Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Keeping Composed

I read a pause-provoking article yesterday. Every once in a while, you come across a piece of writing that challenges some long-held assumptions and makes you see your world in exciting new ways. This is not one of those times...but there is some good stuff in the piece. It's sort of a manifesto about how thought and communication can become devalued in an age where we instantly communicate everything that pops into our pumpkins--on Twitter, in Facebook updates, in blog posts. I stumbled upon it on the blog of some guy I've been following on Twitter and I've been telling all my Facebook friends about it.

Here is an excerpt:
What worries me are the consequences of a diet comprised mostly of fake-connectedness, makebelieve insight and unedited first drafts of everything. I think it's making us small. I know that whenever I become aware of it, I realize how small it can make me. So, I've come to despise it.
Personally, I'd jam a hyphen in makebelieve, but beyond that we have the problem of that comprised. Compose and comprise is one of those troublesome twin sets that copyeditors owe their existence to. Briefly, a diet--at least a media one--can be composed of unedited first drafts (I have a fridge full of those myself). And these drafts, along with the insights and other mind-detritus, may comprise a diet. But comprised of, alas, is just wrong.

But hey, that's what edited second drafts are for.

Monday, September 27, 2010

The Mad Man and the Misinterpreted Metaphor

In today's must-know celebrity news, we're told that actor Jon Hamm, who plays the fascinating Don Draper on "Mad Men" (for those of you cultural defectives who don't know that), has suffered from debilitating depression. This comes from an interview in the UK magazine The Observer, in which he credits antidepressants with helping to break the spell:
"If you can change your brain chemistry enough to think: 'I want to get up in the morning; I don't want to sleep until four in the afternoon. I want to get up and go and do my shit and go to work and ...' Reset the auto-meter, kick-start the engine!"
I took a moment to puzzle over what an "auto-meter" might be until it occurred to me that Hamm probably said odometer with the emphasis on the first syllable, and the British interviewer, in transcribing his words, wrote what she thought she heard, probably assuming it was some kind of uniquely American gadget. Thus leaving us with a passage that's needling into the red zone on the odd-o-meter.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Gee, and All I Got You Was This Hyphen

If it seems to you that today feels a little different, that's probably because it's National Punctuation Day (at least in the U.S., but if we Northerners can celebrate the sacred tradition of Super Bowl Sunday, we can horn in on this, too.)

And in case you think punctuation is not worthy of being celebrated, I offer this diverting example from the writer John Shore, who imagines this postscript to a love letter:
P.S. I would like to tell you that I love you. I can't stop thinking that you are one of the prettiest women on earth.
And now the same words, punctuated differently:
P.S. I would like to tell you that I love you. I can't. Stop thinking that you are one of the prettiest women on earth.
So if you want to be forbearing with punctuation abusers the rest of the year, ok. But for today, at least, if you catch someone disrespecting a colon, feel free to give them a kick in the asterisk.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

It's Alwrong

Here's this morning's front page of the Huffington Post:

They're not big on subtlety with their headlines or images at HuffPo. And apparently, they're not big on observing standard spelling conventions. It's easy to find examples of alright around us, starting with The Who, and their "The Kids are Alright" song and movie--but Pete Townshend does a lot of things the rest of us are wise to avoid. Bill Bryson, in his Dictionary of Troublesome Words, notes that, while the truncated version shows up on occasion in respected publications, "English is a slow and fickle tongue, and alright continues to be looked on as illiterate and unacceptable, and consequently it ought never to appear in serious writing." The righteous among us, in other words, use all right.

Grammar Girl, a fine bloggist and podcaster who does actual research, finds that's pretty much the consensus--although she also finds a source who gives a good argument for a distinction between alright and all right. I won't reveal it here (I'm busy and tired--don't you hate that combination?), but it's all there in the preceding link.

