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 Post subject: So Say We All
PostPosted: Wed Sep 14, 2005 6:28 pm 
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Over the past five years or so, we have declared the following as canon. You'd think the list would be longer, but this is it, so far:

I. There is no such thing as a miracle.
II. We do not refer to soldiers as "peacekeepers."
III. We do not show stories to anyone outside the newspaper before publication.
IV. Newspapers published in English use headlines written in English.
V. We do not allow people to render their names as logos.
VI. The term "black box" serves no useful purpose. Use "flight data recorder" and "cockpit voice recorder."


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Wed Sep 14, 2005 7:39 pm 
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Nos. 1, 2 and 6 are all clearly defined in Webster's. Nothing wrong with any of them when used correctly.

There's not a paper in the country that hasn't violated No. 3.

Nos. 4 and 5 are OK.

We'll call this the reformed canon or Le Petomane's Heresy.


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Wed Sep 14, 2005 8:07 pm 
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Le Petomane wrote:

We'll call this the reformed canon or Le Petomane's Heresy.


Heh. Call it what you want at lepetomane.org. Not here!


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Wed Sep 14, 2005 8:10 pm 
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I forgot one:

VII. Dictionaries are the second-to-last refuge of scoundrels.


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Wed Sep 14, 2005 9:25 pm 
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What is the last refuge? "But that's what they call it?"


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Wed Sep 14, 2005 9:39 pm 
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Matthew Grieco wrote:
What is the last refuge? "But that's what they call it?"


Thesauruses.


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Wed Sep 14, 2005 9:42 pm 
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I prefer to think of dictionaries as the last refuge of scoundrels and thesauruses as the first refuge of hacks.


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Wed Sep 14, 2005 11:54 pm 
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Writing about oneself?


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Thu Sep 15, 2005 1:13 am 
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Nessie3 wrote:
Writing about oneself?


That would be on a different list.


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Thu Sep 15, 2005 8:18 am 
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I would offer a cautious corollary to Item VI.

As this technology (and its political debate) bubbles over into the automotive and consumer world, the terms "on-board computer", "engine controller (or computer)" or "control module" are acceptable in most cases.

Although aircraft have specific separate units for recording flight data, the memories on 99.98% of autos and light trucks are contained within the main control modules and are not separate units.

[And in my experience, most of these automotive controllers ARE housed in black boxes.]

Happy motoring.


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Thu Sep 15, 2005 3:10 pm 
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JT wrote:
I would offer a cautious corollary to Item VI.



VI applies only to stories about airplanes.


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Thu Sep 15, 2005 3:30 pm 
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What about the "freedom from vulgar desires"? Is that canon?


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Thu Sep 15, 2005 3:35 pm 
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SuchASlot wrote:
What about the "freedom from vulgar desires"? Is that canon?


That's commentary.


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Thu Sep 15, 2005 5:48 pm 
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Phillip Blanchard wrote:
I forgot one:

VII. Dictionaries are the second-to-last refuge of scoundrels.


An actual rare spot where the word "penultimate" can be used.

We had a writer who kept using that word. It slipped by some editors a few times until we clamped down.


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Thu Sep 15, 2005 7:38 pm 
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May I suggest a Headline Stipulation:

If the headline includes "nabbed," there is room to substitute "caught."


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Fri Sep 16, 2005 8:03 am 
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Great list ... but I spotted the ringer:

"We do not show stories to anyone outside the newspaper before publication"

Bad policy. On most occasions, of course, allowing story previews (pre-views?) is a terrible idea - but not on all. Sometimes stories can be greatly improved by showing portions to sources, or other knowledgeable folks, prior to publication. Blindly refusing to do that is old-school in a bad way, and I'm speaking as a reporter (ex-copy editor) who is twice the age of most of my colleagues, so old-school is usually a compliment.


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Fri Sep 16, 2005 9:49 am 
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longwords wrote:
May I suggest a Headline Stipulation:

If the headline includes "nabbed," there is room to substitute "caught."


To quote SeaRaven: Step back, people, and let the language breathe.


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Fri Sep 16, 2005 11:43 am 
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davidb666 wrote:
Bad policy.


