Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Not to mention Cousin Therefore and Uncle Unless

The problem with letting an algorithm choose the keywords for your article. This is from the end of Noam Scheiber, "The Partner," New Republic online edition, posted May 18, 2012 (although Scheiber probably had nothing to do with choosing these, which is the problem):
More Articles On: Bain Capital, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, Barack Obama, Bob White, Don Evans, Florida, George W. Bush, Jim Rappaport, Massachusetts, Massachusetts, Ron Kaufman, the Olympics, Valerie Jarrett, Whereas Romney

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Ownership, singularity, and frustration

The manuscript editor who works in an office full of other manuscript editors will sometimes get to read a professional newsletter that a colleague circulates. This is a questionable blessing (although for the scrupulous manuscript editor everything is questionable, so that isn't saying much).

Recently, I got to see such a bulletin that included a letter from the editor of some style guide or other (I no longer have a copy of the newsletter). He said he prefers farmers market to farmers' market. He had checked with an organization of such markets, and besides, the farmers generally don't own the market. They don't own the market? True, but what does that have to do with the grammatical possessive? Does this editor of a style manual really think that it implies ownership? On the same page is an article by an editor on her dealings with "her authors." Does anyone seriously think she's claiming ownership of these authors?

And why is farmer's market not considered as an alternative? Note the first paragraph of this post; it has two references to the grammatically singular manuscript editor. Did anyone think that it refers to only one manuscript editor? The grammatically singular farmer brings his or her produce to the market, where the grammatically singular city dweller may purchase it.

I don't know whether the author of that letter to the editor rejects farmer's market out of hand; if he does reject it, I don't know whether it's because he thinks the singular is in some way illogical. The letter was in response to something that had appeared in a previous issue of the newsletter, and I lack knowledge of that context. But there is at least one person who proudly announces her cluelessness about such constructions. Here are the last few sentences of the introduction to Lynne Truss's not-quite-completely-worthless Eats, Shoots & Leaves (p. 34):

The second [cartoon that Truss treasures] shows a bunch of vague, stupid-looking people standing outside a building, and behind them a big sign that says "Illiterates' Entrance". And do you want to know the awful truth? In the original drawing, it said, "Illiterate's Entrance", so I changed it. Painted correction fluid over the wrong apostrophe; inserted the right one. Yes, some of us were born to be punctuation vigilantes.
I don't care about the lack of a comma in "says 'Illiterates' Entrance'" and the presence of a comma in "said, 'Illiterate's Entrance'" (I mention it for the sake of my professional cred); there may be a rationale for it, and even if there isn't, I don't care about this stuff (although you sort of get the idea that zero-tolerance Truss does). And the periods and commas outside the quotation marks are British, and that's the style she uses. What I care about is that this person who would tell people how to write is so unaware of the subtleties of language (and this one isn't even that subtle). I care that Truss is so clueless as a human being that she embraces the concept of "stupid-looking" people, and that she isn't embarrassed about it.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Possible poorly chosen exemplary quotation in the OED

A relative from the left coast was going to visit my greater metro area on the third coast and wrote to me that she was going to do some museuming, noting that there is no such word. Red meat has no appeal; this was a downright red lentil to me. Of course it's a word!, I protested; you wordified it by using it as a word. It matters not whether it's been dictionaried.

And then, just for the sake of completeness, I OED'd it. To my dismay, museum is listed as a verb. An intransitive verb, meaning to visit museums (n.). Here is one of the three exemplary quotations in the OED:

1899 H. James Let. 2 Apr. (1984) IV. 101, I breakfasted, dined, theatre'd, museumed, walked and talked them.
The them at the end suggests that all six verbs were being used transitively, which makes it a poor example of museum as an intransitive verb. I understand that the usages here may be eccentric, but that's irrelevant to my point (except that it may [or may not] mean that it isn't a good exemplary quotation for any purpose at all).

Sunday, April 22, 2012

No comment

The publication date and time (Blogger lets you schedule in advance, and it's very nice), as well as the gender of the pronouns, were chosen pseudo-randomly, using a pseudo-random-number generator, so that nobody will assume this has anything to do with anything I'm working on now, which it doesn't.

Well, this author whose book I was working on back when I posted this mentioned some social problem of some decades ago that some then-contemporary pundit was stewing about. The author wrote that this was not just some straw person the solon was pummeling, and he gave as a case in point what happened to some people in a novel. Timidly, I queried whether it might be better to cite a (so to speak) nonfictitious example. He replied that he didn't have one.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Authorial oracularity

Tuesday, I jobbed a book manuscript out to a freelancer who will be working under my supervision [chortle]. The acquiring editor received an e-mail from the author asking that the following be added to the end of the acknowledgments (I'm changing the wording a little so that future generations won't be able to identify the author): "[Name of freelancer] and Mike Koplow provided excellent copyediting, and they have my thanks."

This was very generous, given that the copyediting has barely started and she hasn't seen any of it. I'm not trying to make fun of this author, who seems from her e-mails to be a very nice person. [For purps of this post, her gender was chosen randomly by use of a randomly grabbed Maryland quarter dated 2000.] But she does risk making her compliments meaningless.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Verbal stuff that I like: New Hampshire primary edition

From Walter Shapiro, "Can Rick Santorum Pull Off an Upset in New Hampshire?," New Republic, posted 1/5/12:
But it will take a day or so for the turbulent news environment to calm before the weekend’s debate double-header, which means that all of us in the press pack are like soothsayers crippled by a sudden shortage of chicken entrails.