The life of a (newspaper copy) editor.


It is the fate of those who toil at the lower employments of life, to be rather driven by the fear of evil, than attracted by the prospect of good; to be exposed to censure, without hope of praise; to be disgraced by miscarriage, or punished for neglect, where success would have been without applause, and diligence without reward.

via » Preface – A Dictionary of the English Language – Samuel Johnson – 1755.



(Cough), (sneeze).


The center has halted the publication of English-language figures about the spread of the disease since last Thursday.  It didn’t give a reason.

via China H7N9 Bird Flu Cases Rise By Five; Four Provinces Report Illnesses In One Day – Forbes.


‘Belvedere?! Come here, boy!’

One of the most consistent pieces of advice I found was to stick to names of one or two syllables, which quickly catch a puppy’s attention.

via The Art of Naming a Dog –

It says here that there is something ridiculous about worrying too much about what to name your dog. I say this because dogs do not speak English. They really don’t. I have one. Believe me.

People will tell you that you should choose a name that is simple, as expressed by the advice excerpted above. People will tell you to use hard syllables. People will tell you to use sibilant ones. I am telling you, Relax.

Scene from the Warner Brothers cartoon, “Dog Gone South.”

Scene from the Warner Brothers cartoon, “Dog Gone South.”

The No. 1 thing a dog listens for is a friendly, familiar voice, period. What makes it work for the dog is that it is never only listening. I read a book once in which the author referred to dogs as “master observers.” Which sounds stupid, and which always makes me laugh. But I believe it is true: Your dog knows about half of what you are planning to communicate before you even deliver any of your carefully chosen, vetted-by-TV-personalities commands.

Try this experiment with a friend’s dog. In as warm and jovial a tone as you can muster, call to the dog in gibberish. Better, call to the dog using insults. As long as your appear to be welcoming, the dog doesn’t care what you say.

My dog, who is basically a simple-minded, food-obsessed nervous wreck, knows when it is time to go outside, to play with a ball and to go to bed. Most of the time, I don’t address her by name; I say, “C’mon.” She gets it.

But of course I have a rule for naming a dog. I prefer names with a Southern pedigree. My first dog was Scarlett. Dog No. 2 is Maybelle. I keep joking with my wife that I will name Dog No. 3, if it’s a boy, Gen. Pierre Gustave Toutant Beauregard — and I am not joking. (The woman at the vet’s office will probably misspell it, anyway.)

Really, my rule for naming a dog is, Choose a name with dignity. Mostly this is for the dog. Here is an animal that has to sleep on the floor; is compelled to defecate out of doors, in front of people, and never exactly where it wants to; and is served the same bland food every day. The least you can do is ignore the impulse to name it Snickers. Partly the idea of dignity is for you, the owner. Imagine yourself standing in slippers, in two feet of snow, calling to your dog as it romps disobediently up and down the street. What do you want your neighbors to hear?

Things to say to your Swedish friends.


11. Attitydinkontinens, n. Definition: Literally meaning “attitude incontinence,” the term describes the inability to keep ones opinions to oneselfUsed in an English sentence: “Sorry for that long comment I left on your post just now. I guess I had a temporary case of attitydinkontinens.”

via Ogooglebar … and 14 Other Swedish Words We Should Incorporate Into English Immediately – Megan Garber – The Atlantic.


On the It, and the All-True


Its all true,
until it isn’t ♥.

This bit of graffiti, which is part of a neighborhood-wide series of messages, is interesting to me because of how it is punctuated.

Now, this is not going to turn into a snarky lesson on punctuation, though I think I am competent enough to provide a few. I don’t do that schtick. The fact is that people make signs, and people make mistakes. And you are better off (it says here) just letting some things slide, especially if you can’t fix it yourself. To wit, the bodega on my corner boasts that it is “Convinient,” and most of the time I see this simply as a good way of identifying my street. I consider what follows here not a lesson but “philosophy,” as in “a dog is a dog; that’s philosophy.” Or, as in, I thought about your stupid vandalism for longer than a few seconds.

