Posted tagged ‘copyeditors’

The Washington Post changes “mike,” “e-mail” to “mic,” “email”

December 8, 2015

1-12433511551KPgDays ago in an op-edWashington Post copyeditor Bill Walsh announced some changes in the paper’s stylebook. Long after the Associated Press and even the New York Times, the Post has changed the following:
—“e-mail” to “email”
—“Web site” to “website”
—“Wal-Mart” to “Walmart”
—the short form of “microphone” from “mike” to “mic”

“Why did we wait so long to make the changes?” he wrote. “As the keeper, more or less, of The Post’s style manual, I’ll tell you why: because the new spellings were wrong.”

If all copyeditors were laid end to end, would they ever reach the same conclusion? At the same time? (Oh, wait, that’s economists.) Walmart changed the way it referred to its stores—if not its official corporate name—in 2008. AP changed “Web site” and “e-mail” in 2010 and 2011, respectively. The Times did so in 2013. Walsh decided to propose his changes only once the Post was about to move to a new building. Better late than never, I guess.

Let’s take these one at a time.

Email. We don’t say “tshirt” or “xray,” Walsh says, so why “email”? But he caved to pressure both internal and external because “yesterday’s vigorously defended norm can be today’s laughingstock.” Wrote Grammar Girl in 2011, “I asked the AP Stylebook editors why they made the change, and they said most of their writers already turn in articles with the ‘email’ spelling, and copy editors found ‘e-mail’ increasingly difficult to police. They emphasized that they don’t consider themselves to be on the leading edge of language change; that instead, they ‘bow to common usage.’ ”

My take: Don’t be fooled by the fact that tech users are early adopters; the world is not aligned on this sort of thing. AP also uses “e-book,” “e-commerce,” and “e-business”; a well-funded, global legal association uses “e-commerce” and “e-discovery.” To me, it’s about readability; do readers trip over the word? Digital readers were much quicker to give up (on) the hyphen.

Website. “I don’t know why I made such a big deal about it all these years,” said Walsh.

My take: AP still caps “Web” as a proper noun while lowercasing “website,” “webcam,” “webmaster,” etc. (We’ll see how long that lasts.) I’m fine with making it one word but appreciate the cap for clarity.

Walmart. The company is Wal-Mart Stores Inc.; it changed its logo in 2008. A logo is not a word, but readers complained. Walsh found a loophole that he said let him make the change: “The Post no longer routinely uses Inc., Corp., Co. and the like in company names. So we could keep Wal-Mart Stores Inc. on the rare occasion when we’d spell out the name, while otherwise referring to the company and its stores by the name everyone knows.” (Huh? What does that have to do with Walmart vs. Wal-Mart?)

My take: Just pay your workers decently, whatever you call yourself.

Mic. Walsh spent six paragraphs trying to justify his decision here. No wonder. “As a purist, I’m still not happy about mic. As a pragmatist, I feel I have to accept it,” he said.

Pro “mike”: “A bicycle is a bike, not a bic. Bic, as in the pens, rhymes with Mick.” Plus, “mic” began as an abbreviation on recording devices; it was never meant to be pronounced or used as a word. Pro “mic”: “Enough people made the error that mic gradually crept into the language.”

My take: I completely agree with everything Walsh says above, though I hate that the Post and other guides are giving in on this. As he explained well, “mic is an aberration.” And call me Irish(-American), but I’m not getting over the bad historical connections here. He’s also correct, though, that “some now-common phrases—mic drop, hot mic—would look downright anachronistic with the old spelling.” Which … is how language changes.

As an afterthought(!), Walsh stopped short of changing the rule that a person must be called “he” or “she”—but the Post now also allows the use of “they” “as a last resort.” Say what?! This one Walsh actually advocated as “the only sensible solution to English’s lack of a gender-neutral third-person singular personal pronoun.” “He” is sexist, “she” is patronizing, “he or she” is awkward, and alternating and “s/he” are silly. “What finally pushed me from acceptance to action on gender-neutral pronouns,” he wrote, “was the increasing visibility of gender-neutral people.” Plus, he noted, sometimes you just don’t know the right gender to use.

Walsh claims to be surprised that people have protested this change more than the others. Seriously? “I suspect that the singular they will go largely unnoticed even by those who oppose it on principle,” he wrote. “We’ve used it before, if inadvertently, and I’ve never heard a complaint.”

My ultimate take: Of all the changes mentioned here, the fact that no one has brought a complaint about a newspaper of record breaking a basic rule of grammar is the saddest one of all.

Copyright 2015 Ellen M. Ryan. All rights reserved.

Editors are funny. And that’s a good thing.