Debated (for decades) and settled (here). The practice presents all sorts of legal and ethical problems that we really don't need.


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Fri Sep 16, 2005 9:06 pm 
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Isn't "A man who falls to his death from his roof while cleaning the gutters has not died a storm-related death" also canon?


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Sat Sep 17, 2005 3:13 am 
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Phillip Blanchard wrote:
I forgot one:

VII. Dictionaries are the second-to-last refuge of scoundrels.


Clearly, The Post still has too many of those pesky word-book things cluttering up the newsroom. They are anathema! Burn them!

Lexis Nexis hits in The Post for "peacekeeper": 2,774. Most recent: yesterday. (Today's articles aren't available yet.)

LexisNexis hits in The Post for "miracle" -- a word describing something that doesn't exist : more than 3,000. In the past two years: 1,322. Most recent: yesterday. (LexisNexis hits in The Post for "phlogiston" -- which really doesn't exist: zero.)

LexisNexis hits in The Post for "black box": 289. Most recent: yesterday.

Similar results from other major metros, all of which appear to be strongholds of Le Petomane's Heresy, dictionaries and common sense.

Let's not forget that it used to be canon in our peculiar theology that you couldn't "hold" a meeting.


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Sat Sep 17, 2005 6:23 am 
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In the words of a great citizen: If you're not willing to try and fail, and try and fail, and try and fail, you'll never succeed.


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Sat Sep 17, 2005 6:38 am 
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Matthew Grieco wrote:
Isn't "A man who falls to his death from his roof while cleaning the gutters has not died a storm-related death" also canon?


It seems too specific. How about:
"If the weather did not directly cause the death or injury, it's not storm-related."


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Sat Sep 17, 2005 6:43 am 
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And someone who shoots at other people is not a "peacekeeper". Ever. To say otherwise is stupid.


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Sat Sep 17, 2005 10:32 am 
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As we've learned (unfortunately) from such examples as Rwanda and Bosnia, U.N. peacekeepers are often under orders to NOT shoot anyone. So whatever the merits of "peacekeepers," it does seem odd to insist on calling such types soldiers.


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Sat Sep 17, 2005 11:17 am 
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Le Petomane wrote:
Phillip Blanchard wrote:
I forgot one:

VII. Dictionaries are the second-to-last refuge of scoundrels.


Clearly, The Post still has too many of those pesky word-book things cluttering up the newsroom. They are anathema! Burn them!

Lexis Nexis hits in The Post for "peacekeeper": 2,774. Most recent: yesterday. (Today's articles aren't available yet.)

LexisNexis hits in The Post for "miracle" -- a word describing something that doesn't exist : more than 3,000. In the past two years: 1,322. Most recent: yesterday. (LexisNexis hits in The Post for "phlogiston" -- which really doesn't exist: zero.)

LexisNexis hits in The Post for "black box": 289. Most recent: yesterday.

Similar results from other major metros, all of which appear to be strongholds of Le Petomane's Heresy, dictionaries and common sense.

Let's not forget that it used to be canon in our peculiar theology that you couldn't "hold" a meeting.


I interpret the TCE canon as admonition that whether a word is in the dictionary is not the sole criterion for determining whether it is legitimate for our purposes. I don't see the canon as a blanket indictment of dictionaries or of our legitimate use of them in the newsroom.


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Sat Sep 17, 2005 11:32 am 
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The dictionary obviously is an essential tool but is dangerous in the wrong hands.


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Sat Sep 17, 2005 4:39 pm 
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A few years ago, working as an assistant copy chief, I flagged a strangely inapt usage in a photo caption (this is long enough ago, alas, that I can't recall the specifics). The copy editor responsible hauled out the dictionary to justify his use -- and pointed to the etymology note preceding the definitions. (This person was among those who had been page designers who took on the title copy editor when the desks were merged into a "universal" desk. And he wasn't using an etymology defense; he'd actually mistaken the etymology for the definition.)

A truly dangerous tool in the wrong hands.


