Posted tagged ‘editors’

More public grammar and spelling don’ts

November 17, 2015

Ignorance, sloppiness, autocorrect (a bane if I ever saw one) … there are many reasons for poor grammar and usage. But there are few excuses.

No one writes the way they talk—see what I did there?—and few of us even write the way we’re “supposed to” in everyday writing. That is, in emails to friends and sticky notes to coworkers, who much cares how U write as long as yr understood? Emails to your boss or the board, on the other hand, call for a higher standard.

Companies, government agencies, and nonprofits are also held to a higher standard. Any entity in business with or service to the public should respect itself and its audience enough to use proper English. If you don’t know enough to make a noun and a verb agree—and know that it matters that they do—find someone who does.

As always, I’m not going to pound on regular folks who mess with the language. Those “entities” that know better or should, though, deserve what they get. Some examples:

In direct mail from a nondenominational Maryland church, “The decisions we make can transform our lives, the lives of our families and impact our future.” As Sesame Street says, “Which one of these things does not belong?” Parallel usage, please. Though fighting “impact” as a verb may require the Almighty.

From a Washington Gas marketing flier: “Cross bores can lay dormant for months or even years, their exact locations unknown.” Cross bores may lie low—that’s an example of an idiom—but they lie dormant. And that’s no lie.

A radio ad for a timeshare-rescue company says, “How’d you like to be the person that dumped that timeshare?” Another says, “You deserve a dentist that can restore a full arch of teeth in a single visit.” If this dentist is a person and not a robot, he or she is a “who,” not a “that.”

There’s a lot of this going around: Referring to veterans, the New Mexico Department of Health website says, “We are proud to serve those that have served us.” And “Tonight we’ve learned more about the prison employee that investigators think helped the men escape ….”—With two previous mentions here, CBS’s Scott Pelley is going for the ungrammatical hall of fame.

From a Yahoo Music article: “The song lyrics warn about a wrath from God prompted by ‘the lack of raw humanity.’ ” I’ve heard of the wrath of God. Maybe this should say “a wreath”?

In an opinion column in the Washington Post: “the text of the Constitution, the legislative history, the legislative history of the civil rights statue that preceded it ….” Ooh, let’s see the civil-rights statue that preceded it. Pretty sure the Constitution came first, though.

The Hollywood Reporter, quoting Law & Order: SVU showrunner Warren Leight about an actor: “We’ve put his character through the ringer ….” No, you put his character through the wringer. My grandmother used a wringer. Being put through one would be very unpleasant. (See photo.)

From a Liberty Mutual magazine ad: “As an alumni of UVa, you could receive exclusive savings ….” Staff at the alumni association, whose logo is on the ad, should know that any graduate, alum, or former student is singular, not plural.

In the Washington Post Express, in a section on odd crimes: “After giving officers there a detailed description of the hat, police found it in a flowerbed and arrested him.” Police gave officers a description?

And in the Washington Post, those pesky vowels: “The decision does not effect the Ivanka Trump collection, which Macy’s also sells.” No. It doesn’t affect it, either, which is more to the point.

From a business coach’s newsletter on the subject of communication (irony alert): “If people don’t seem to be listening to you and reacting the way you desire, it is you, not them, that are the issue.” Oy! (Says Bill Walsh, Washington Post copyeditor: “ ‘They’ would be the quick fix, but I’d do more heavy lifting.”)

Another communicator who should know better is the writer/editor of FishbowlNY, which ran this sentence this summer: “The New York Daily News has received bids from John Catsimatidis and Jimmy Finkelstein, but neither appear to be the frontrunner.”

On a poster in Washington, DC’s, transit system: “A smart kid like you knows that eating and drinking in the system is against the law, right?” And a smart Metro knows that two subjects take a plural verb, right? (It didn’t mean only people who do these things in combination. Folks have been arrested for just the French-fries part.)

Okay, this is not strictly a grammatical error and seemed to be an off-the-cuff remark, nothing official. But it made me giggle while listening to WTOP radio: “Watch out for deer on the road in all this fog. I saw two of them driving in this morning.

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.

Writers conferences: When the real work begins

May 12, 2015

imagesI cleared my calendar for Monday, May 4*, a month ahead of time. It would be the first business day and fully awake, alert day after this year’s three-day ASJA conference, and I would still have a lot to do. Of course.