Friday, September 17, 2010

He Won't be a Virgin for Long in Prison

As if the news weren't bad enough for Shelley Malil, an actor who appeared in the movie The 40-Year-Old Virgin, when a jury of his peers did not buy his story that he had stabbed his ex-girlfriend by accident--more than twenty times.

Too add insult to justice, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer ran this formatting-free headline:

40-Year-Old Virgin Actor Found Guilty in Stabbing of Ex-Girlfriend

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Goodbye, Newman

I see that broadcaster Edwin Newman, one of the last remaining journalist icons from the "I reported Kennedy's assassination" era, has died. According to the AP report:
Newman died on Aug. 13 of pneumonia in Oxford, England. He had moved there with his wife in 2007 to live closer to their daughter, said his lawyer Rupert Mead. He said the family delayed announcing Newman's death so they could spend some time privately grieving.
Delaying the announcement is a telling old-school touch, a nice gesture of quiet dignity, if you ask me. But I fear that old Edwin, the author of unabashedly curmudgeonly books on language usage such as "Strictly Speaking" and "A Civil Tongue," while perhaps not exactly rolling over in his grave, would at least shift uncomfortably in his repose at the misused restrictive appositive in that passage. It should be "his lawyer, Rupert Mead" because Rupert's name is incidental to the meaning of the sentence and we need a comma to make it parenthetical.

Yeah, I know: who cares? But while we're at it, let's also point out that it might have been a good idea to begin that last sentence in the passage with "Mead said..." The way it stands now it takes us a moment to realize that the "he" from the preceding sentence (Newman) is not the same "he" who is the subject of the succeeding sentence, and that Newman is not, in fact, reporting on his own death. Which, now that I think of it, is probably every iconic newsman's dream assignment.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

We Put the "E" in "Smart"

Yesterday, I took little Sam to school for his first day at the Strong Start program for toddlers--a "play and learn" free-for-all that was maggoty with kids and that had the same disjointed, cacophonous atmosphere, not to mention the same over-the-top theatrical expressions of feeling, as a session of Parliament (never mind a "parliament of owls;" a "parliament of toddlers" seems much more apt). I have to say I almost got a little moist watching my little guy begin his immersion into a social milieu of his contemporaries--even when he introduced himself to a comely little blonde girl by jabbing her in the throat with a fearsomely pointy penguin figurine.

We learned a lot that first day. Sam learned more about counting and sharing, and how to sing along to "Old MacDonald." I learned that it's very hard to get up from a seated position on the floor when I've had a long run the evening before. And we learned that the legacy of former U.S. Vice-President Dan Quayle lives on, as evidenced by this toy bin label:

Friday, September 10, 2010

A Message From My Daughter, Who Soaked the Bathroom Floor When Washing Her Feet

Thanks for the heads-up, Abby. I can forgive the slippery floor, but misspelling three out of four words earns you a passage from Strunk & White for story-time tonight.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Just Between We

We bought a new armchair to go with our new living room flooring, which meant having to borrow a van from nearby friends so I could ferry it home. (And really, folks, if you don't want friends calling on you to borrow your vehicle--for god's sake, don't buy a van.)

Being a conscientious borrower of vehicles, I made sure not to adjust the seat or mirrors, or even play with the radio dial, which is why I found myself en route to the consignment shop listening to the execrable "classic" song, "Hungry Eyes," which features the lyric:
With these hungry eyes
One look at you and I can't disguise
I've got hungry eyes
I feel the magic between you and I
We all remember when were young and we said to mom, "Roberto and me are going to the reservoir to drown kittens," only to feel the burning shame of having mom correct us. "Roberto and I are going to drown kittens," she would admonish--and she was right. That's because Roberto and I were the agents of action in this scenario and so our pronouns needed to take the subjective case.

But "between" is a preposition, and prepositions, for some reason, insist on being followed by the objective case (objects being the things having something done to them, rather the things doing the doing). Here's where it get's tricky. The objective counterpoint to the subjective I is me. The objective counterpoint to the subjective you So "you and I" might be drowning kittens, but that's just between "you and me."

