anyway, it's not, usually.

Posted on September 13th, 2014 by Scraps.
Categories: Editing, Stock Phrases, Words.

Does anybody write "replica" without first writing "exact"?

Oh: I'm back. Cheers.

Is anybody there?


i know i'm a canary about fashionable words and jokes....

Posted on April 3rd, 2014 by Scraps.
Categories: Editing, Stock Phrases, Words.

....and you can ignore it. (Oh, like you usually stay up at night worrying.)

Anyway. "Hot mess" -- unless you are using it in a different way than everybody, please just remove "hot". It's past vogue.


seriously, it's been six months

Posted on October 3rd, 2013 by Scraps.
Categories: Boring Posts, Editing, Media, Words.

I was reading a CBS News report about a fight between Georgia and Tennessee over water rights (basically, a surveying mistake drawing the border 200 years ago enabled Georgia now to claim more of the Tennessee River than they're actually entitled to).

The story says:

Georgia wants to pull one billion gallons of drinking water a day from the Tennessee River, less, its officials claim, than the one-and-a-half billion gallons that four major Georgia tributaries feed to that river every day. There's also a threat of other options. Rumley said, "We could damn up all these streams before they even got to Tennessee, then could build a reservoir and pump it back."

It's dated April 5, 2013. The typo -- well, a mindo -- has been there ("damn up") for six months. I don't know which possibility is worse, several people pointing out the typo and CBS not caring to correct it, or nobody noticing. (Or nobody taking the time to point it out; it does take a minute to hit the "contact us" down at the bottom of the page, true. And I have lots of time.)


you can't make these up

Posted on November 30th, 2010 by Scraps.
Categories: Comedy, Editing, Pedantry, Words.

I am reading the whole Paris Review interview section, entire, from the 1950s to the present, which they have generously put up online. Right now I am reading the interview with Dorothy Parker. I wasn't familiar with the name Perle Mesta, so I looked her up.

Quoting Wikipedia: "Mesta was known as the 'hostess with the mostest [sic]'."

I guess they were worried about their knowledge of the English language.


one of my many language weirdnesses

Posted on July 9th, 2010 by Scraps.
Categories: Editing, Recovery, Words.

My spelling is coming back -- that is, thoughtlessly, automatically -- but I still sometimes forget to spell "n", especially in a consonant blend. Maybe it's a "quiet" sound. I don't know why, but forgetting "n" is about half my spelling mistakes (until I look up and see it).

1 comment.

writers, i entreat you

Posted on September 15th, 2008 by Scraps.
Categories: Badness, Editing, Words.

When presenting a short character, especially a short character presented negatively (as most of them are, and when they're not, they're presented as being extraordinary, which is almost worse), please resist the impulse to link height and character. This sort of thing isn't insight, it's second-hand pop psychology. If you throw Napoleon in there, it's also imbecilic.

The constant assumptions made about the psychology of short men (we're all insecure and overcompensating, don't you know), and the demonizing of traits that are admirable among the tall -- a short man isn't tough and no-nonsense, he's a ruthless bastard; he's not ambitious, he's power-hungry; he's not charming and charismatic, he's smarmy and slimy; he's not confident, he's arrogant and pushy -- aren't just cliches, they're offensive. Stop it.

Even an often well-meaning phrase like "making up for his physical shortcomings" is annoying, unless you're talking about being a fireman or something. The world throws constant shit at short men -- more than the non-short really comprehend -- so in that sense being short is a "physical shortcoming": in the same sense that it's a "shortcoming" to be female or non-white. But you wouldn't say of a character that she "made up for being a woman" or "made up for being black". At least, not any more (I hope).


thinking about what you say

Posted on November 17th, 2007 by Scraps.
Categories: Badness, Editing, Words.

I proofread ad copy yesterday -- copy I was not allowed to edit -- that said their product supplied "one of the most sought-after needs".

I think one of the dangers of ad copy writing -- apart from the fact that this copy appeared to have been written by a tech person without assistance from someone learned in grammar and punctuation -- is that it is so full of exaggeration and stock phrasery that it's easy, when in a hurry, to overlook that you have said nothing at all, or, worse, said something ludicrous.

1 comment.

language grrr

Posted on April 30th, 2007 by Scraps.
Categories: Editing, Words.

In Mike Leigh's overlong and intermittently entertaining Topsy-Turvy, he has W.S. Gilbert say of someone that they were probably out "gilding two lilies."

That "gild the lily" has replaced "paint the lily" ("to gild refined gold, to paint the lily") in common use is only a mild annoyance. But it was a twentieth-century development -- the earliest cite I've seen anyone give on the web is 1895, in the U.S. -- and W.S. Gilbert, an English playwright and versifier who learned his trade in the nineteenth century, would have known his Shakespeare, it seems to me.


headline syntax, a continuing series

Posted on January 3rd, 2007 by Scraps.
Categories: Editing, Words.