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Sat Sep 17, 2005 5:17 pm 
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A graphics designer once refused my instruction to change "bussing" to "busing" because she found the former in the dictionary. She would not accept the explanation that, yes, "bussing" was a word, but had nothing to do with vehicles.

Dictionaries are valuable tools, but only if there's an understanding that copy editors are the ones paid to make sure they are used correctly.


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 Post subject: Re: So Say We All
PostPosted: Sat Sep 17, 2005 7:22 pm 
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Phillip Blanchard wrote:
Over the past five years or so, we have declared the following as canon. You'd think the list would be longer, but this is it, so far:


[/b]


I surely would have expected a long list. Keep thinking, Phil. Surprised, for instance, that no whining about heds tinkered with or even rewritten entirely in the slot isn't on the list. Or a ban on "Call it ..." ledes.


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Sat Sep 17, 2005 8:36 pm 
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The list is only what has been declared.


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Sat Sep 17, 2005 9:06 pm 
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...he says, cryptically.


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Sat Sep 17, 2005 10:47 pm 
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Le Petomane wrote:
Phillip Blanchard wrote:
I forgot one:

VII. Dictionaries are the second-to-last refuge of scoundrels.




LexisNexis hits in The Post for "miracle" -- a word describing something that doesn't exist : more than 3,000. In the past two years: 1,322. Most recent: yesterday. (LexisNexis hits in The Post for "phlogiston" -- which really doesn't exist: zero.)


There may be no such thing as a miracle, but there are plenty of people who still use the word.

So a search of "miracle" doesn't tell us much, unless it cuts out quotes or paraphrasings that use the word.


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Sun Sep 18, 2005 12:52 am 
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You guys have the wrong idea. Read the archives for background.


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Sun Sep 18, 2005 12:52 am 
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Docsdoctor wrote:
And someone who shoots at other people is not a "peacekeeper". Ever. To say otherwise is stupid.


So we'd better add "peace officer" to the list of banned words and phrases. Despite the fact that its meaning is perfectly clear and understood by everyone. Despite the fact that the phrase has been in widespread, common use for hundreds of years.


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Sun Sep 18, 2005 1:48 am 
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Le Petomane wrote:
Docsdoctor wrote:
And someone who shoots at other people is not a "peacekeeper". Ever. To say otherwise is stupid.


So we'd better add "peace officer" to the list of banned words and phrases.


No. We're just saying not to call soldiers "peacekeepers."


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Mon Sep 19, 2005 12:32 pm 
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Matthew Grieco wrote:
A graphics designer once refused my instruction to change "bussing" to "busing" because she found the former in the dictionary. She would not accept the explanation that, yes, "bussing" was a word, but had nothing to do with vehicles.

Dictionaries are valuable tools, but only if there's an understanding that copy editors are the ones paid to make sure they are used correctly.



In the words of Samuel Johnson:
"Dictionaries are like watches: the worst is better than none, and the best cannot be expected to go quite true."


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Mon Sep 19, 2005 8:29 pm 
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Also canon:

Do not bring doughnuts in for the copy desk.


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 Post subject: Re: So Say We All
PostPosted: Mon Sep 19, 2005 11:01 pm 
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Phillip Blanchard wrote:
So Say We All


*** No, we don't. ***

There should be no place for hyperliteralist edicts in our stylebooks.


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Tue Sep 20, 2005 12:57 am 
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Phillip Blanchard wrote:
Le Petomane wrote:
Docsdoctor wrote:
And someone who shoots at other people is not a "peacekeeper". Ever. To say otherwise is stupid.


So we'd better add "peace officer" to the list of banned words and phrases.


No. We're just saying not to call soldiers "peacekeepers."


"We" are wrong. If soldiers can't be "peacekeepers," then heavily armed, deadly police forces that include armored vehicles and SWAT teams can't be "peace officers." The analogy is perfect.

The first recorded use of "miracle"in the sense of "an achievement seemingly beyond human ability" was in 1386 by Chaucer. It has retained this meaning for more than 600 years, but there is a gang of copy editors who just know that this meaning is wrong and ban the word. The mind staggers in the face of such hubris and ignorance.