July 14, 2015

Many people assume editors, especially copyeditors, are a bit lacking in the humor department. People who fix other people’s grammar are like the ants at the picnic, right? Nope. Pat Myers, empress of the Washington Post’s Style Invitational, was a longtime Post copyeditor and still has a hand in at that. She’s an arbiter of humor who’s pretty funny herself.

And then there’s Bill Walsh, a current Post copyeditor, whose books include Lapsing Into a Comma and The Elephants of Style. In his monthly online chats about grammar and usage, he’s been known to have exchanges like this:

Q: Front page of the Post website: “Scientists have found the complicated reason Indian food so delicious.” Sigh.
A: Fixed now? If so, it’s a naan issue.


Q: Are formal conjunctive adverbs still used?
A: That’s the technical term for “pinkeye,” right?


Q. I’m so glad it’s March now, because if I hear one more broadcaster say “Febuary” [sic] I’m going to scream!
A: You’d think people would have learned that sort of thing at the liberry.

Lori Fradkin, a former copyeditor for New York, says her job supplied “the name of my future band, Typos on the Internet.” She was ecstatic when Panic! at the Disco removed its exclamation point, writing, “We only pray, moe., and !!! will follow suit”—and their choice not to, she said, was “sending a message to people like Ke$ha that kreativity is kick-a$$.”

When indexing The Subversive Copy Editor, Carol Saller went a step further, indexing “terrorists” with “see copy editors.”

Then there was that Twitter feed Fake AP Stylebook, which hasn’t posted in more than a year but had some great lines in its day. Among them:

“ ‘He/She’s not the only one’ as first sentence in second graf of a feature story ‪#ForbiddenPhrases

“While it’s tempting to call them ‘baristi’ because of the Italian roots, the plural of ‘barista’ is ‘journalism majors.’ ”

“The interrotilde is used to denote an ‘n’ that is pronounced as ‘WHUUUUUU?’ ”

“You cannot libel the dead. You can, however, libel the undead. Vampires have powerful lawyers and hypnotism, so be careful.”

“A sentence fragment occurs when you”

“.@jsgf: I don’t know, jsgf, when do YOU think it’s OK to use the passive-aggressive voice, MR. SMART GUY?”

“Christmas is the one time a year when you’re explicitly allowed to print stories that lie to children. Don’t waste it.”

Along similar lines, the smart-aleck people at Café Press offer mugs, T-shirts, and so on with such gems as these: “Volunteers Needed to Help Torture Victims” (no doubt a real headline once) and “One of the great things about being a copy editor is freedom from the vulgar desire for public recognition.”

A man wrote to Walsh last week to say that in reading a recent article, “I felt that the headline called to mind a sex act …. My girlfriend felt that such a reading would only occur to a stupid and immature child.” Walsh liked the question: “You have the kind of potty-brain that can be valuable on a copy desk.”

Which brings to mind a line from a profile in the Christian Science Monitor: “It is far from understood how smart and funny copy editors are as a group.” These attributes are necessary to the job. They make us good colleagues, too. And here’s the kicker, management: Who else is going to save your text, periodical, or website from pubic embarrassment?

Copyright 2015 Ellen M. Ryan. All rights reserved.

Teh need for copyedotirs–that is, the need for copyeditors

April 8, 2013

“Doris Truong, a multiplatform editor on the Universal News Desk at [the] Washington Post, was named the eighth winner of the American Copy Editors Society’s Robinson Prize during the national conference banquet Friday, April 5, in St. Louis,” according to the society’s website.

The day before, during (I assume) her absence from work, the Post website’s front page ran this headline for an upcoming chat: “Brad Hirschfield: Thanking God in Pubic Speeches.” As Dave Barry used to write, I am not making this up.

Would Ms. Truong have caught that? Is the website even in her domain? It should be in somebody’s. I understand the need, the need for speed, online (see “Should blog posts be edited?” two posts ago), but somebody has got to be second eyes at the very least. Why? Because everyone makes misteaks. Even—gasp—editors.

The irony here is too good to pass up, but the overall problem is sadly common. Former Post copyeditor Pat Myers had a conversation the other day on the aptly named Style Conversational blog that started with this question from a miffed reader about a different error: “Can’t the Post afford a preafrooder?” Excerpts follow (all sic):

—Someone at TWP got the massage. It’s gone from fuxed to fixed.

—[Another recent column read,] “The awe and wonder that accompanied Harper at 19 hasn’t abetted at 20.”

—I see so many errors in the online Post that I’ve started sighing and moving on. If I had my druthers, nothing would go out—in print or in bytes—without a copy editor eyeballing it first. But I have resigned myself to the temporal imperative of online journalism.

