New poll

Stop by and vote on your favorite stylebook. Stay tuned for results from the last poll about Web site (or should it be website?)


The end of the hyphen?

A New York Times article describes how the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary eliminated about 16,000 hyphens for its sixth edition.

The Times quotes the dictionary editor, Angus Stevenson, as saying: "People are not confident about using hyphens anymore. They're not really sure what they're used for."

Some of the examples are strange (ice cream). Others make sense (cell-phone).

It does seem that more compound words are skipping through the hyphenated stage quicker to become one word (see post), and I could imagine the frustration of trying to update a dictionary and keep it even somewhat up to date.

There will always be hyphen sticklers (I might fall into this category at times) and those who are more lenient with the little guys, but doing away with the mark entirely would be a calamity. (Like I said, I tend to like hyphens.)


When words become one

I have to admit that I have not subscribed to the Copy Editor newsletter for a few years now, but a post by Bill Walsh on his blog reminded me that I should start subscribing again.

The post, however, is not really about the newsletter -- just the name. I do agree that many words should still be two words, but many seem to be fast-tracked to the spaceless and hyphenless forms. (See the poll on the side rail about Web site.)

If I do resubscribe to the newsletter, I might send them a check made out to Copy Editing newsletter, just to make it clear where I stand.

Adding a poll to the site

I decided to try something new, so I am going to add a poll each week that will focus on style and language questions that do not have a clear-cut answer. (It will be underneath the "About Me" in the side rail.)

So, swing by to take the poll and see what how other readers vote.

And that's where words come from, kids

And The Onion hits the nail on the head again in pointing out how things seem to work in the world.


"You" can "quote" me on "that"

The Associated Press ran a story about a blog that tracks gratuitous usage of quotation marks.

I believe that most writers and editors know how to use quotation marks, but this blog would be really good for sign makers.


Swing and a miss

Last week I was editing a sports story when I saw this paragraph:
An awful sound, something like a broken plastic bat hitting a Whiffle ball, echoed throughout RFK Stadium when Rajai Davis made contact against starter Tim Redding in the second inning.
I am all for capitalizing proper nouns, but Whiffle ball, as the story has it, is not the name of the perforated plastic ball. The trademarked name is Wiffle ball.

The generic name for it is whiffle ball, so it may be lowercased.

So what could you call an error like that? A whiff?


Regret the error?

An article in Slate talks about the low correction rates in newspapers.

I know we are all human and everyone makes mistakes. Even The New Yorker had this sentence in a story about Barry Bonds' record home run:

Bonds’s record dinger, in the fifth inning of a night game against the Washington Nationals at Petco Park, in San Francisco[...]

(To clarify, Petco Park is in San Diego; AT&T Park is in San Francisco.)

If you are really into newspaper corrections, click over to Regret the Error and read some of the amusing corrections that do make it into the papers.



Using the word trifecta to mean three things seems a poor substitute for triad. Also, since trifecta has its roots in the word perfecta, I tend to associate it with positive wins rather than anything negative.

To round out the top three, I like to see the word triumvir or triumvirate when dealing with a group of three that holds power.

The search page on The New York Times' Web site gives good, quick examples of how trifecta, triad and triumvirate are used.


New look and more links

I cleaned up the design of the blog some and added a few more links.

While I was adding the links, I came across this story in The New York Times about Mediabistro being sold. I just hope it doesn't change any of the good things at the site (or the fun mixers they throw).


Born there

A native is someone who is born in a locale, so a native-born is...

The word native derives from the Latin word verb nasci, which means to be born. So if native means born in a place, what is the need for native-born?