Writers should expect a lot of homework after any conference. In addition to unpacking if travel has been involved, there’s sorting: One should return with a pile of business cards, a bunch of detailed notes on conference sessions, sample magazines, handouts, maybe giveaways, dongles, news releases, pens, bags, and who knows what else. If you don’t file it properly, you’re throwing away gold.

One the back of each business card, many of us write the date, the event, and a few words about the person to help us remember what we have in common or what to get in touch about. “Ghostwriter,” I jotted on the back of one card (the front didn’t say so). When I got home, I started an email conversation with the writer about this area of writing we share.

There may be official homework: Editors may have said, “Send me samples” or “Query me on that” or, more vaguely, “Follow up, okay?” or “Keep in touch.” They may have forgotten your name the instant you turned away, but if you draft a query the next day and mention your tete-a-tete, you’ll spark a useful, presumably pleasant memory. Six weeks down the road, you could be just another subject line to get rid of.

Notice I suggested “draft.” Don’t send it instantly. If the editor or publisher gave you feedback or taught a session, go through your notes first. Read through your sample magazine; look through more on his or her website, including the editorial calendar and other background. Make sure you’re on the right track—and proofread. Then send it quickly.

Undoubtedly, you found new markets. Whether you write for magazines, corporations, content marketing firms, or publishing houses, you surely learned of a few you didn’t know were there. Do some research. Check their editorial calendars. Look up their top employees. Draft a letter of interest or a relevant query. Mention something pertinent the person said in a session or over drinks at the bar. If you’re a member of the group that put on the conference, all the better—editors and publishers like to think they’re working with the best.

Unofficial homework includes following up with colleagues. Connect on LinkedIn; follow them on Twitter. Write emails to those you had a particularly interesting conversation with. Did one or the other of you express interest in an idea or ask a question? Follow up. This is how we learn. Conferences are much more than sessions.

Can you read your own handwriting? If not (or not really), type or copy the notes. This will reinforce what you learned. If you recorded the sessions, transcribe the good parts. Sometimes sessions you thought were great at the time don’t amount to much on the second listen. Okay. With those that do, you know what to keep.

Recharge your phone. The conference has already recharged you—although maybe you could use a nap before plunging ahead refreshed.

* Star Wars day: May the Fourth be with you.

(c) 2015 Ellen M. Ryan. All rights reserved.

More people (other than Larry King) who don’t make a lot of sense in public

January 27, 2015

Last year I called out people and institutions for messing up the language in ways big and small. Once again, I’m not elbowing ordinary folks for mistyping an email. Instead, they’re either public figures who should know better or institutions that have editors, PR experts, or other professionals to make sure they communicate properly. Or both.

You’re role models, and these errors are preventable, folks. Please, care enough to prevent them!

“It’s Regency Furniture’s 25th silver anniversary.” Really? The furniture company has been around since 1389? Listening to the radio in the car one January night, I responded, “You did not just say that!”

Advertisements for Ford vehicles have been using the tagline “Go Further.” I guess we can assume the company is talking metaphorically rather than literally about the vehicles’ ability to drive a long distance on whatever fuel they use. Because that would be “farther.” Wrote, “The new slogan, ‘Go Further,’ is intended in part as a warning against complacency after three years of profits, executives say.” Oh. Then maybe it’s not a grammatical mistake….

On January 6, the sports page of the Washington Post Express told us about this year’s “parody-filled” NBA conference. That it may be. Also parity-filled. But I like it the first way better.

Did you gift this to someone for the holidays? “ ‘The Art of French Gifting—La Vie est Belle’ Holiday Soirée Purchase with Purchase ($89 Value)” by Lancome. I love what the Atlantic said about this abuse of the English language: “Would you ever say ‘gifting’ out loud? Would you ever, without a sense of irony or shame, ask someone the question, ‘What can I gift you for your birthday?’ No, most likely, you would not. Not only because you are not (I am assuming) socially awkward, but also because, more to the point, you are not—or you would very much prefer not to be—a stooge of Madison Avenue.”

Scott Pelley, anchor, CBS Evening News: “There’s the First Lady in the First Lady’s box with several guests that have been invited.” No, no, Scott. A journalist of your experience should know that people and named animals are who; objects and unnamed animals are that. (This is the second time I’ve dinged Mr. Pelley for a grammatical bugaboo.)