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Taken to the Cleaners

So the washing machine is beyond repair. I was feeling cocky and manly after an episode a couple of weeks ago, when the machine wouldn't spin and, on Kim's suggestion, we started talking to flannel-mouthed appliance salesmen who spoke earnestly about the necessity of replacing our "system." I bailed on the conversation when the numbers starting creeping toward a price commensurate with a Sarah Palin wardrobe update, and insisted on giving our old washer another chance. "It could just be a broken belt or something," I reasoned, now that I understood that belts were involved. We went home, I pulled out the machine with brawny determination, crawled behind and got gratifyingly grimy as I removed the back panel and found...a droopy belt that had been flung from its pulleys. Triumph!

Alas, a couple of washes later, the flooding began. I climbed back there again and removed the panel, but since this time there was no belt to reset, I was out of ideas. A call to a local appliance repair shop brought the news that there was "a man in the area" who could be there within moments.

The guy swaggered into our laundry room (where, it must be pointed out, I had cleared a space, I had pulled out the washer, I had skinned a knuckle disconnecting the water supply, and I had once again removed the 25 screws to liberate the back panel.) He pulled off his ball cap, craned his neck around to see inside the cavity and made his pronouncement.

"Blown a seal. Can tell by the spray pattern. Probably why the belt came off before. Not worth fixing.You need a new machine." He popped his ball cap back on and pulled out an invoice book.

"So how do you want to pay for this?" he asked.

"With seething resentment, " I wanted to say. But instead I fetched my checkbook and wrote out a prescription allowing him to exfoliate 72 bucks from my bank account for the "service call." After he left, I stood there for a moment in the defeated disarray of the laundry room, check-writing pen in hand, silently rebuking myself for not learning a trade that gave me the opportunity to gouge hapless innocents for a consultation-at-a-glance.

I was finally aroused from my reflective reverie when my eyes alighted on the label of the laundry detergent bottle:

"Cleans even dirt and odours you don't see." I could mention that you want a laundry detergent to clean clothes, not dirt. (Which begs the koan-like question: how does one know when one's dirt is clean?) But what really has me flummoxed is those odours I'm not seeing, which is a form of synesthesia I'm not familiar with. I don't think you can eyeball a stench. Although, I am freshly reminded, I can smell a scam.

Friday, September 03, 2010

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Let's See Pedro Proofread Like This

An unfinished (and seemingly unfinishable) living room flooring project, a dismantled malfunctioning washing machine, a power-washing young tradesman in wife-distracting muscle shirt blasting our siding and windows, and the plaintive pleas of a couple of whiny confined kids led us to flee our home today for lunch.

First stop was the gourmet meat store to pick up dinner goodies, where I ran into my favorite clerk: The Guy with the Low Threshold for Awe.

"Two chicken and two salmon kebabs? Awesome."

"Is that everything for you? Awesome."

"That'll be $10.96. From twenty? Awesome."

"Do you want a bag for that? No? Awesome."

Next stop, the local Taco Del Mar franchise for some semi-authentic Mexican grub. It's there, over a plate of well-sauced enchiladas, that I find this smörgåsbord of errata among the headlines on Page 6 of today's 24H:

Did you catch them? The first one is a simple typo; Hurricane Earl, the proper noun, is missing its proper capitalization. In the next one, the judge has in fact stepped down, as is made clear in the copy. "Steps away" makes it sound like he ducked out for a smoke. And finally, although it may sometimes seem like Prime Minister Stephen Harper is at war with himself, the PM and Harper can hardly be at odds over those jets, since Harper is the PM.

Anyway, enough of such frivolous nonsense. The transition stripping on the flooring awaits, as does the leaky washing machine, the now whiny and tired kids, and the re-positioning of the patio furniture that has been soaked by Pedro the sexy power-washer.