"Garner's Modern American Usage" says this of the phrase native-born citizen:
This phrase, though it has been fairly common since the 19th century, reeks of redundancy.
The phrase is, however, used quite often in print. A Google News search turned up the phrase in 404 postings, including on such reputable news sites as the Dallas Morning News, The New York Times, Forbes and The Washington Post. (Full disclosure: A Google search of the Web site of the newspaper at which I work came back with 134 hi
ts, though many of them are Associated Press stories.) A glance through the LexisNexis database turned up 751 mentions of this phrase in the last six months, though many of these appeared to be letters to the editor, too.

One reason this phrase seems to be used is to avoid any confusion that could arise between a native American and a Native American, though AP style does call for using American Indian when referring to the indigenous persons.

There is a way to write around the confusion, though it adds a handful of characters. Instead of a native-born Mexican-American (yes, this did come up on a Google News search), which is redundant, you could use native Mexican-American. However, this does not, in my mind, clearly state where this person was born. There are a lot of assumptions to be made with good arguments on both sides. But why not write Mexican-Americans born in the United States? It's descriptive, accurate and not redundant.


Wanna be a wannabe?

Here is a gem from The Associated Press:
The Spice Girls wannabe stars again. Following a calculated publicity buildup, the original Girl Power group of the 1990s announced Thursday they had agreed to get together for 11 concerts around the world in December and January.
Bristle all you want at the attempt to write write the colloquial wanna be instead of want to be. (And yes, I did look it up, and I do understand that was the name of a song from the group.)

If there is a time to use wanna be instead of want to be (and for some this may be never), make sure not to let spell check fool you. A lot of spell check programs still mark wanna as a misspelling, so the program thinks it's the noun wannabe instead.

For the Spice Girls story, however, it added a funny twist. (Or was the writer poking fun at the group? We may never know.)


New AP Stylebook

The 2007 AP Stylebook is out. A post on the Testy Copy Editors board describes some of the new and deleted entries. There is also an article in Editor&Publisher.


Dive vs. delve

I often see dive and delve used almost interchangeably when writing about exploring a topic. For me, though, the words' meanings are not interchangeable.

First, there is dive. If a person or group is diving into a topic, they are entering into it. Dive was derived from a word that means "to dip."

Second, there is delve. If a person or a group is delving into a topic, they are digging deeper into it. Delve was derived from a word that means "to dig."

So, for instance, if a legislative body is meeting to discuss a topic for the first time, it is diving into the topic. If, however, it meets repeatedly to discuss a topic, it is delving into that topic.

Go ahead and delve into the meaning of the sentence when dive and delve come up.

A hyphen too many per diem

There are times when hyphens do not belong in modifiers. Per diem is one of those phrases that does not need a hyphen, even when used as a modifier. So the phrase "A per diem charge" does not require a hyphen.

I would allow that error per diem, but not more.

Of course, there are other schools of thought on hyphens, and that means that there are other compound modifiers that some would hyphenate and others would not. I am sure that there are more phrases that the dictionary lists as adjectives, which would not need to be hyphenated.


So, 400 Copy Editors Walk Into a Room...

The American Copy Editors Society's annual conference is over, and it received a lot of attention, including from NPR's On the Media. The transcripts from the show can be found here. (It is a good read ... and not too long.)

There are also some conference handouts posted on the conference Web site.


Moving Past Web 2.0?

The Web 2.0 Expo is going on this week in San Francisco, and the San Francisco Chronicle reporters covering it have a funny reporter's notebook about what the next name will be for the Web.

I vote for Web 2.1. But that's just me.


HTML That Complains

I was reading a book about HTML and CSS that said code should be written so that it is "complaint."

The last thing I would want is a Web site with HTML that complains, but that's OK, I'm pretty sure that they meant compliant HTML.

As an aside, it is a very good book that teaches the basics of HTML and CSS in an easy-to-follow manner.

Drink This One Up

How many times have you seen googling or to google as a verb to search the Web? I find it interesting, though not shocking, that Google does not include that definition in its own dictionary function.

It's not surprising that Google doesn't want to google to become a popular verb, though I do think they may have already lost that battle.