As any observer can see, the artist who left the graffito above chose to add a comma at the end of the first line and concluded with a period, which to me are hints that this person is literate. By some measure, anyway. I say “by some measure” because the use of the comma is not really defensible, unless your usage guide has a chapter on poetic license. (Which maybe it should.) The period interests me, too, because it comes after a pictogram, which is often a clue that what you are dealing with is not really a sentence at all.

Furthermore, a third piece of punctuation is conspicuously absent: the apostrophe that turns the possessive “its” into a contraction for “it is.” Is an artist who employs a comma and a period likely to leave out such an important apostrophe? Well, probably; proper use of an apostrophe, on the surface, seems “advanced” compared with simply dotting the end of a sentence. But is it possible that the artist means to convey the sense of a Greater It and its singular essence, the All-True? Perhaps it is just a fragment, or a kind of urban koan? (“Its all is true”; veritas omnia vincit?)

And is the pictogram [(x²+y²−1)³−x²y³=0] a symbol for love or life or the soul, suggesting the pang of a distant, amorphous heartache?

Or is it a signature? Is the graffito meant to be a curt, cynical wave of the metaphorical hand from a life-worn and weary Love (or Life or the Soul)?

Probably not. Probably, the artist was working in vain, ignorant haste, blithely unaware of the comma splice in particular and of apostrophes altogether, hoping that a dripping yellow finger will not cause alarm when, later, he or she alights a subway train.

Earlier this week, the author Ron Rosenbaum, in a piece for Slate that is mostly a disquisition on language and meaning, considered the fragments of much more famous verse, which he presumably did not encounter painted sloppily on a wall. He starts with “What will survive of us is love” by Philip Larkin, contrasts that with “We must love one another or die” by W. H. Auden, and triangulates, if briefly, with “And in the end, the love you take/ Is equal to the love you make” by the Beatles.

He approaches the lines in different circumstances, dwelling for quite some time on a change Auden made (“We must love one another AND die”) for an anthology of his work. But before his conclusion, which is to ask what the substance of love actually is (“where exactly would it be?”), Rosenbaum makes an observation that hits close to an editor’s home:

“For poetic compression, Lennon and McCartney had nothing on Bob Marley, for whom two words were enough: ‘One love.’ Or Bono, for that matter, who used just one word: ‘One.’ That such lines leave themselves open to mockery is our fault, not theirs. Simplicity is not the same as simplemindedness and can aspire to the sublime.”
via “What will survive of us is love”: Poet Philip Larkin’s controversial line from “On Arundel Tomb.” – Slate Magazine.

Can simplicity, or in my case, a simpleton “aspire to the sublime”? Will you settle for original? The words, as painted above, may be a common sentiment, but they do not have an obvious source.

In “its all true” there is a hopeful affirmation, the idea that light can reveal goodness in many places. It also is clearly a message of inconclusiveness, lest anyone forget the Venn Diagram of Being. Swiftly, though, “until” brings a caveat, helpfully ruling out a lot of unpleasantness but also serving as a reminder that an endeavor devoid of warmth and energy is doomed to fail, in some way.

Even if it is only a paint-sopped finger stroking a brick wall.

What Copy Editors Dream About

Out of it a new lexicon was born: the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, published in 1969. The A.H.D. was a retort to Web. III. It was unashamedly prescriptive and also, strictly speaking, élitist.

via Henry Hitchings on Proper English : The New Yorker.

Orwell: Politics and the English Language

A man may take to drink because he feels himself to be a failure, and then fail all the more completely because he drinks. It is rather the same thing that is happening to the English language.

via Orwell: Politics and the English Language.

Yore Ax-Sent Shore Hass Chainj’d

This rearrangement, called the Northern Cities Vowel Shift, is the result of a chain reaction of vowel changes on an epic scale similar to the process that transformed vowels from Middle English to Modern English between 1400 and 1600.

via Votes and Vowels: A Changing Accent Shows How Language Parallels Politics | The Crux | Discover Magazine.