"We" are the reason reporters and generating editors hate the copy desk. The idea that "we" possess secret knowledge that is contradicted by every dictionary on the planet and by hundreds of years of universal usage by literate people causes the non-"we" copy editors all kinds of problems when we try to correct real problems. The fact that this canon is violated thousands of times by every major metro in the land should be all the proof that's needed.

I would love to see how those who follow this canon explain to reporters that the dictionary is correct except when "we" say that it is wrong.

These edicts are simply wrong and differ not a whit from prohibitions against "holding" a meeting or claiming that "rush hour" must be changed to "rush period."

Heed this canon at your peril. It will be better for your career if you remain an agnostic and think for yourself.

SeaRaven, nice to see you weigh in on this topic. You are the voice of moderation and reason, as usual.


Last edited by Le Petomane on Sat Feb 03, 2007 6:28 am, edited 1 time in total.

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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Tue Sep 20, 2005 1:18 am 
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If you don't get it, you don't get it. Fair enough.


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Tue Sep 20, 2005 6:51 am 
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Le Petomane wrote:
If soldiers can't be "peacekeepers," then heavily armed, deadly police forces that include armored vehicles and SWAT teams can be "peace officers." The analogy is perfect.


Huh?

This isn't the only thread lately in which someone's passion blots out all logic. Just because you are certain that you are right doesn't mean that you are.

Why folks try to pick this fight and insist on using a reckless, unnecessary euphemism is beyond me.


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Tue Sep 20, 2005 8:54 am 
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With much respect for everyone:

Saying "Just because it's in the dictionary doesn't mean we'll use it" isn't equivalent to saying "Just because it's in the dictionary doesn't mean it's correct." The good book itself is not under attack. Maybe some of us copy editors don't make that sort of distinction clear when we're explaining our work to others, and it causes some misunderstandings. But that is our fault and we know how to fix it.

I don't think it is Phillip who is introducing the rigid literalism here.


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Wed Sep 21, 2005 12:15 pm 
In Japan, they have PKO, or peace keeping operations, deployments of Japanese military people on peacekeeping missions overseas. They are called peacekeepers.

Peace out.


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Wed Sep 21, 2005 1:20 pm 
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danbloom wrote:
In Japan, they have PKO, or peace keeping operations, deployments of Japanese military people on peacekeeping missions overseas. They are called peacekeepers.

By "military people" you mean soldiers? What's wrong with "soldiers"? Do they shoot at people? If they don't, I suppose you can call them peacekeepers, even if they are soldiers.

Just because a govenment or military or police organization likes the sound of some euphemism does not mean you have to use it. Did the single-action Colt .45 revolver make peace, other than in the R.I.P. sense?


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Wed Sep 21, 2005 10:21 pm 
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Behold the "Peacemaker," designed to fly long distances to drop a whole lot of bombs, including the nuclear type.

Image

Global Aircraft — B-36 Peacemaker


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Thu Sep 22, 2005 11:15 am 
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Quote:
What's wrong with "soldiers"?


Nothing really, except the navy, air, and marine types get really upset, and anyway, most of the military consists of tail, not teeth.

I don't see anything wrong with "Peacekeeper" if the force's mission is to prevent other groups from fighting, or to provide simple deterrence against attack.

The danger is in letting governments get away with using the designation hypocritically.


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 Post subject: another canon?
PostPosted: Thu Sep 22, 2005 11:31 am 
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Something that really gets my goat is the phrase "He told a meeting." How can you tell a meeting? Also falling under this mantra is: President Bush told a news conference, etc.

Am I being too testy about this?


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 Post subject: Re: another canon?
PostPosted: Thu Sep 22, 2005 5:57 pm 
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glorifiedproofer wrote:
Something that really gets my goat is the phrase "He told a meeting." How can you tell a meeting? Also falling under this mantra is: President Bush told a news conference, etc.

Am I being too testy about this?


Just testy enough.


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 Post subject: Re: another canon?
PostPosted: Fri Sep 23, 2005 4:03 am 
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glorifiedproofer wrote:
Something that really gets my goat is the phrase "He told a meeting." How can you tell a meeting? Also falling under this mantra is: President Bush told a news conference, etc.

