::: Watty ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2003, 03:25 PM:

I have finally got to the end of this thread after several attempts - it requires more calm and more ability to concentrate than is usually possible in my working day. I am irresistably reminded of Wolcott Gibbs, as quoted in Thurber's The Years with Ross, and of Thurber's riposte, which I have only seen in a relatively recent collection which I was presented with a few years ago. Gibbs' original is still relevant in places, and good reading in any case; Thurber's is - as one would expect - well, see for yourselves:

15, I don't want to be the only one around here that (let's not make that who, shall we?) keeps waking up and evoking the image of Ross getting snarled up in this sentence from [William Ernest] Henley: "One or two women (God bless them!) have loved me." One or two women (God bless her or them!) has or have loved me.

"One or two" is another spelling of the word "several." Some of this may be in Fowler, I don't know. Some of it is a reasonable crapsimile of Fowler. For a long time now, I have had a four-cornered exchange of letters - one of the others is Lewis Gannett - about this line, "The boy stood on the burning deck, whence all but he had fled." Fowler and Gannett are for "he", whereas my position is that the boy was a goddamn fool not to get off that burning deck.

Elsewhere, Thurber ruminates on the comma which gives one time to push one's chair back and stand up, and on Housman getting fifty years in on one "is" - but you'll have to read it yourselves for that one.

#152 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2003, 03:45 PM:

Robert, step outside and we'll see who's getting soft.

I attribute the New Yorker's slippage to their loss of Terry McGarry. This belief may or may not be warranted, but I like the idea of swapping a few typos in the New Yorker for a top-notch copyeditor and new fantasy author.

#153 ::: julia ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2003, 07:27 PM:

It isn't just the content, though - the New Yorker used to be a beautiful, beautiful magazine, if you're a type hag, which I have to admit I am. There's a real art to making the way type flows seem inevitable and graceful and easy to scan, so that the type doesn't interrupt you when you're trying to read.

The New Yorker used to do that every week. Then they changed hands, and I suppose it was too expensive to use professionals (or the senior people were tossed away on behalf of people who knew the software, which happens far too much).

I may be the only one who cares - it's certainly not a major issue - but it makes me awfully sad to see bad breaks and sloppy rags and clumsy hyphenation in the New Yorker.

My new goal is to be good enough to typeset Umberto Eco books (as opposed to, most recently, Jell-O recipes).

#154 ::: language hat ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2003, 11:02 PM:

LanguageHat92s offhandedly magisterial demolition of his website, opinions, and general copyeditorial virtue

If I ever get business cards made, I'm putting that as my occupation.

magisterial demolitions
#155 ::: Robert L ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2003, 11:46 PM:

Unfortunately, Teresa, the error I mentioned was while Terry McG was still there--though of course she was a copy editor, not a fact checker--I'm pretty sure these functions are separate at The New Yorker, as they are at a lot of magazinws.
The magazine may indeed have sloppier typography (or what they would call "Make-up" [with a hyphen, I believe])--in part this is probably due to the fact that they have become less text and more art/photos/graphics than they used to be, as have most magazines. this was largely Tina Brown's doing, and I certainly can't say it's all for the worse. Tina, who always tried to sex up every magazine she worked for, no doubt loved the glimplse of pubic hair in a photo a few issues back, though i doubt Ross or Mr. Shawn would have approved.

#156 ::: colin roald ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2003, 12:43 AM:

Neil Gaiman: Actually sinople is 1. red 2. green -- and crept into The Kindly Ones after someone told me about it on Genie...

Ah, like the Eye of Argon.

#157 ::: Elric ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2003, 08:48 AM:

So, is he too cheap to afford an apostrophe in "Readers' Feedback"? *sigh*

#158 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2003, 10:49 AM:

LanguageHat: Aha! I've given you an epithet! I'm so pleased.

Elric: Yup. That's copied straight off his site. I'm actually a little squicked to see someone who so strongly self-identifies as a copyeditor and language maven, but who isn't all that good at it.

Julia, I first set type in the mid-70s. Patrick's father was a type designer back when you had to make them out of metal rather than pixels, and came within a hairsbreadth of being featured in Graphis. Patrick and I are both minor type snobs, and have known John D. Berry for years, transcendent type-snob that he is. And, I've proofread U&lc.