AP Allows Serial Comma (Sometimes)

For most of the time, serial commas should not be used if your publication is using the The Associated Press Stylebook.

This is not the place I want to start an argument about the justification of using (or not using) serial commas. The AP Stylebook says:
IN A SERIES: Use commas to separate elements in a series, but do not put a comma before the conjunction in a simple series: The flag is red, white and blue. He would nominate Tom, Dick or Harry.
But then it says this:
Put a comma before the concluding conjunction in a series, however, if an integral element of the series requires a conjunction: I had orange juice, toast, and ham and eggs for breakfast.
Yep, it's right there in the punctuation section of the stylebook under comma. It's AP, in a muted way, saying it is OK to sometimes use the serial comma.

It just goes to show that you should read a sentence before doing search-and-destroy editing.


Two Words, Not One

Bill Walsh has an interesting post on Blogslot about using a one-word noun in place of a two-word verb.


A Look Back

I was looking through the Internet Archive the other day and thought it was funny to see this site's old posts and design.


Checking the Facts

I do think that this column on Slate.com about a New York Times Magazine article is wrong to blame only the fact-checkers. It does not even question why the reporter never bothered to check into the details of the naval construction worker's story.

It is, as the column's title says, a good idea to be wary when a story seems too good to be true.

Web 2.what?

What is Web 2.0?

OK, before you start hurling insults about how I, a person who writes a blog, should know, think about what you really know about the term.

Here is a San Jose Mercury News article I found (sorry, it is a cached page) about how "Web 2.0" is not so easily defined. There is also a Slate.com article here.

My question: If we cannot clearly define the term, why are we throwing it around like everyone knows what it is? (See examples below.)

I understand using it in quoted material, and I do think that it can be used in stories, but it should be explained in some way.

And if you think you're up to date knowing about "Web 2.0" sites such as YouTube, Flickr or MySpace.com, you should check out http://www.go2web20.net, which lists "Web 2.0" sites. (A warning, you could spend a lot of time going through this site.)

Here are some examples of "Web 2.0" being thrown around in news articles. I chose some examples from three news sources that I trust to cover technology well.

They are experimenting with one of the hottest Web 2.0 trends... (The New York Times)

But it's not just for Web 2.0 start-ups. (The New York Times)

Certainly the actor Jack Black, as executive producer and a host of “Acceptable TV,” does not easily embrace the role of shill for Web 2.0, carnival-barking for a participatory TV game as if he were Ryan Seacrest. (The New York Times)

We've got broadband penetration, quality video formats that deliver a decent video experience over the web, falling storage and bandwidth costs, the matchmaking of advertisers and small publishers, and Web 2.0 mash-ups - combinations of existing web products yielding new services. (San Jose Mercury News)

More and more Web 2.0 start-ups are running into a surprising problem: too many customers. (San Jose Mercury News)

The social-networking companies may lose money, but they don't lose it on the scale that portals and start-up content firms did in the 1990s. These Web 2.0 companies are built on the wreckage of the dotcom/fiber-optic boom and bust of the 1990s. (Slate.com)
I do have to admit that the whole 2.0 thing is catchy, and I have noticed it slipping into headlines here and there, which I don't really mind.

I just feel that it is an ambiguous term, and that a little explanation about it could go a long way.

Get that done really fast

I know that we live in a fast-paced world, but some things just seem to go overboard. One thing that I have noticed is that people use the phrase expedite quickly.
Expedite: 1 : to execute promptly

I doubt that most people who use the phrase expedite quickly actually mean to execute it promptly quickly, but you never know how fast they really want it done.

Another transitive verb that has a similar definition is fast-track. I tend to see fast-track more often. But then again, I am pretty sure that I have never seen a writer put fast-track quickly, either, so that is a good thing.


Let the Mêlée Continue

As this thread on the Testy Copy Editors board shows, talks about diacritical marks can get heated, and there are good points made on both sides of the argument.