—[Pat:] I’d like to get the egregious errors fixed if possible. I don’t mean typos as much as ones that at least appear as errors of ignorance—ones where it looks as if the person didn’t know the right word (though if you’re anything like me, inadvertently typing a homophone of the correct word is becoming a more and more frequent occurrence).

—I acknowledge and applaud your desire to minimize TWP’s instances of egregious buffoonery.

Is there any more egregious buffoonery than “pubic affairs” and the like? But maybe I’m beating up on my hometown paper too much. Let’s run an experiment, a look at the online front pages of five U.S. newspapers, and see what shows up …

New York Times. The word “donuts.” I don’t know the paper’s style guide, so maybe that’s kosher, so to speak. Same for a few headlines I would have fixed, such as “Wearing a Badge, and a Video Camera” and “Slaking Region’s Thirst, and Cleaning Its Beaches.” “Scuttlebot,” in a technology headline, appears to be a pun. First (and seemingly only) mistake: “At Home With Jill Mccorkle.” A look at the story shows that her name is McCorkle.

Boston Globe. “Treasury head visiting Europe, to stress growth.” I guess the comma is there to show that these are separate ideas, not one. “Career-defining moments of three top women executives.” Agh, “women” is not an adjective! But that’s widely accepted these days. First mistake: “Thrown by plot in ‘Game of ‘Thrones.’ ” Possible mistake: “Understanding the hopes, fears, disappointments, and dreams of patients can make better doctors in the process.” Newspapers usually avoid the serial comma, but I can’t see enough evidence before the paywall to decide whether this is the Globe’s rule.

Chicago Sun-Times. First mistakes: “Fans, friend and family of Roger Ebert streamed into Holy Name Cathedral Monday morning to share their memories and love of the film critic at his funeral mass.” Roger had far more than one friend, and “Mass” is a proper noun. “Chicago Police program protects kids targeted with gang violence.” I believe that should be “by,” not “with.” Pet peeve: “Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher dead at 87.” This is correct according to AP, but Washingtonian and I say “prime minister” should not be capped after “former.” “View point: Wrigley Field rooftop owners were there first.” “View point,” two words?

Miami Herald. First mistake: “Mayoral candidate says someone is using Vodou on her.” AP, at least last year’s version, says the spelling is “Voodoo” (except lowercase for a use like “voodoo economics”). Maybe the Herald, understandably, has its own preference—but regardless, the mistake is either here or in a subhead, “The case of a vodou curse, drugs and rape heads to trial,” because either up or down is right. Pet peeve: “Water pressure impacted in Northwest Miami-Dade due to repairs.” Teeth are impacted; the water pressure is affected.

Los Angeles Times. Questionable use: “Goodwill, other nonprofits fight over used clothing.” The mental image alone is enough to suggest a rewrite. Correct use (yay): “Margaret Thatcher, Britain’s first female prime minister, dies at 87.” First three mistakes: “Closing Arguments Set in fake Rockefeller?s Murder Trial,” “Autopsy Underway for Pastor Rick Warren?s Son,” “Annette Funicello, Former Mousketeer, Dies at 70.” (The Times apparently uses a mix of u&lc for heads, depending on the section.)

And just for kicks, today’s Poughkeepsie Journal, the paper I grew up with. First mistake: “Margaret Thatcher, ‘The Iron Lady’ dies of a stroke at age 87.” “Army: No improper relationship for West Point head.” “By” would be better than “for”; this headline sounds like he’s not allocated one. “Philip Levine Poet Laureate of the US to Read at Storm King Art Center.” Commas, anyone? But here’s a whopper: The story itself informs us that he was poet laureate in the year 201112. (The story has so many typos that I wonder if part of the problem is transmission/formatting.) “Traffic, news, gas prices, lifestyle and things-to-do for those people who travel to get to work.” Maybe all those missing commas morphed into hyphens.

Now, this may not be a useful experiment so late in the day, when one hopes mistakes have been discovered and corrected. Also, there are probably a lot more and worse mistakes in stories than in front-page headlines. But there’s a big difference between a simple typo and, as Pat said, the sort of error that suggests ignorance or laziness on one or more people’s part. A misplaced punctuation mark is one thing; factual errors and bad grammar are another.

To clarify: I’m not so worried about typos, even worse ones than those noted here. But the bigger stuff—the stuff that makes journalists and newspapers look bad and depletes readers’ trust and faith—has to be fixed. Preferably before it gets into print.

I showed Pat the screen shot I took of last week’s Brad Hirschfield headline and the further mistake below it (“What do you think about public figures address God in public speeches?”). She replied, “I guess it’ll take a really damaging error before they decide it’s worth hiring more people, or slowing down the process, to have a cleaner page.” As Hirschfield might say, “God forbid.”

Copyright 2013 Ellen M. Ryan. All rights reserved.