How do you plead?

More apropos: “How have you pled? Or pleaded? Which one is it, anyway?”

The answer is: Both. Yes. Either. Doesn’t really matter.

I told you you probably wouldn’t like the answer to that question in my last blog post. But did you read it? Did you listen? Do I sound like your mother?

This site provides an interesting perspective that, to me, cuts to the heart of the matter. It’s a legalese issue from my point of view. Think about it for a moment. What’s the real difference between “The mother pleaded for mercy on her child” and “The suspect pled not guilty”? The first one takes place outside the courtroom (one assumes, anyway), the second inside it. Dictionaries tell us that “pleaded” is the standard form, but we’re used to hearing “pled” because we’re addicted to courtroom dramas from “Perry Mason” to “Law & Order.”

Another site points out the poetic use of “pled” (citing Spenser, among others) over “pleaded,” and explains that while lawyers also tend to use “pled” over “pleaded,” they use “deeded” instead of the “unfortunate-sounding alternative” one would arrive at if following the same formula. (I’ll wait while you work that out.)

It would seem to me, based on these readings and several dictionaries, that “pleaded” is the standard form for the past tense of “plead.” It would also seem to me that if the writer prefers the sound of “pled” for some reason (be that poetic license or legalese), that is also acceptable in general. As always, check your preferred usage manual if you care about that sort of thing. (And you should care about it. If you don’t, why are you reading this blog in the first place?)


The Debate Continues

No, no. Not that one.

Sometimes other folks can say what I’m thinking more eloquently than I can. This is one of those times. I invite you to click on this link to read a NYT piece in which two grammarians debate which rules to adhere to, and which to let slide.

If I have to choose a label, I find that I can’t. I have elements of both prescriptivism and descriptivism in my grammatical worldview. Apparently that’s not entirely bad.

I can live with that.

Two really unfortunate typos

Hi, folks! I haven’t been too present on the blog lately. I was away for much of last week on a family vacation, and tomorrow I’m heading to GenCon to see old friends, but I recently found* two typos that I had to share. Consider them snacks to tide you over until a real post comes along.

First, you’ve heard of Porsche, right? Their cars ain’t cheap, so you’d figure the company would have a little money to invest in producing great ads. However, they seem to have skimped on the proofreading in this series of billboards promoting their Boxster. I always say if you’re going to misspell the name of your own product, you might as well do it big.

Next up is this obituary, which contains a hilariously inappropriate acronym in the photo caption. Apparently, some folks on Twitter have called this the “worst caption fail of all time.” I really don’t know how this particular error can be explained. You’d have to go out of your way to make this mistake. One theory is that the caption writer meant to signify “lots of love,” but that just makes me LOL.

(When I say I “found” these typos, I mean I read about them online. One of them was sent to me by a friend, and one of them was discovered while browsing. I much prefer taking photos of real typos in the wild, but until Karen and I launch a Kickstarter campaign to fund our world travels for that very purpose, a prescriptive grammarian’s gotta do what a prescriptive grammarian’s gotta do.)

Battle of the bugle

I often read Kevin Drum’s blog at the Mother Jones website and felt like sharing a great typo he found in the Washington Post.

Fighting with cone-shaped corn chips might be worth watching, too.

The original story has since been updated on the Post‘s website, and Karen and I usually don’t spotlight errors that have been corrected—we don’t want to seem like rabid editors chasing down every typo ever made—but the idea of a bugle battle at the Olympics was too good to pass up. And, of course, this is yet another example of a mistake that a spellchecker wouldn’t (and apparently didn’t) catch.

Living Language Peeve: Slang at the CSM

I know some of my readers who are also real-life friends or acquaintances are aware of my “living language peeves.” Those are the things that we could eliminate, if we could only keep the language from evolving. Granted, some of those evolutionary steps aren’t necessarily bad things. Sometimes, for instance, we need a word for a thing that was just created or invented. That’s a Good Thing. However, my peeve for today falls into the Bad Thing category no matter how I slice it.

“Humongous” in a Headline? Really, CSM?

Now, lest someone out there think I’m a total stick-in-the-mud, I use that word plenty in everyday speech. I don’t shy away from slang. In daily speech, with my family and friends, there’s no reason to be stodgy. However, I draw the line at using slang in professional situations like when I’m teaching, or making a presentation to a group. I apply the same standards to writing. I don’t expect to see “humongous” in a headline at a news outlet with the reputation of the Christian Science Monitor. I just don’t. The Onion, sure. A college paper with a carefree bent, sure. The NYT? The CSM? The WaPo? No, I’m sorry–I expect their writers and editors to use standard English.

