Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Battle of the Pronouns

Today’s match: ‘They’ versus ‘He’ and ‘She’.

From an online story about an after-hours office burglary:

“The…employee was in the office late Thursday evening when they heard sounds coming from the hall.”
“When the employee went to investigate the noise they saw a male suspect running down the hallway.”

Singular subject (“the employee”) combined with plural pronoun (“they”) equals copy editors everywhere engaging in head-banging-against-desk exercises.

I don’t know where this usage of “they” in place of “he” or “she” began, but I’ve witnessed it more in casual conversation than in writing. Apparently, some people feel that saying “they” instead of “he” or “she” (or the slightly more awkward “he or she” in the absence of a known gender) absolves them of the responsibility for choosing the correct pronoun.

Why someone would carry this improper usage into written form is as much of a mystery as where the incorrect usage started in the first place. Any thoughts?

Friday, May 27, 2011

Everyone’s a Writer Nowadays

I have finally begun work on a nonfiction project that’s been rattling around in my brainpan for quite some time. Said project requires research. Said research led me to an online article that exemplifies the state of writing in the modern age: Everyone thinks they are a writer.

Gone are the days when you had to slog repeatedly through slush pile hell for your work to be published. Now, thanks to the Internet, anyone who can coherently string together more than three words can post their work for all the world to see and claim the title of Writer. (Says the blogger—yes, I am well aware of the irony here…)

Granted, there's some terrific stuff out there. But sadly, many who cannot construct coherent sentences can also lay claim to the Writer title—and they do so with alarming frequency.

From a site that provides “Useful, Informative and Rebrandable Content” for web sites and blogs—and doesn’t pay its writers a penny for their efforts, which is another issue entirely—comes these tidbits about how to become a firefighter:

“…firefighting video clips and textbooks … will provide you having a wealth of data with regards to the daily lives from the adult males and girls who combat fire accidents.”

“Their training methods along with the every day actions even though on the work are all rather diverse from one another.”

“Not just will youve a distinctive insiders perspective but youll have the ability to proceed your quest to be a firefighter using a distinct advantage while you glimpse up distinct firefighting academies and camps.”

It’s pretty clear that English is not this prolific writer’s native language, but I give him/her high marks for effort. English is a difficult language to master, and there are many native speakers who can’t do much better! But this poor soul needs an editor.

And web sites like this need to quit posting every submission that crosses their inbox without giving it a much-needed second glance.

The article closes with this keyword oddity:

“In addition do you wish to find out more about airplane close calls ? You should consider our antique fire department equipment web-site.”

I can’t imagine how much I’ll learn about airplane near misses on a site devoted to antique fire equipment…

Friday, May 20, 2011

Friday Roundup

So many typos, so little time…

From an online article about a yoga pose:

"Seated Twist will ring out all your tension like twisting a wet towel…"

The correct phrase is “wring out.” To “ring out” refers to the peal of a bell, or a shot in the night. “Wring out” means to squeeze or twist the liquid out of something, like a wet towel. (Alternately, to wring one's hands means to twist the hands together in a gesture of distress.)

Another online article about a historical fire noted:

“…black smoke bellowing from the building…”

“Bellowing” means to shout “with a deep loud roar”, or to make a loud roar like an animal in pain or anger. “Billowing,” on the other hand, means: (verb) “to fill with air and swell outward”; or (noun) “a large undulating mass, typically a cloud, smoke, or steam” (per the handy-dandy dictionary installed on my new computer).

Both of these examples have something in common with other recent entries on this blog: The difference of one letter between the incorrect and correct words. It’s becoming an etymological epidemic.

Finally, here’s one I had to research: Is the correct phrase “to the manner born” or “to the manor born”?

According to a post on The Phrase Finder site, “To the manner born” can be traced to 1600s Shakespearean literature, while “to the manor born” first appears in 1859. The site goes on to say:

“The 'manor' version of the phrase is now far more popular in the language than the earlier one. Examples of its use make it clear that the distinction between 'manner' and 'manor' is now being lost. Given the closeness of the meaning of the two phrases, they have now become virtually interchangeable.”

Go forth and write correctly, my word warriors.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Historical Oops

I love history. Without a timer to keep me on track, I would surf the Internet for hours upon hours, reading about the latest historical finds and delving into accounts of historical events for no other purpose than pure enjoyment.

This morning a headline for an online news story about a historical map being returned to the Old Colorado City Historical Society caught my attention. And it was a pretty cool story.

I was, however, amused by this line describing the buildings of the era:

“They might have had a hundred rude cabins, but that was it,” he said.

A picture immediately sprang to mind of little log cabins hurling insults at passers-by and each other. (Hey – it’s been a long week, and the brain has been running rampant with unusually odd non-sequiturs…) I’m guessing the intended word was “crude,” as in “constructed in a rudimentary or makeshift way” (per www.dictionary.com).

I’m curious to know who was responsible for this little slip-up. Was it the writer, who missed a ‘c’ while rushing to meet a deadline? Was it a misspeak on the part of the interviewee that was transcribed verbatim into the article? Having recently conducted an interview that did not go quite as well as I’d planned, I’ve gained a whole new appreciation for things that can go wrong in such situations.

But “rude cabins” still makes me chuckle… :-)


Normally I don't post comments, but since comments don't show automatically unless you're logged in, and in the interest of accuracy, I thought I'd include this one from reader Lynne:

"Rude cabins" makes me chuckle, too. But the use of "rude" in this context seemed somehow familiar. I checked with merriam-webster.com and found this as the first definition:

a : being in a rough or unfinished state : crude
b : natural, raw 
c : primitive, undeveloped 
d : simple, elemental

I suspect that over time, "rude" has come to describe social behavior more than a physical state, as the dictionary.com definition indicates. 

Perhaps "rude" is appropriate in describing the condition of the cabins in the language of that historical era. But if I found it used in any copy that I were to edit these days, I'd definitely change it to "crude."

My reply:  Good catch, Lynne! I didn't dig deep enough into my sources to discover that "rude" can be a synonym for "crude." 

Thanks for your comment!

Monday, May 9, 2011

It’s Only One Letter…

If you think typos are no big deal, think again.

For the past week, we have been bombarded by non-stop media coverage of the killing of Osama Bin Laden. In their haste to cover this news event, though, some media outlets mistakenly changed just one little letter in the dead terrorists’ name:

(Photos from Failblog.org)

Remember this post from April in which I discussed how one letter can change the entire meaning of a word?


I think I made my point.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Thanks, Mom

Time changes everything, including language. Remember when “Your mother wears combat boots” was considered an insult?

Not anymore.

According to an article in USA Weekend (May 6-8, 2011), 72,682 mothers currently serve in the United States military. These moms wear their combat boots with pride, as well they should.

Happy Mother’s Day to all the mothers out there, whether or not you wear a uniform.

And to all who serve: Thank you.