NBC’s Anne Thompson, on the eve of January’s blizzard: “New York’s streets will most likely shut down by 11 p.m. tonight.” Not to single out NBC; Thompson’s hardly the only reporter to inflict this redundancy on us.

Penguin Press, which is touting a very political memoir by the very political David Axelrod, just put out a release with a whopping mistake in it. As Foreign Policy wrote, “Can you ‘C’ the typo?” “… I’m reaching out regarding BELIEVER: My Forty Years in Politics by David Axelrod, which we are proud to publish on February 10th (exactly 8 years after Senator Barak Obama stood on the steps of the Old Capitol Building in Springfield and announced he was running for president of the United States). … No other person, except perhaps for Barak Obama, knows exactly what it took to make that announcement possible ….”

I count seven errors (not just style quibbles such as hyphenation) in this story from WIOD Radio about an embarrassing government typo:
“Advertising Error Forces Miami-Dade County To Re-Approve 2015 Budget”
“Deja Vu for Miami-Dade County as commissioners are being forced to re-approve their 2015 budget.
“The Florida Department of Revenue says the county has to re-adopt it’s property tax-rate and budget again because of a numerical error that was detailed in a September newspaper advertisement about the tax rate.
“Residents’ rate won’t be changed as a result, and the notices sent out via mail were correct and do not have to be re-sent.
“But Commissioners are expected to hold it’s new hearing early next month. They have to hold another public hearing, re-issue the newspaper ad, and hold its vote.”

And now a promising note: “Report a Typo or Grammatical Error”
“FOX40 takes accuracy in our writing very seriously, but errors can sometimes slip through. If you notice a typo or grammatical error, please let us know.
“Using the form below, let us know which story you found the error in and we will promptly correct it.
“Thank you for reading”
Hey! Thank you, Fox40, the Fox affiliate station in Sacramento/Stockton/Modesto, California. I hope people take you up on this—or rather, don’t, if it indicates you’re doing a good job on this front.

Copyright 2015 Ellen M. Ryan. All rights reserved.

On compound modifiers and when to use a hyphen

January 6, 2015 Walsh, the Washington Post’s chatting copyeditor, has rendered an opinion on several grammatical (and other) issues that have grabbed my attention lately. One is when to use a comma in a compound modifier and when not to.

Way back in the 1970s, compound modifiers had hyphens: ice-cream cone, three-man spacecraft. In the 1990s and 2000s, a succession of editors and I imposed the same rule at The Washingtonian. We got some pushback from people who called the magazine “hyphen happy” (“hyphen-happy”?). As hyphen use fades away, it’s hard to tell where to draw the line—and stylebooks seem almost arbitrary on the matter.

That’s the background on Walsh’s first chat question recently. “It seems arbitrary to me: no hyphen for ‘grand jury investigation’ or ‘revenge porn law’ but ‘mineral-rich region’?” he or she asked. “And what are your thoughts on hyphenating ‘simple’ compound nouns (e.g., real-estate agent, high-school student). Thanks!”

I come up against this one almost daily. Since leaving my last magazine job—and my role as arbiter of grammar and style among people who actually care about such things—I admit becoming less hyphen-happy. But while some phrases read fine without a hyphen, others can be misread or just look wrong. If a stylebook is silent, do you just guess?

Here’s Walsh’s interesting reply: “That’s probably where my work practices and my personal practices differ the most. The Post would write ‘grand jury investigation,’ whereas I would write ‘grand-jury investigation.’ I even hyphenate the simple ones. Post style does not, and one of my problems with that philosophy is that it’s hard to draw the line. We’re not always consistent, and one of my goals is to come up with an easier-to-follow rationale for those pesky hyphens.”

Good point. We editors thought being called hyphen-happy was perfectly fine when we had a plain and easy-to-follow rule to follow that made the meaning clear and obvious to all. Once you start saying, “Well, not always,” editors won’t agree among themselves, and noneditors will have no idea. And there goes the neighborhood, grammatically speaking.

(Of course, we editors can stick our fingers in the dike only so long. Language changes, and eventually it will change around us. Which brings up that age-old question, should you be a prescriber or a describer?)

A commenter suggested that if the compound noun stands alone in a different context (“They eat ice cream; the grand jury will convene”), it doesn’t take a hyphen when modifying another noun. If it doesn’t otherwise stand alone (“mineral rich”), it does (“mineral-rich region”). Maybe that’s the rationale behind the Post stylebook?