Can a teacher "tell the class", or does he have to "tell the members of the class"? Is it allowed because "a class" is a group with [of students] implied, whereas a meeting is... er... no, I don't see a difference.


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Fri Sep 23, 2005 11:24 am 
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I don't think meeting and class are used in the same way, but if "told a meeting" is appearing, then the way meeting is used may be changing.

I think of class as being "a session" or "a group of people" when the word is referring to schooling. I think of meeting as "a session" but not a word for a collective group, so instead of "told a meeting" I would probably use "said at a meeting."

I have a similar dilemma with the word faculty. If a college president speaks at the faculty senate meeting, I have no problem with describing it as "the president told the faculty," but when it comes to something like turning in grade reports, I prefer to say "faculty members must post grades within 7 calendar days of the end of the semester." But it isn't unusual to see colleges using constructions like "faculty must post grades."


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Fri Sep 23, 2005 1:09 pm 
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Speaking of meetings: Here's a shameless poem by Byron, "To a Beautiful Quaker," that plays with the ideas of silence and meetings.
Sweet girl! though only once we met,
That meeting I shall ne'er forget;
And though we ne'er may meet again,
Remembrance will thy form retain.
I would not say, "I love," but still
My senses struggle with my will:
In vain, to drive thee from my breast,
My thoughts are more and more represt;
In vain I check the rising sighs,
Another to the last replies:
Perhaps this is not love, but yet
Our meeting I can ne'er forget.

What though we never silence broke,
Our eyes a sweeter language spoke.
The toungue in flattering falsehood deals,
And tells a tale in never feels;
Deceit the guilty lips impart,
And hush the mandates of the heart;
But soul's interpreters, the eyes,
Spurn such restraint and scorn disguise.
As thus our glances oft conversed,
And all our bosoms felt, rehearsed,
No spirit, from within, reproved us,
Say rather, "'twas the spirit moved us."
Though what they utter'd I repress,
Yet I conceive thou'lt partly guess;
For as on thee my memory ponders,
Perchance to me thine also wanders.
This for myself, at least, I'll say,
Thy form appears through night, through day:
Awake, with it my fancy teems;
In sleep, it smiles in fleeting dreams;
The vision charms the hours away,
And bids me curse Aurora's ray
For breaking slumbers of delight
Which make me wish for endless night:
Since, oh! whate'er my future fate,
Shall joy or woe my steps await,
Tempted by love, by storms beset,
Thine image I can ne'er forget.

Alas! again no more we meet,
No more former looks repeat;
Then let me breathe this parting prayer,
The dictate of my bosom's care:
"May heaven so guard my lovely quaker,
That anguish never can o'ertake her;
That peace and virtue ne'er forsake her,
But bliss be aye her heart's partaker!
Oh, may the happy mortal, fated
To be by dearest ties related,
For her each hour new joys discover,
And lose the husband in the lover!
May that fair bosom never know
What 't is to feel the restless woe
Which stings the soul with vain regret,
Of him who never can forget!"


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 Post subject: Re: So Say We All
PostPosted: Fri Sep 23, 2005 1:21 pm 
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Quote:
I. There is no such thing as a miracle.

No one is saying you can't use a quote where someone calls an event miraculous (though like so many quotes, it might add no value to the story). The point is that a writer should not call an event a miracle. If you believe in miracles, fine, but keep your religious beliefs to yourself and out of the story.

Quote:
II. We do not refer to soldiers as "peacekeepers."

The word has been discredited by widespread misuse. Because "peacekeepers" rarely keep the peace, the word is bitterly ironic, and only serves to advance government spin. The same goes for military operation names, which range from merely stupid to propagandistic (Operation Thank God for Us).

I've seen plenty of hyperliteralism on this list, but not in these six rules.


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PostPosted: Fri Sep 23, 2005 1:30 pm 
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Exactly. A real hack can do a lot of damage, but so can an editor whose mind is so open that it has become a receptacle for PR trash.


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 Post subject: Longwords
PostPosted: Fri Sep 23, 2005 6:57 pm 
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Longwords wrote:
Quote:
I think of class as being "a session" or "a group of people" when the word is referring to schooling. I think of meeting as "a session" but not a word for a collective group, so instead of "told a meeting" I would probably use "said at a meeting."


