Friday, May 29, 2009

Word of the Week: Hibernacula

Elizabeth Kolbert's fascinating and alarming article on mass extinctions, in the May 25 issue of the New Yorker, includes the word "hibernacula."

A hibernaculum (the singular form) is the shelter of a hibernating animal. In "The Sixth Extinction?" Kolbert refers to the winter home of hibernating bats. (Who knew that bats hibernate?) As Kolbert reports in gory detail, hibernating bats in northeastern U.S. and Canada are facing extinction as they succumb to white-nose syndrome. (The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service provides information on the sydrome here.)

According to the American Heritage Dictionary, hibernaculum comes from "Latin hibernaculum, winter residence, from hibernare, to winter, from hibernus, relating to winter."

There doesn't seem to be a direct connection between hibernacula and Dracula (a nickname of Prince Vlad of Walachia [d.1476], according to the Online Etymology Dictionary). But the connection isn't so far-fetched in my mind.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

After Deadline: "Openly Gay"

This week's After Deadline column hits close to home. The first topic discusses the use of "openly gay":
in most…contexts where sexual orientation is relevant, we can simply state that someone is gay without the “openly.” Using the modifier when it’s not necessary suggests that there is still something surprising about not concealing one’s orientation.
So just for the record: I'm gay, and I'm open about it.

The next topic addresses the problem of referring to Puerto Ricans who move from the island to the continental U.S. as "immigrants." Here's a correction on an article in last Friday's edition:
An article on Friday about Judge Sonia Sotomayor, a possible candidate for nomination to the Supreme Court, referred incorrectly to her parents. As people who moved to New York from Puerto Rico, they were United States citizens. They were not “immigrants.”
Also for the record: My partner is from Puerto Rico and he's a citizen, not an immigrant.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Giving Credit

Do you ever notice, or even read, credits for photographs or artwork or charts? I spend an inordinate amount of time on credits, and where I work, there's even a full-time person devoted to photo credits, rights clearances, and payments. But I wonder if anyone else even notices them--except for the artist and perhaps his or her spouse or parents.

Of course, giving credit for work is important, but why does it take so much time and aggravation? For artwork and maps and charts and the like, it's a challenge to give credit where it's due and in a logical and fair order, albeit in tiny type that won't distract the reader from the illustrations themselves.

When I read other magazines, I tend to read the credits. For quality stock photos, Getty Images is a giant, the Microsoft of photo agencies. So what Getty wants, Getty gets. Not content with just Getty Images in credit lines, Getty has added "Reportage by Getty" and new for me, "Contour by Getty." Where Reportage is the showcase for Getty's award-winning photojournalists, Contour is for celebrities--both in front of the camera and behind.

Steve Pyke's portrait of Chief Justice John Roberts, credited to Contour by Getty in last week's New Yorker, seems to establish Justice Roberts as a celebrity. So much for gravitas.

(You can purchase the above T-shirt here.)

Monday, May 25, 2009

General Logan's Memorial Day

Happy Memorial Day. To many of us, the holiday marks the beginning of the summer beach season and a long weekend.

Every year there's a festival in Logan Circle (right, where I live in Washington, D.C.) to commemorate the official proclamation on 5 May 1868 by General John Logan founding Memorial Day. The first official Memorial Day was observed on May 30, 1868.

Note the use of the word "observed" and not "celebrated." It was a solemn day of commemoration, surely not filled with barbecues, hamburgers, and hot dogs. Things change; holidays are transformed. But our country is still fighting wars, and those who have been killed in the service of our nation deserve commemoration.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

You Slay Me

I work with a number of delightful colleagues. They're funny, smart, creative, kind, generous--and nothing like me.

I'm of the old-school ogre type. In fact, an employee once accused me of verbal assault. For the record, I was a supervisor offering constructive advice on how the employee could perform more effectively.

Back to my dear colleagues, one of which alerted me to two funny cartoons in this week's New Yorker. One deals with the meaning of "decimate." Says one marauding Viking to another: "Did you know that 'decimate' means kill just one out of every ten?" Believe it or not, we do know that where I work, and it often comes up.

The second cartoon is more risque: A man and woman are in the missionary position in bed; the woman says to the man, "You don't need to sacrifice good grammar in order to talk dirty."