That was funny. The first time I visited their offices, I waited a little while in their reception area, which was decorated with big framed posters of ITC fonts, one font per poster, in all of that font's styles and sizes. When John D. came out to get me, I said, "I'm sure that someone's mentioned by now that there's a typo in one of those posters, right?"

John looked startled. "Uh ... no, they hadn't," he said.

I wasn't just yanking his chain. There was in fact a typo in one of those posters.

You know what hurts? Finding one little disagreement of number in a full-page block of text which has been set to shape with one straight and one beautifully curved margin, and which has perfect weight and spacing throughout ... and realizing that there's no way to fix the error without setting off a chain of breaks and bumps that will mess up the next half-dozen lines.

John did the only sensible thing: He sent the piece back to the writer/designer and let him figure out how to fix it.

#159 ::: language hat ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2003, 12:27 PM:

And "magisterial" is a good word, because I have a master's degree... in science!

#160 ::: julia ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2003, 02:01 PM:

I'd've been hurting for the chance to fix it myself, but it would have hurt too much if it wasn't quite as perfect my way - I think he was wise.

I'm envious of your experience - I got into it in the mid-eighties when Quark came in and the flood of bad type started. I used to haunt the senior designers (who were being fired in droves for not understanding the computer) and give them lessons in the computer in return for lessons about type and layout.

It was sad to watch them fade away over the years. Some of them could make comps that would take your breath away.

#161 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2003, 04:41 PM:

Julia, there was no way to fix it without creatively rewriting that passage.

I remember the old guys too, the ones with a lifetime's worth of experience and specialized skills. Their expertise wasn't made irrelevant by the advent of computer imaging, but the kids with the machines could throw together a document that looked good enough to someone who didn't look closely.

Patrick's parents, both graphic designers, saw which way the wind was blowing and went out and bought a Mac. They figured that if people who didn't know jack about graphics and typography could pass themselves off as designers by virtue of owning a machine, they could buy the same machine and blow the amateurs out of the water. They still can.

But lord, the amateurs were legion. I still remember the day at work when they called in all the art directors and layout artists (this wasn't at Tor) to hear about the new features in the latest version of Quark. Our MIS, whom I liked quite a lot, started by asking if anyone knew what a ligature was. I laughed, thinking he was joking. Then I noticed that I was the only one who'd laughed. After what seemed like forever, one of the layout artists timidly ventured that it was like that special character you sometimes use when "fi" comes together in a word. "Right!" said our MIS, sounding like he was happy to have gotten an answer at all.

Talking to him later, I said it had never occurred to me that you could hold a job with a title like "Art Director" and not know what a ligature was. He said I'd be surprised. I told him I was sure he was right.

The flood of bad type didn't start with Quark. There has always been bad type. What changes is who's responsible for its badness, and how much the whole thing costs.

Hot metal type was set by experts, so it was usually tidy, but it could be plain to the point of ugliness. Each one of the typesetting and imaging systems that fell between the linotype and the Macintosh -- and I think I made the acquaintance of most of them at one time or another -- had its own way of looking awful, though it must be said that each one was also capable of producing surprisingly good results. The trick, as usual, was to take pains, know what you were doing, check your work, and maintain your equipment.

It's weird. Gutenberg invented hand-set movable type in the 1450s, and that lasted for more than four hundred years. Ottmar Mergenthaler invented the linotype in the 1880s, and it was still essentially the same machine when it was finally superseded in the 1970s. Since then, imaging technology has changed so fast it almost flickers. Some of the type shops survived a little longer through that interim period of mechanical change by being fast on their feet. Then the Mac came along and they died anyway. I was around for that one, too. Some of the old compositor shops in NYC had been around for fifty years or more, and had hundreds and hundreds of fonts, specialized stuff, which they'd accumulated over the years. I don't know what happened to their equipment. I haven't heard of anyone buying it up.

There were two changes that were bigger than all the rest. One was that most type used to be set by professional typographers. Now, most of it is set by people who at best know some formal typography on the side.

The other change is that now, someone with an unremarkable home computer and a tiny budget can, if they wish, and if they're willing to do the work involved, turn out documents it would take an expert to identify as the product of a low-end system. They'd have to take pains, and know what they were doing; but it's possible.