You nailed it. One is a group or an event, the other is only an event.


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PostPosted: Mon Sep 26, 2005 3:14 am 
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I consistently change "told a press conference" to "said at a press conference" because the former sounds absurd. It's not a collective noun.


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PostPosted: Wed Sep 28, 2005 8:09 pm 
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Michael wrote:
I consistently change "told a press conference" to "said at a press conference" because the former sounds absurd. It's not a collective noun.

I change "said at a press conference'' to ''said''.


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PostPosted: Wed Sep 28, 2005 11:21 pm 
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paulwiggins wrote:
Michael wrote:
I consistently change "told a press conference" to "said at a press conference" because the former sounds absurd. It's not a collective noun.

I change "said at a press conference'' to ''said''.

In my misspent youth, I did anything I could to cut copy. But isn't there a difference between what one says anywhere and what one says at a(n) (erk) *news* (erk) conference?


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PostPosted: Thu Sep 29, 2005 1:42 am 
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aparker54 wrote:
But isn't there a difference between what one says anywhere and what one says at a(n) (erk) *news* (erk) conference?


Often, yes.


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PostPosted: Sun Oct 02, 2005 6:39 am 
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aparker54 wrote:
In my misspent youth, I did anything I could to cut copy. But isn't there a difference between what one says anywhere and what one says at a(n) (erk) *news* (erk) conference?


Actually the change is deference to Fleet Street educated elders who would say, ''He either ******* said it or he didn't.''


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PostPosted: Fri May 19, 2006 3:22 pm 
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paulwiggins wrote:
Michael wrote:
I consistently change "told a press conference" to "said at a press conference" because the former sounds absurd. It's not a collective noun.

I change "said at a press conference'' to ''said''.


I change "said in a statement" to "said." Everything anyone says is said in a statement -- written or oral, delcarative or interrogative. It should either say "said in a written statement," which is what is usually meant, or it should say "said."


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 Post subject: ''said" vs. "said at a press conference''
PostPosted: Mon Jun 12, 2006 2:16 pm 
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I don't consider "said at a press conference" excess verbiage; if you just say "said," you lose the distinction between prepared remarks vs. something that was said to the reporter in an interview. Though I totally agree on "told a meeting/press conference"; you can't talk to an event, only to people.


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PostPosted: Mon Jun 12, 2006 2:28 pm 
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Quote:
you lose the distinction


As a reader, I'd like to know the reasoning behind making that distinction in the first place. Why do I need (or want) to know?

And I'm not trying to be a smart-ass (tho' I can do that effortlessly). What I see are extra words that don't seem to convey any useful information. What am I missing?


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PostPosted: Mon Jun 12, 2006 2:36 pm 
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I like to know when something was said at a press conference, because it tells me that this was a carefully structured media encounter and not a candid conversation. That may influence how much stock I put in the remarks. Taking out "at a press conference" strikes me as robotic fealty to the doctrine of using as few words as possible.

I don't know why some copy editors love to erase information like that. When applying the doctrine "omit needless words," please remember that "needless" does not mean "any word you can take out and preserve a grammatically complete sentence."


Last edited by Matthew Grieco on Mon Jun 12, 2006 2:39 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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I think what you're missing is the distinction between journalism and PR. What do you even need a reporter for, then, just to repeat what's in the press releases?


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":What do you even need a reporter for, then, just to repeat what's in the press releases?"

Unless the reporters come up with contradictions or get elaborations, I don't need them. Therefore I don't see the need for the distinction unless there's a contrast to be made.


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But that's precisely the reason a reporter gets quotes and doesn't just parrot the party line: to elaborate, clarify, or expose the real story behind the spin. How sad if reporters have fallen in such low regard even among fellow communications professionals that anyone would say they don't need them. If it weren't for Woodward and Bernstein, Nixon would've served his entire second term, for cryin out loud.