I asked him those questions. Here are the answers:

“That’s a good way to decide when something like ‘mineral-rich’ absolutely must have a hyphen. It’s not a good guideline for deciding when not to hyphenate, because it takes the most anti-hyphen stance possible.

“Others will disagree, but I think it looks sloppy and unprofessional to leave ‘ham sandwich’ unhyphenated in something like ‘That was a good lunch, but it wasn’t ham-sandwich good.’ Or ‘beer gut’ in ‘One of those beer-gut dudes from Cleveland.’ You get the picture.

Post style, I’m afraid, reflects the fact that others will disagree.”

Speaking of disagreeing, here’s how yet another commenter responded: “Use them when not using them may confuse the reader. In the phrase ‘old money family,’ a hyphen isn’t needed because there isn’t such a thing as a ‘money family.’ The phrase ‘small-state senator’ needs a hyphen because there is such a thing as a ‘state senator.’ No need for the hyphens in ‘beer gut dudes’ or ‘ham sandwich good’ because the meanings are clear without hyphens.”

Yes, not confusing the reader is a main reason we have grammar. So I have to disagree with this commenter. No reader should have to spend even a second figuring out whether ‘money family’ or ‘state senator’ is a thing in those sentences. A hyphen makes it clear right away; no figuring or rereading needed.

And that is why we have (ahem) hyphen-use rules.

Copyright 2015 Ellen M. Ryan. All rights reserved.

Larry King and other people who don’t make a lot of sense in public

March 21, 2014

It’s a little too easy to come down on people who mess up the language in some kind of open forum—on Facebook, for instance, or on a radio call-in show. “Regular folks” should be off limits. But people who make their living in the public square, people who should know better and who are practiced at this sort of thing? That’s different. Especially those who have the benefit of editors and staff.

These are just some examples of poor role models, or occasional slip-ups by folks who should be role models, that I’ve come across lately. Some of their mistakes are grammatical, some are in spelling, some are in pronunciation, some are just sloppy typing, and some are probably ignorance uncaught by any editor. Some mistakes are no doubt made by low-level people who happen to speak (or write) for supposedly high-minded outlets. Come on, leaders: Just as with your stars, when someone in a low pay grade addresses the world for the whole, invest in a second set of eyes.

• Larry King, in launching his new television talk show last year, was widely quoted as saying, “I would rather ask questions to people in positions of power instead of speaking on their behalf.” The show’s advertising is still trumpeting that line.

In all this time the powers that be couldn’t film the man saying something more comprehensible? A few wording changes would fix the grammar; the connection between interviewing people and speaking for them is harder to explain.

• “Please reduce down to no more than two capsules a day.” It figures that an ad for Garcinia Plus, a weight-loss drug (to lose redundant pounds), would use redundant verbiage. Or is “reduce” a play on words?

• “Did you make a person last year? A little tiny person that’s really bad at eating?” Cute, Turbo Tax. But a person of any size is a “who,” not a “that.”

• “They say you are what you eat. Well, at Perdue, we say you are what you eat eats.

The public-radio show “A Way With Words” has a blog that took on the (deliberately) missing word. “Never mind the implication that you are a chicken. Glide right past that,” its moderator wrote. “Perdue needs better copy editors.”

CBS Evening News anchor Scott Pelley must have missed the school lesson in spelling and/or pronunciation of “Arctic,” because he says it this way every time he mentions climate change or winter weather: “A massive Artic air mass ….”

• “More on Yahoo: Six Degree That Make Your Résumé Look Good.” Oops. Fingers type faster than brain thinks? Or does brain not have a degree?

• From the Washington Post, February 28: “BREAKING NEWS Economy grew slower that thought in 4Q.” Ditto. A pretty common mistake that passes spell check, unfortunately.

• “Montgomery College will open at 11AM, Tuesday March 4th due to anticipated icy road conditions. … If your class can meet for at least half of it’s scheduled time … your class will meet when the College opens at 11 a.m.” Sigh.

• “The challenge of rearchitecting ….” I heard this in an ad for VMware one morning and thought, “You’ve got to be kidding.” The Midwest has fertilizer ads, and Washington has government contracting ads. Are they really much different?

Not having memorized the rest of the sentence, I Googled that phrase. VMware talks about “virtualizing Tier 1 applications” and “the work that we’re architecting for future generations to come.” (Redundancy again.) This is the sort of thing that people in the know translate without a thought but outsiders hear as gibberish.