Today on ESPN's front page:

Young runaway winner for AP's top offensive rookie


an open apology

Posted on December 28th, 2006 by Scraps.
Categories: Editing, Words.

A sign at a local restaurant:

Sorry, we are closed only on Fridays.


stock phrases and conscious writing

Posted on December 20th, 2006 by Scraps.
Categories: Editing, Words.

A former systems administrator for the nation's largest pharmacy benefits manager (says the New York Times) has been indicted by a federal grand jury for allegedly planting a "logic bomb" that could have erased critical prescription information for 60 million Americans, including the information that tracks whether an individual is being prescribed dangerous combinations. Awful, but not what I came here to write about.

"The potential damage to Medco and the patients and physicians served by the company cannot be understated," Christopher J. Christie, the United States attorney for New Jersey, said in a statement.

(I'm glad he said it in a statement and not an interpretive dance or something.) Mr. Christie is saying the exact opposite of what he means. He means to say either that it cannot be overstated or that it should not be understated. This is one of the biggest dangers of stock phrases: the writer rarely thinks about what the words actually say. Stock phrases are generic signifiers. Mr. Christie wants to communicate a broad feeling of importance, and has reached into a bag of phrases and plugged one in that felt right. A large proportion of our speech operates this way, and no doubt everyone knows what Mr. Christie means, and probably only a few people will experience even a little bump at the wrong choice: the listener/reader is already anticipating the shape of the meaning from the context.


seuss stuff

Posted on November 21st, 2006 by Scraps.
Categories: Editing, Music, Words, Writers.

I'm trying to find Dr Seuss texts on the web, and am finding dribs and drabs, but nothing close to comprehensive.

The Wikipedia page is one of those peculiar Wikipedia combinations of helpful and lame.  For example, after a fine several-paragraph discussion of Seuss's meter, concluding:

While most of Seuss's books are either uniformly anapestic or iambic-trochaic, a few mix triple and double rhythms. Thus, for instance, Happy Birthday to You is generally written in anapestic tetrameter, but breaks into iambo-trochaic meter for the "Dr. Derring's singing herrings" and "Who-Bubs" episodes.

Wikipedia then adds:

Dr. seuss also inspired other authors to write in his story way and taught kids many things like reading.

Thud!  Wikipedia also notes Seuss's consistently progressive and Democratic-party politics, and says this about his attitude toward Communism:

His early political cartoons show a passionate opposition to fascism, and he urged Americans to oppose it, both before and after the entry of the United States into World War II. (By contrast, his cartoons tended to regard the fear of communism as overstated, finding the greater threat in the Dies Committee and those who threatened to cut America's "life line" to Stalin and Soviet Russia, the ones carrying "our war load".)

But then someone else (presumably) say this:

Interestingly enough [a phrase that has no business in encyclopedia writing], there is some thought that Seuss's Imagery, especially that of The Cat in the Hat was a metaphor for "sweeping out" communism and cleaning out the "red".


I did not know, by the way, that his name is properly pronounced "Soyce" -- that is, it's the way he pronounced it -- but since his parents were German and it's his own middle name, it makes sense.


things in writing that unreasonably irritate me

Posted on October 28th, 2006 by Scraps.
Categories: Badness, Editing, Words.

You know how people use "one" to coyly mention a famous person?  "Released in 1960, it featured guitar work by the two brothers, as well as harmonica played by one Bob Dylan."

I hate that.


the opposite of animism

Posted on October 22nd, 2006 by Scraps.
Categories: Editing, Words.

The U.S. (St Martin's Press) edition of Antony Flew's Dictionary of Philosophy -- a reference book, mind you -- has one of the worst running-head typos I have ever seen: for eight consecutive pages, it says "Plantonism".


creative use of euphemism

Posted on October 15th, 2006 by Scraps.
Categories: Editing, Sports, Words.

from the ESPN story about the suspension of the Raiders' Jerry Porter:

One player suggested the Raiders "were looking for an excuse [to sanction Porter], and Jerry kind of [unwittingly] gave" them one. But, said the player, "it's kind of a [horsefeathers] move if they're basing it just on what he said [Friday]."



Posted on August 8th, 2006 by Scraps.
Categories: Editing, Words.

I roll my eyes every time I see a variant on this locution:

It was almost enough to let her forget the betrayal, the heartbreak, the neverending heart-wrenching loss, the corns, the knowledge that some things once broken can never be put right....


Please don't do this.



Posted on March 13th, 2006 by Scraps.
Categories: Editing, Words.

Please don't use the word "proverbial" to apologize for using a cliche. In the second place, it's rarely a proverb, usually just a stock phrase. In the first place, it doesn't help the cliche to point at it; if anything, it draws attention to the paucity of the phrase. If it's too much work to rewrite the phrase into something original (and almost inevitably more specific and vivid), strike out "proverbial" and let the cliche slink by on its own.


  • She looked like she learned to dance from a series of still pictures.
    - Elvis Costello