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PostPosted: Mon Jun 12, 2006 5:29 pm 
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magman wrote:
Phillip Blanchard wrote:
I forgot one:

VII. Dictionaries are the second-to-last refuge of scoundrels.


An actual rare spot where the word "penultimate" can be used.

We had a writer who kept using that word. It slipped by some editors a few times until we clamped down.


I remember reading once a large headline about "the penultimate Super Bowl."


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lfelaco wrote:
If it weren't for Woodward and Bernstein, Nixon would've served his entire second term, for cryin out loud.

One suspects editors assisted.


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PostPosted: Sat Sep 16, 2006 2:29 pm 
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VIII. There is more to life than money.


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PostPosted: Tue Dec 19, 2006 10:41 am 
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IX. The rules we learn as newbies will stay with us through all our days.

Once taught, never forgotten. Logic, experience, waterboarding torture cannot change what a slotman or city editor or publisher told us in the days of etaion shrdlu. When we see one of those rules violated, in print or on line, we scribble a correction in the margin or blast off an e-mail. For instance:

1. "Dilemma" means two choices, and only two choices, one of which must be made, both of which are bad choices.

2. "Alleged" never saved a prisoner from the hangman nor a newspaper from a libel suit.

3. When a reporter is recounting an interview with some news figure, now dead, never ever never never allow the reporter to write, as The Times did today[hence triggering this flashback]:

Quote:
Mr. Edsel interviewed Mr. Faison before his death and tracked down several other former officers who helped recover thousands of paintings and artifacts.


Because you will remember the slot saying, loudly, for your benefit [and for any smirking rimmen who may have forgotten the rule], "Before his death? Take that goddamn phrase out. If he interviewed him AFTER his death, now that would be news."


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PostPosted: Tue Jan 23, 2007 10:07 am 
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A reality: old hands will end up being website folks. Honest friends:Who What Why How and When.


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PostPosted: Tue Jan 23, 2007 11:38 am 
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J Kaufman wrote:
IX. The rules we learn as newbies will stay with us through all our days.

Once taught, never forgotten. Logic, experience, waterboarding torture cannot change what a slotman or city editor or publisher told us in the days of etaion shrdlu. When we see one of those rules violated, in print or on line, we scribble a correction in the margin or blast off an e-mail.


If that's true, it's a bloody shame, because a lot of those blustering old trolls were really nothing more than pathetic buffoons who often didn't know what the hell they were talking about.


J Kaufman wrote:
Quote:
Mr. Edsel interviewed Mr. Faison before his death and tracked down several other former officers who helped recover thousands of paintings and artifacts.


Because you will remember the slot saying, loudly, for your benefit [and for any smirking rimmen who may have forgotten the rule], "Before his death? Take that goddamn phrase out. If he interviewed him AFTER his death, now that would be news."


Surely you're offering that proposed deletion and the rationale behind it as a classic example of the tin-eared, ham-handed, search-and-destroy "editing" paradigm that: a.) holds deeply entrenched sway over the copy desks of America and b.) is in grievous need of being universally unlearned and replaced with fact-based knowledge, useful skills, and common sense.

Your point is, of course, that “before his death” is actually a meaningful time reference in that sentence and that copy editors ought to think like educated readers rather than blindfolded Strunkian false-efficiency robots.

(Next thing you know, the "omit needless words" zealots will demand that we do away with all the game-coverage stories in the sports section and just run the box scores. )

While we’re at it, let’s look at this other hoary bit of copy desk lore:

J Kaufman wrote:
2. "Alleged" never saved a prisoner from the hangman nor a newspaper from a libel suit.


We were all “taught” early in our careers not to call someone an alleged [blank]. The “explanation” usually goes something like this: “See, if you took the word alleged out of alleged [blank], you’d be calling the guy a [blank].” To which we should respond: “Well, we’d better make damn sure not to take the word alleged out then, huh? Just like we're careful not to take the not out of not guilty and stuff like that."

A few years ago, I had the opportunity to discuss this issue with a prominent lawyer who regularly represents a large U.S. newspaper in libel matters. He told me flat-out that the copy desk aversion to using alleged that way has no basis in legal fact whatsoever, so long as the story establishes that a reputable authority, such as the police or a prosecutor's office, lodged the allegation. The libel lawyer was actually mystified and asked me something like: “If a guy is charged with being a robber, he’s an alleged robber. What’s wrong with that? What, is it bad grammar or something? ’Cause it’s certainly not libelous.”

