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?

“Their” and “they’re” and “there,” oh my

I did a little searching earlier for likely candidates for my daily post here, and I found this.

Am I troubled? Yes, I am.

Do I understand their reasoning? I do, but I don’t agree with it (obviously, or I wouldn’t be posting this, would I?).

Yes, spellcheckers have their useful moments. Do I think their existence negates the need to know proper spelling without their help? I do not. Do I wish that Word didn’t auto-correct words while I’m typing? Sometimes, yes. I’m capable of correcting my own errors, thanks. (And I am sometimes paid to correct those of others.)

Granted, the school is adding “a word usage section” focusing on the kinds of errors spellcheckers will miss, such as that set of triplets up in the title. I suppose I should be grateful for that much; at least they’re (holy cats, I just used one!) going to expect students to be able to tell the difference, and know which spelling is correct in a given instance.

I should be grateful. Somehow, I’m not.


Miss Thistlebottom