Meanwhile, “rearchitecting” led to a bunch of hits, mostly from IT companies. One man’s blog says this: “We don’t need to rearchitect the Internet. We need to rearchitect society.” Someone should consider rearchitecting his vocabulary.

• And the best public mistake of all lately:

Fox News, While Reporting About a Spelling Bee, Misspells Spelling Bee

“By Scott Kleinberg Chicago Tribune social media editor
“10:07 a.m. CDT, March 11, 2014

“Fox News, your word is bee.

“Can you use it in a sentence?

“We can, but the network apparently can’t, using ‘spelling be’ in place of spelling bee in a caption at the bottom of the screen during an airing of the show Fox & Friends.” ….

Copyright 2014 Ellen M. Ryan. All rights reserved.

To be or not to bee, that is the question.

Where have all the writers gone?

October 20, 2013

For years, I’ve organized (if you can call it that) a large, loose group of writers along with some editors and a few PR people from all over Washington. We gather a few times a year to talk shop and snack, not always in that order.

The last time couple of times invitations went out, an abnormal number of people replied that they’d “gotten out of the business” or were “not writing much anymore.” They said that old clients have disappeared, and it’s hard to find new ones. They noted that markets have cut pay rates that had stayed the same for years, even decades. They said that in the information age, it’s tough to find information on who’s where, how to get in touch, and how to do business with them. Plus, there’ve been buyouts and layoffs too numerous to count.

One DC writer, a former White House correspondent, has turned an accessories sideline into her livelihood. Another has gone back into politics. (More secure, less lucrative, he joked. At least I think that was a joke.) Some, as you might expect, have drifted into marketing or PR, management, Web work, various sorts of editing, and so on.

Granted, most of the group had never been purely writers. It’s always been hard to support oneself by writing alone, so most people also edit, photograph, teach, proofread, create ancillary products and services, or some combination thereof—or simply have a “something completely different” job on the side. But now many have bowed out of the writing part, expanded the sideline into something full-time, or accepted “retirement” … willingly/happily or not.

You might think this brain drain is natural selection: If all these writers, editors, designers, and correspondents are being laid off or finding it too hard and leaving, maybe they’re more suited for other work. Maybe they’re better off somewhere else—and the profession is better off without them.

Let’s take those assertions one at a time. Is the creative class better off elsewhere? That depends on age, adaptability, and plenty of other factors. Creativity has little to do with age, though perseverance might. Any one person might find circumstances better elsewhere, but when so many people are bailing, something’s wrong. Anyone see a connection with complaints that the Washington Post, for example, isn’t the bastion of journalism it was 40 years ago when the fourth estate was esteemed, nearly everyone read at least one newspaper every day, unions were strong, and a reporter’s salary was a decent wage?

Is the profession better off culled? Are we all the richer for having fewer writers, editors, and designers? Heck, no. Again, one person being weeded out you might attribute to a lack of skill or effort or keeping up connections or some such. But all these people added color and texture to the tapestry. Our collective story is duller and flatter for the loss of so many of its tellers.

Think of it this way: Does the world need another handbag maker? Another political operative? Another (heaven forbid) marketer or a hundred? Stories of the people, places, and movements around us are going untold because some of us are no longer telling them. And some of the stories still being told are not being told as well because the stories are underfunded and their tellers are less valued. Sadly, that’s becoming obvious not just to writers but to readers as well.

Copyright 2013 Ellen M. Ryan. All rights reserved.

We’ve got food style

January 3, 2013

What is a cream puff made of? Why is sukiyaki called “the friendship dish”? What are those towering crepe-like desserts my grandmother used to make? If your recipe calls for a cup of tomato juice, and you’re out of it, what can you do? And a flip is a what?

More than a year ago I wrote a post that could have been called “Why I love the AP Stylebook.” Just as writing has its specialties, so style has its specialties. Writers may concentrate on, say, travel, food, parenting, technology, or essays. For food writers–and, to an extent, wine and travel writers–there’s (The New) Food Lover’s Companion.

Food writers, editors, and fact checkers keep Food Lover’s Companion close at hand. “One of the best reference tools we’ve seen, this is a must for every cook’s kitchen library,” said Bon Appetit. Not being anything close to a food expert, I had FLC open constantly when editing at Washingtonian. It’s still occasionally useful, on and off the job–and just plain interesting.