I sometimes wonder whether future readers will think people were inexplicably gullible, back in the old days, and whether they'll understand that they looked at a printed material differently when typesetting was difficult and expensive, and printing was done in large batches by specialists. I remember, as a small child, getting a sense that there was a period of speculation and excitable talk and interesting confusion that fell between the arrival of some big piece of news, and the point at which the news and the reactions to the news got into print. Now news and comments travel at the speed of typing. Here we sit in the midst of it.

On the whole, I think it's a better world. But I do hope that people who read older documents will remember what an undertaking it was to get them into print.

#162 ::: julia ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2003, 02:55 AM:

I used to keep myself cheerful during long stretches by picturing some medieval Brother Juniper with a tonsure telling whoever was in charge of the scriptorium "You want it what month?"

I bought some pages of a decrepit six-hundred-year-old illuminated bible once and had them framed for a christmas present (the book had long since been cut up and was being sold for parts).

My, it was yar.

#163 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2003, 10:16 PM:

Hmm. Something weird is happening here. Comments that I know have been posted aren't showing up.

#164 ::: Daniel J. Boone ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2003, 03:10 AM:

As a young lawyer, I struggled with judgment/judgement. As C.E. Petit points out, "judgment" is always used in legal writing to indicate the thing that comes at the end of a lawsuit.

I made the mistake of consulting Fowler's Modern English Usage, a book of which I am inordinately fond even though it is (in the editions I own) neither modern nor reflective of American English usage. Fowler opined that although either spelling might be used without fear of demonstrable error, the "correct" usage in his view was to use "judgment" exclusively in the legal context and "judgement" for making other sorts of distinctions and discriminations.

Of course, when I attempted to implement this advice in my legal writing, the attorney assigned to mentor my legal writing development squashed me like a bug, insisting that I use "judgment" exclusively and dismissing "judgement" as an alleged Britishism.

Preferring "judgement" to "judgment" on aesthetic grounds, I tend to favor the former over the latter in every non-legal context. But I stay firmly with the herd in my legal writing.

#165 ::: Will ::: (view all by) ::: October 10, 2003, 12:19 AM:

I know, I know ... I have a tin ear on "whether or not" and I misspell "dammit." But the word is judgment. It's weird, but so is dammit, even though there is no damm.

If we're going to follow that little (sometimes big) thing called the dictionary, then we have to follow it. We can't go around making up words, no matter how much we want to, damnit.

For the record, I think you guys are fun. One day, a reader of my site tipped me off to this thread. I've been laughing my ass off ever since.

#166 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: October 10, 2003, 01:42 AM:

Sure thing, Will. Which dictionary?

Welcome. Stick around. Enjoy yourself.

#167 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: October 10, 2003, 08:43 AM:

As a linguist, I've learned that dictionaries should be treated as descriptive, not prescriptive -- much as their compilers might prefer the latter! Because language changes so rapidly, dictionaries are out of date by the time they're published; they can never reflect current usage.

Rely on a dictionary if you are in high school, or otherwise subject to a conservative (or even regressive) linguistic authority. This will give you a source to cite if the red pencil is used excessively. The rest of us can write in current usage, making the abovementioned conservative authorities wring their hands, or even scream in rage. It's fun. (Of course at heart I'm rather conservative linguistically, but being against linguistic change is like being against entropy; you can fight, but you can't win.)

Will, I don't know what you mean by "we can't go around making up words." Of course we can; we're speakers of this language. Much as a good state socialist like me might object, it's fundamentally a market economy on neologisms; you make up a word, and if people start using it, it "sells" - and becomes a real English word.

I can't imagine anyone questioning the word 'quiz' today, for example. Its (admittedly doubtfully historical) origin story would appall you if it were happening today.

'Quiz' sold well because it looked like it could be an English word. If I invent a word 'blgtzl', no matter how consistently I use it or how many of my friends use it to support my effort, it will not sell; it will never become part of the English language.

'Quiz' also resonated with words like 'query', 'question', and 'quirk'. If I invent a word 'docambu', it will sell better if it means 'an ambulance with a doctor (as opposed to a team of EMTs) on board' or 'walking papers' than it will if it's a candy or musical effect. A trivial example (and not, of course, a true coinage like 'quiz'), but I trust you see my point.

By the way, you copyeditors: can you see the consistency in my usage of single and double quotes?

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