We do try to enjoy ourselves at work. I hope you are surrounded with such delightful colleagues in your work.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Facile Language

"This is a facile read..." wrote a book reviewer on about Carlos Prieto's The Adventures of a Cello.

That usage struck me as odd. I've heard of facile minds, but a facile read? It makes me think of a less benign meaning: superficial and shallow, such as a facile argument. The odd usage misled me, until the reviewer wrote that the book was "entertaining and enlightening."

I just wish the review were more enlightening than obfuscating.

(Illustration from the collection "Existential Beasts," by Steve Wilson.)

Friday, May 22, 2009

Than vs. Then

CreekHiker, a regular reader of this blog, commented earlier this week:
My personal grammatical pet peeve, found on today: If the medium is the message, than the message occasionally needs an upgrade to the most recent standards.
Oof! I don't come across this error very often, but that's because I usually read articles that have been edited. A copy editor knows the difference between the two: "than" is used in comparisons, "then" for everything else. So if you're not making a comparison, then use "then."

Now what medium do we use to get this message out to keep standards up and keep us less grumpy?

Monday, May 18, 2009

Who vs. That

A colleague recently came to my office and announced: "I have a question for Words Between the Spaces."

Picking up on an edge of exasperation in her voice, I thought, Uh, oh. But hers was an easy query. "Which is correct?" she pleaded. " 'A girl who likes to cook,' or 'A girl that likes to cook'?"

I told her we use "who" when referring to people, and "that" when referring to objects.

"Oh," she said, as the exasperation ebbed from her voice and her face was suddenly alight with the satisfaction of having grammatically bested a foe. "It's that simple?"

Well, yes, and no.

As with most grammar "rules," there's no hard and fast rule on using "who" with people, rather than "that." It's a matter of house style for publications, and personal preference. Most people use "who," but not all sources agree.

The American Heritage Dictionary, for one, has this usage note in its entry for who: "it is entirely acceptable to write either the woman that wanted to talk to you or the woman who wanted to talk to you."

"Entirely acceptable..." That's why people say and write "that" instead of "who."

I prefer to use "who." But I'm also a guy that allows for other points of view.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Restaurant Review on Wry

If you've ever tried to write a restaurant review, you know how difficult a task it can be. How do you convey all the factors that go into a good or bad meal? (Come to think of it, writing a review of any creative endeavor is difficult.) To my mind, restaurants create an especial challenge, though.

That's why I'm so enamored with Leo Carey's miraculously concise review of Delicatessen in this week's New Yorker. I haven't been to Delicatessen in SoHo, but Carey takes me there in his vivid description of the food, space, and people that inhabit its environs--including the "club-ready waitstaff" who are "all Mohicans and triceps and tatoos." He also ingeniously ties the fate of the restaurant and its tenuous perch in New York's restaurant scene to the current financial crisis (i.e., not long for this life).

The clincher: "As the name suggests, Delicatessen is a jokey homage to the Jewish deli--pastrami on wry."

(When in Manchester, Connecticut, stop by Pastrami on Wry, if only for its witty name.)

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Neither Fish Nor Fowl

In the spirit of "past is prologue," I'm reading The Forgotten Man: A New History of the Great Depression, by Amity Shlaes.

A former editorial board member at The Wall Street Journal, Shlaes has a definite conservative bent--conservative, at least, for this Berkeley-trained political economist. But her writing is lucid and engaging, and she seems to have conducted a vast amount of research for this book, including digging up a wonderful quote from President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Speaking of the fantastically ambitious Tennessee Valley Authority, Roosevelt is quoted as saying the project might be "neither fish nor fowl." But what mattered, he said, was that "whatever it is, it will taste awfully good to the people of the Tennessee Valley."

What's the origin of the phrase "neither fish nor fowl"? gives this explanation:
This expression appeared in slightly different form in John Heywood's 1546 proverb collection ("Neither fish, nor flesh, nor good red herring") and is thought to allude to food for monks ( fish, because they abstained from meat), for the people (flesh, or meat), and for the poor (red herring, a very cheap fish).
That's less appetizing than F.D.R.'s quote, but I'll take it for now. And I'll keep reading Shlaes's interesting analysis of what went wrong--and what went right (i.e., left)--during the Great Depression.

(You can purchase a print of the above illustration, "Sky and Water," by M. C. Escher, here.)

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Crippled Language

It's been a long time since I heard someone described as "crippled." That there's a fightin' word.