Who knew that “bard” is a verb? To bard is to tie bacon or fatback around lean meats or fowl so they don’t dry out during roasting. You remove the fat shortly before the meat is done to allow it to brown. Carpetbag steak? Not what I thought it was. It’s steak stuffed with seasoned oysters, then grilled. FLC explains how Peking duck’s skin gets that way (air is pumped between honeyed skin and flesh before drying) and that a “whiskey sour” can also be made with bourbon, gin, rum, and other liquors.

Last year I read with bemusement some early writings of Nora Ephron, who spent much of the 1960s learning to cook elaborate meals. Apparently this was quite a thing among young women of the time–fancy dishes, fancy dinner parties. Flipping through FLC reminded me of the less elaborate dinner parties and holiday meals my parents gave. The definition of “stud,” for instance, brought back an image of learning to poke cloves into a ham (unevenly) and feeling proud of having a task of my own. And “hard sauce.” The other grandparents, Irish who’d long since climbed the lace curtain, served plum pudding with hard sauce every Christmas. The description sent me right back to that heavy, gleaming table under that crystal chandelier, wearing my holiday best, trying not to grimace at the taste but licking the silver anyway because there was no place I’d rather be.

FLC tells us that Italian bread is the same as French bread except for the shape. Au contraire! Have Sharon Tyler Herbst et al. not felt or tasted the difference? The guide also doesn’t take a regional stand on crabcakes, though I guess I can’t blame it for not getting into that food fight. It’s Eurocentric at the expense of other continents. Otherwise, I don’t know enough to take issue with much within.

A cream puff is choux pastry around sweetened whipped cream or custard. Sukiyaki appeals to foreigners, so Japanese call it “the friendship dish.” Those Eastern European stacked “crepes” are palacsintas; they can be savory as well. For tomato juice, swap in half a cup of water and half a cup of tomato sauce. A flip is a cold drink made with liquor or wine mixed with sugar and egg, then shaken or stirred (Mr. Bond?) until frothy. Want it warmed? In colonial days, someone would plunge a red-hot poker into the brew before serving. That would get your attention.

Anyone says a style guide can’t possibly be fun, just tell ’em that one.

Copyright 2013 Ellen M. Ryan. All rights reserved.

Better than the sum of our parts

May 21, 2012

The stereotype of a writer is the starving artist pulling his hair out, scratching at parchment with a quill pen deep into the night by the light of a single candle, crumpling page after page at the typewriter and tossing them onto the floor, staring in despair at a blank screen with only a blinking cursor to mock him.

But writers need stimulation. Writers need other writers. From my earliest days as a wide-eyed member of Washington Independent Writers (RIP), I always came home from meetings energized, full of ideas and tips and leads. Even if we didn’t talk about a project or assignment of mine, I was inspired to plunge into it after sitting with other writers over soda and chips, discussing problems and solutions and hashing out whatever came up in conversation.

This afternoon’s ad hoc “no hype, no dues, no bull” writers gathering on Hope’s deck was the updated version. We talked social media, business cards, payment rates, promoting subjects, promoting ourselves, conferences, staff work versus freelance work, taxes, contracts, and more. I mentioned my class discussion about contracts and bafflement at the way they’ve seemingly morphed in the past year and asked whether others have seen the same trend.

Specifically, I mentioned my partial success at changing one magazine’s contract to reflect what I could realistically promise to deliver (see my post of February 29). The editors had agreed to insert the (italicized) term “Author represents and warrants that to the best of her knowledge” the article I was submitting would not be libelous or obscene and would not invade the rights of privacy, violate any law, or violate the right of any person, firm, or corporation and that any directions contained in it would not be injurious in any way to the user. Unfortunately, they made that change in my contract alone, not in anyone else’s.

Someone said she’d had a similar experience and had asked a lawyer’s advice. The term she’d gotten was “commercially reasonable efforts.” As in, you merely promise that you have made commercially reasonable efforts to ensure all of the above. Interesting! Almost everyone on the deck got out a pen and wrote it down: “commercially reasonable efforts.”

Now, we still have to get a meeting of the minds with editors. But my point is that a group of writers is stronger and more creative and more interesting and fun than the sum of its parts. Or at least equal to it. I’m inspired by new perspectives, a new setting, an exchange of views and experiences, and some good food. And we all learned something, too. Yay us!

Copyright 2012 Ellen M. Ryan. All rights reserved.