And that’s the way it is, Tuesday, July 17, 2012. Good night, David.


ETA: Later tonight, this version appeared on the RSS feed. Both links remain active at this posting. More info in my comment timestamped 7:02pm.

Was it live, or was it Photoshopped? (opinion below)

The other night while I was reading my RSS feeds and keeping an eye on the Twitter feed as well, I saw a Tweet from Lisa Lillien (aka “Hungry Girl,” of cookbook and website fame). Her comment was “OMG!” (There may have been a little more, but the gist of it was still “OMG!”) Now, of course, the only place I can find the image is . . .


It could be Photoshopped. Clearly it’s an image on someone’s flatscreen tv. However, when I saw the Tweet from Lisa, the photo was without an identifier other than the station’s ID in the lower right corner, and appeared to be from either her own cell phone (if she was traveling, it’s entirely possible–she’s LA-based, but this particular station is in the South Bend/Mishawaka IN area, aka “Michiana”) or someone else’s. Now, naturally, it’s found a home at the I Can Has Cheeseburger site, and looks just like it did when I first saw it a couple of nights ago. That still doesn’t answer definitively the question of Photoshop involvement.

However: I also submit this as further support for the strong possibility that the error was actually broadcast, and was not created for amusement. Yes, it’s plain that the meaning is “air-conditioning.” But, come on, people. Would it have been that difficult to use the accepted shorthand “a/c” (or “A/C”) to be absolutely sure no one (like me) could point out the sloppy usage? No air for a week sounds far more serious to me than living without air-conditioning. Because, y’know, with no air, living is pretty difficult.

Yes, I’m picky. I don’t cut the folks who type the chromakey information any slack, nor do I grant any to the web content writers and editors (if indeed there are editors). It’s a high-pressure job, no doubt–but all the more reason for them to be far more careful that what they’ve entered is correct and clear before it goes live. Or public. Or whatever term is correct for the particular venue. (Remember a year or two ago, when a national news network misspelled “Niger” and suffered the wrath of viewers around the world? Yeah. That’s why the folks who enter the information need to proofread.)

It also doesn’t help (or hurt, depending on whose side you’re taking) that I have a passing familiarity with this particular station, and I’ve seen stupid errors like this one on the air before. This marks the first time one’s made it to the national awareness, as far as I know. I’m not sure that’s entirely a good thing.


E-books that read YOU

Today I heard a great story on the NPR radio program On the Media. The host talked to Alexandra Alter, a reporter who wrote an article in the Wall Street Journal (which you can read here) about how the major e-book publishers are tracking your e-reading habits and using the data to shape future publications. As you read an e-book, your Kindle, Nook, or iPad is gathering data about where you start reading, where you stop, what sections you skip, what passages you underline, and so on, and transmitting that information back to the publisher. Here’s the opening paragraph from the Wall Street Journal article:

It takes the average reader just seven hours to read the final book in Suzanne Collins’s “Hunger Games” trilogy on the Kobo e-reader—about 57 pages an hour. Nearly 18,000 Kindle readers have highlighted the same line from the second book in the series: “Because sometimes things happen to people and they’re not equipped to deal with them.” And on Barnes & Noble’s Nook, the first thing that most readers do upon finishing the first “Hunger Games” book is to download the next one.

With the data they collect, the publishers determine (rightly or wrongly) what readers want to see and then try to deliver more of the same in subsequent releases. In other words, the publishers are putting their e-books through virtual focus groups.

And it gets better (or worse; your mileage may vary). In the radio interview, Alter added that some publishers have started releasing early digital editions of books, gathering data on how customers read those books on their devices, and then changing the eventual print editions to reflect that feedback. So if enough people quit reading the book before the end, the publishers are likely to punch things up so the hardcover has a better chance of keeping your eyeballs all the way through.

Set aside the privacy concerns for a moment (though I don’t want my Nook to narc me out to Barnes & Noble—do you?). Regardless of whether you think it’s a good thing or a bad thing that publishers are trying new ways to create books that will hold your attention, it’s not hard to see how this development might diminish the perceived role of editors. If an algorithm can decide that chapter 1 is boring and the book takes too long to read, but there’s a very popular passage in the middle of chapter 7, so let’s have more stuff like that, is there still room for humans in this process?

Sure, that question is a bit dramatic, because the answer is yes, at least for right now. But how can we stop publishers that are focused on the bottom line from giving too much weight to data about sales and reading habits?