But I would like to go back to the original question posted on the ACES forum. Let's suppose that the boss decides to introduce accent marks at your publication. Where should you start?

Well, first of all, here are some of the diacritical marks you might be dealing with. It is also interesting to see which languages use diacritical marks to form new letters. The one that relates to the initial post on the ACES board is the ñ in Spanish.
Spanish: the character ñ is considered a letter, and collated between n and o.
I would say that diacritical marks do matter for proper nouns. At the local level, it would have to up to the reporters to make sure the names are spelled properly. For wire copy, a quick check on the Internet will show the preferred spelling for most names of famous names and places. The inevitable question that might arise is what to do with names that you think might need a diacritical mark, but you cannot verify it. Leave it. You cannot verify the spelling of every name that is in wire copy either. A good guide for this is The New York Times Manual of Style and Usage.
In the name of a United States resident, use or omit accent marks as the bearer does; when in doubt, omit them. (Exception: Use accents in Spanish names of Puerto Rico residents.)
So what about other words? Again, a good guide is The New York Times Manual of Style and Usage.
Some foreign words that enter the English language keep their accent marks (protégé, résumé); others lose them (cafe, facade). The dictionary governs spellings, except for those shown in this manual.
This is a simple rule: follow the dictionary. In my previous post about diacritical marks, I gave a list of words that do and do not get diacritical marks. Assuming that you are using The Associated Press' preferred dictionary, here is how those words would (or would not) be spelled with accent marks: facade, niche, melee, déjà vu, rendezvous, cafe, a la carte, bon appétit, coup d'état, masseuse, naive, vis-à-vis, aficionado, cliché, El Niño. (The words protégé and résumé would also keep their accent marks, according to the dictionary.)

So should you read wire copy to make sure these words (and others) that need accent marks get them? I would ask you this question: Do you read through wire copy to make sure words are spelled properly? If the answer to the latter is 'yes,' then the answer to the previous should also be 'yes.'


One Dreamy Night

A wire story about the alleged attack on a Yale a cappella group stated that the attack had come after a night of drunken reverie.

The words reverie and revelry are close, but the meaning is quite different.

I am sure that some people have had a night of drunken daydreaming. But because the alleged attack on the group happened after a New Year's Eve party, I am sure the writer meant revelry.


Sometimes You Just Cannot Win

There are situations that arise when copy editing (and writing, editing, etc.) in which no matter what decision you make there will be someone there to challenge it.

John McIntyre, on his blog You Don't Say: Language and Usage, talks about the conundrum of choosing to use "data is" or "data are."

I know that there are people on both sides of the fence who will argue till they are blue in the face that their side is right, so I will not get into the middle of this debate.

Singular or plural can be complicated. Is one in five people really talking about one person, or is it talking about many people?

It's one of those things that just needs to be consistent in a publication. No matter which side you choose you will have your critics.


Let the Mêlée Begin

A post on the ACES Discussion Board inquired into the use of accent marks for Hispanic names.

Although the post has some good stories about papers that have tried to incorporated accent marks and other diacritical marks, it seemed to me to skip over some important questions that need to be considered when thinking about whether a publication should use these marks.

At a newspaper, there are a few issues. First, straight from the AP Stylebook:

Do not use any diacritical marks on general wires because they cause garble in many newspaper computers.
The second issue at most newspapers is the time restraints. If the reporters add the proper accent marks to names, that's great. But what about names from other sources. Should you spend your time hunting down Hugo Chávez in all wire copy and making sure it has the acute accent?

As Bill Walsh of The Washington Post says in his book "Lapsing Into a Comma":
If your publication has the time and resources to use accents and other diacritical marks correctly, go for it. But I maintain that it's impossible to use them consistently and correctly in a deadline-intensive medium such as daily newspaper journalism. If you can't use them consistently and correctly, you shouldn't use them at all.
I tend to agree with that point of view. If copy came across on deadline, could you pick which words would need accent or diacritical marks? (And where?):
facade, niche, melee, deja vu, rendezvous, cafe, a la carte, bon appetit, coup d'etat, masseuse, naive, vis-a-vis, aficionado, cliche, El Nino

It would be hard to get all of them right all of the time on deadline. So is it worth it?

