August 21, 2017

Are Typos Getting More Common?

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This sentence appeared on the New York Times website a few weeks ago: “In interviews with potential witnesses in recent weeks, prosecutors and F.B.I. agents have spent hours pouring over the details of Mr. Flynn’s business dealings with a Turkish-American businessman who worked last year with Mr. Flynn.”

Oops. There’s a typo in there — one of three I saw in major news outlets over the course of one day.

“Tesla is averaging around 1,800 orders a day for the Model 3 since it’s launch in late July,” a Yahoo Finance article reported that day.

“Chief of staff trying to reign in Trump in one major way,” an AOL headline announced.

Are typos getting more common? I explore the possibility in a recent column.

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August 14, 2017

Adjuncts, Disjuncts, and Conjuncts

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A reader wrote to say he prefers “I hope that” to “hopefully.” The reason, as he put it: “Hopefully, the train will arrive on time” makes him think of “the brave Little Engine that Could pulling into the station filled with hope.” That's a common misperception: That "hopefully" can modify only a verb and not a whole clause or sentence. It's not true. But it afford us a good opportunity to learn about the three types of conjunctions: adjuncts, disjuncts, and conjuncts. Here's my recent column on the subject.

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August 7, 2017

Irregardless

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Here are some things you can say about irregardless, if you're so inclined.

Irregardless is terrible.

Irregardless sounds uneducated.

Irregardless contains a redundant prefix.

But here's the one thing you cannot say about irregardless.

Irregardless is not a word.

Here's my recent column in which I explain how and why irregardless, for all its flaws, is most definitely a word.

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July 31, 2017

The Possessive of Jr. Through the Eyes of the New Yorker

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The New Yorker has a policy of putting commas around Jr., as in Donald Trump, Jr., met with Kremlin proxies. So how do they make that possessive? Do they do what any sane copy editor would do and drop the second comma? Nope. Here's what they do.

Donald Trump, Jr.,'s meeting with Kremlin proxies.

Repeat: Jr.,'s

Here, at some length, are thoughts on the subject.

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July 24, 2017

Forgo and Forego

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I don't know if I've ever seen anyone use the word forego correctly. Most of the time, it's used to mean "to do without," as in, "He'll have to forego using his washing machine for a week." They wanted to write forgo. But instead they chose a word that is at best a "variant" spelling of the word they wanted.

The past tense of forego—forwent—crops up from time to time. The male pioneers forewent the women and children settlers. But that's pretty rare, too. 

For the record, unless you want to settle for the variant spelling, the word that means to do without is forgo. No E. With an E, forego means to go before—a job we usually just give to precede.

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July 17, 2017

Passive Voice: It's Not What You've Been Told

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A few weeks ago, one of the copy editors in my social media feed stumbled across a blog post by a writing coach offering tips and insights about passive voice and when and how to avoid it.

Here are the examples the writing expert offered. “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” “The noise was terrifying.” The verb structure “was walking.” Sentences beginning with “it was” or “there were.” And “she made her way.”

My online editor friends had a field day. You see, none of those examples is passive. Here's my recent column explaining where the blogger went wrong.

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July 10, 2017

The Things Copy Editors Notice

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An editing error in this paragraph from a CNN story a few weeks ago caught my eye.

“DHS’ acting Director of Cyber Division of the department’s Office of Intelligence and Analysis, Samuel Liles, said that by late September, the intelligence community concluded that 21 states ‘were potentially targeted by Russian government-linked cyber actors’ with scanning of Internet-connected election systems.”

In all fairness, I should say that the error might not be an error in every editing style. But I still say it was the wrong call. Here's my column that explains what I mean.

 

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July 3, 2017

New York Times Copy Editors on the Chopping Block

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New York Times reporters and other staff members staged a walkout recently to protest deep cuts to the paper's copy editing staff. I was touched by the gesture.

Copy editors spend their days picking apart writers' work. It's our job to be a thorn in their sides, nitpicking everything from missing commas to badly written sentences (that we're not shy about labeling badly written). We ask all kinds of deliberately stupid questions to highlight the holes in their stories. As someone who's been on both sides of the process, I can tell you how annoying it is when an editor asks you to check a name spelling in a story you've already forgotten about in your rush to meet your next deadline.

But, of course, we're all on the same team—working to assure that the finished product is the best it can be. And, of course, writers appreciate copy editors' contributions.

 

"As a journalist, I've been saved by my copy editors many, many times," Nikole Hannah-Jones, a reporter for the New York Times Magazine who took part in the walkout, told CNN. "They play a critical role in the newsroom."

Nice to hear.

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June 26, 2017

Want to Correct Someone Else's 'Whom'? Not So Fast

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Knowing how to use “whom” is a lonely business. Sometimes you feel like no one’s on your team — not even the most successful wordsmiths of all time.

Exhibit A: This tweet from J.K. Rowling, in which the kajillion-selling author of the Harry Potter series reports having unsubscribed from another user’s tweets: “Just unfollowed a man whom I thought was smart and funny.”

When I read that, I was overcome with an almost uncontrollable urge to reply that she’d used “whom” wrong, perhaps including a brief primer on how to use it right. The impulse was strong, but I’m pleased to report that I took the road less obnoxious. I said nothing, which isn’t easy for an insufferable know-it-all like me.

Here's what I did instead and how you can avoid the same mistake.

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June 19, 2017

Music to Help Kids with Grammar?

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In case you missed it, NPR did an interesting piece a few weeks ago about the intersections of rhythm and grammar. From the piece:

Gordon has previously published research showing a correlation in children between good rhythm skills and a good grasp of grammar. She found children who can detect rhythmic variations in music have an easier time putting sentences together.

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