"Crippled" is so un-P.C., it's been expunged from polite language. (Of course, that doesn't include the ironically offensive show "South Park.") My online dictionary notes that "In the 20th century the term acquired offensive connotations and has now been largely replaced by broader terms such as 'disabled person.' "

That's why I cringed today when I read someone described in a manuscript as "a small man with a crippled leg..."

This is the 21st century, folks. The expiration date for "crippled" is long past. Move on.

(You can purchase a T-shirt with the above logo, here.)

Monday, May 11, 2009

Is Data Singular or Plural?

“The word data is a queer fish,” Webster’s Dictionary of Usage points out. 

Data can be singular or plural; usage depends on context. Strictly speaking, data is the plural of datum. Datum is rarely used these days, though, and data is often used as a collective noun referring to information, statistics, and the like: “The data show.” In scientific contexts, the plural prevails: “These data are.”

It’s a subtle distinction, but one that many publications make. Last week’s New Yorker has both singular and plural forms: “But it contained one very interesting piece of data…” (page 38); “Ranadiv√© argued that we ought to put the economic data that the Fed uses into a big stream, and write a computer program that sifts through those data, the moment they are collected…” (page 43). 

We’ve had a couple of slips in the publication I help edit, using a singular where plural was required: “Phenological data goes back” (should be “go back”); “to express this data” and “Transforming this data…” (“those data” is correct.)

Why the confusion? Perhaps it stems from the word data, which, unlike many plural nouns, doesn’t end with an s. The difference between fact and facts is clear; the difference between data (singular) and data (plural) is more subtle. 

In order to avoid the confusion, some might be inclined to always use data as a plural. Since both singular and plural forms are considered standard usage, however, I’d rather not box writers into a singular form.

(You can purchase the lovely wire pendant pictured above, here.) 

Friday, May 8, 2009

Word of the Week: Apostrophize

I was gobsmacked when I read the following in the May 4, 2009, edition of The New Yorker: "Real Life ... apostrophized the Pictures world view."

Admittedly, I can't recall the last time I was "gobsmacked." But I've never come across "apostrophized" before. According to one online source, apostrophized has something to do with rhetoric and to "address an exclamatory passage in speech or poem." 

Webster's Collegiate is more specific: 
the addressing of a usually absent person or a usually personified thing rhetorically [Carlyle's "O Liberty, what things are done in thy name!" is an example of apostrophe] 
Specific, maybe, but not much help. I still don't fully grasp the meaning or how I would use apolstrophize in a sentence. I remain gobsmacked.

Any guidance from you dear readers would be appreciated!

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Your an idiot, so their

I couldn't resist posting this random cartoon I found on the World Wide Web.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

You Don't Say

John McIntyre is one of my favorite bloggers. For several decades he worked at the Baltimore Sun--until he was abruptly laid off last week in a major upheaval at the Sun. An indomitable force, McIntyre was quickly back to blogging at a new site, still called You Don't Say.

He certainly still has a lot to say. I suggest we all keep listening.

(I also suggest McIntyre needs some help with his layout design on the new blog. It's definitely old-school, and not in a good way. Like his advice and his humor, he ought to keep his design clean and to the point.)

Photo by Jerry Jackson, courtesy You Don't Say

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Homogeneous, Not Homogenius

The American Copy Editors Society convention is over, and I'm back to blogging. The convention went very well, with great sessions and lots of networking. More than 60 people showed up for the "Beyond the Newsroom" session that I co-presented with Christine Steele and Jennifer McNally. Thanks to both of them for contributing their time and talents and for making the session such a success!

My session on implementing a new publishing system and revamping workflow attracted fewer participants, but those who showed up on Saturday morning at 9 a.m. wanted to be there and had great questions. My main point was that changing publishing systems usually sucks, but with some planning, you can turn suck into success. It went over well, and I hope it helps smooth the process for some people. You can download my handout from the session at the ACES website.

Back in the office today, I was confronted with an interesting word choice: the difference between homogeneous and homogenous. It's just one letter difference, and Webster's says the two are interchangeable, but Webster's can be slutty in that way.

In referring to a group of like-minded individuals in a community, the writer used "homogenous." An eagle-eyed colleague queried the usage, asking if we really meant "homogeneous." Homogeneous is the term we meant. Homogenous is an old-fashioned term for homologous, a biological term often contrasted with analogous.

How's that for genius?