As if the question of being able to get accent and diacritical marks right in your publication, there's also the debate about whether they should be used at all. I will discuss that in another post, though.


Proofreading Marks

Just about every day I have people who are looking for proofreading marks end up at this site. I feel bad, so I decided to put together some information to help.

First of all, not all publications use the same proofreading marks, but there are some common ones.

If you are working at a newspaper or other organization that uses AP style, I would recommend buying an AP Stylebook. A full list of proofreading marks is in the back of the book.

Also, there is the The Chicago Manual of Style , which uses many similar proofreading marks (plus more).

Here are some examples of how you might mark a text. Also, some publications mark in the text while others mark in the margins. Whatever way you want to do it, it does make it easier if everyone in your organization is using the same proofreading marks and marking them in the same fashion.

Beating a dead horse

There are times when I see writers (and this means in all of the written material I read, and not just at newspapers) who use a word and then follow it up with a sentence or clause that defines the word.

One example is autopsy.

The definition is to perform a post-mortem examination to determine the cause of death. I would be rich, however, if I had a nickel for every time I saw this sentence:

An autopsy will be performed to determine the cause of death.

The last six words of that sentence are unnecessary, since they merely repeat what was already said in the first four words.

Just a fun point: A post-mortem examination on an animal other than a human is a necropsy.


Last week for the best prices

Time is running out to get the lowest price for the American Copy Editors Society's 2007 national conference. The deadline was extended until Feb. 15 for the lowered prices.

This year's speakers include Doug Fisher and Nicole Stockdale talking about blogging and Bill Walsh. New this year, however, is the approach that ACES is taking. From the conference page:

The online train has been barreling toward us for some time – and now it’s here. Many newsrooms are reorganizing with a focus on the Web. Where do copy editors fit in to all of this?
It's a good question, and I hope many copy editors will be there to discuss it.

You're going where? Thinking of (small) places

The AP Stylebook, The Chicago Manual of Style and Words into Type, three books that I reference fairly often, all say about the same thing when discussing when to capitalize the names of regions.

AP, which has its listing for regions in the stylebook under the directions and regions heading, says to lowercase names of directions -- north, south, etc. -- but to uppercase words when they designate regions. Words into Type says to "Cap popular appellations for regions and localities." The Chicago Manual of Style allows for even more leniency: "Popular names of places, or epithets, are usually capitalized. ... None should be used in contexts where they will not be readily understood."

A lot of the examples given in the above-stated reference books, as well as in stylebooks for other large publications, refer to names of regions that are large (the Bay Area, Silicon Valley, the West Coast, etc.).

But what about when your publication is a bit smaller than the New York Times?

For small publications, it might make sense to capitalize names of regions that fall within the coverage area.

If you are thinking of doing this, say for the city's downtown (or would it be Downtown?) I would just make sure to make sure that the area has a popular name that is readily understood and the area has somewhat clear boundaries that are readily understood.

If it is clear to your readership that Downtown means a certain section of Jonesville, then go ahead and use it; same goes for other names: Jonesville South, Jonesville West, Jonesville Bay.

Stylebooks paint broad guidelines, and you need to apply them to your circumstance. Just because Downtown Jonesville isn't in the AP Stylebook doesn't mean it's not a legitimate well-known region (at least to your readership) that should be capitalized.


Banned vs. Barred

People may be barred, but only actions and things can be banned.

Wrong: He was banned from the sports venue.

Right: He was barred from the sports venue.

Right: He was banned from entering the sports venue.

Old Posts

I have put up some old posts at an archive page.