Well, OK, might as well address the “dilemma” thing too:

J Kaufman wrote:
1. "Dilemma" means two choices, and only two choices, one of which must be made, both of which are bad choices.


The Columbia Guide to Standard American English wrote:

Since it begins with the Greek di-, meaning “two,” a dilemma is often said to have two horns (like an aggressive animal of some sort), and it still can mean (1) “in argument, a choice between two equally likely alternatives to be used against your opponent,” (2) “any choice between two equally unpleasant alternative actions,” (3) “a choice between one pleasant and one unpleasant option,” and (4) “the choice between any two alternatives.” Thanks to generalization, however, it is also Standard meaning “any serious problem.”



The American Heritage Book of English Usage wrote:

In its main sense dilemma refers to a situation in which a choice must be made between alternative courses of action or argument. Although there is plenty of evidence that attests to widespread use of the term meaning simply “a problem” or “a predicament” and involving no issue of choice, the Usage Panel doesn’t support this practice. Seventy-four percent of the panel rejects the sentence Juvenile drug abuse is the great dilemma of the 1980s.

It is sometimes claimed that because the di- in dilemma comes from the Greek prefix meaning “two,” the word should be used only when exactly two choices are involved. But 64 percent of the Usage Panel accepts its use for choices among three or more options in the example Ph.D. students who haven’t completed their dissertations by the time their fellowships expire face a difficult dilemma: whether to take out loans to support themselves, to try to work part-time at both a job and their research, or to give up on the degree entirely.


Merriam-Webster's Dictionary wrote:
1: an argument presenting two or more equally conclusive alternatives against an opponent
2 a: a usually undesirable or unpleasant choice <faces this dilemma: raise interest rates and slow the economy or lower them and risk serious inflation> b: a situation involving such a choice <here am I brought to a very pretty dilemma; I must commit murder or commit matrimony -- George Farquhar>; broadly : PREDICAMENT <lords and bailiffs were in a terrible dilemma -- G. M. Trevelyan>
3 a: a problem involving a difficult choice <the dilemma of "liberty versus order" -- J. M. Burns> b: a difficult or persistent problem <unemployment...the great central dilemma of our advancing technology -- August Heckscher>
usage
Although some commentators insist that dilemma be restricted to instances in which the alternatives to be chosen are equally unsatisfactory, their concern is misplaced; the unsatisfactoriness of the options is usually a matter of how the author presents them. What is distressing or painful about a dilemma is having to make a choice one does not want to make. ...


Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote:
1841–44 Emerson Ess., Experience Wks. (Bohn) I. 189
...In the dilemma of a swimmer among drowning men, who all catch at him.


(If we’re going to reject the heretical notion that English evolves over time, then we’d better go ahead and ban the usage of dilemma to describe anything other than an argument technique.)

To summarize, the three chestnuts of newspaper stylebook tradition that J Kaufman listed for our consideration are batting about 0-for-3 here in the reality department, with some degree of hope remaining for partial credit on the dilemma thing and a rueful acknowledgment that many editors do, for some reason, have the discretionary authority to make baseless changes in copy for no real purpose other than boisterously drawing attention to themselves and trying to justify their continued existence on the payroll.

Geez, we blew the English portion of the exam, but don't worry, we'll do better on the math part -- when we construct a rigorous and irrefutable proof that (1/x) = (1/x)^y for all x>1, y>1.

------------------

I'll tell you something else: Most of the so-called "canon" listed in this thread provides fine ammunition for the decision makers in this industry who already think copy editors are, on balance, not only a waste of money but in fact counterproductive to the goal of good writing and good journalism. And that's not a desirable sentiment to be encouraging in these days of industry-wide payroll slashing and transition to new media.

-----------------

Heck, this post almost sounds like a parting manifesto. I'll be surprised if it doesn't get surreptitiously deleted or "edited," but for now at least, there it is.


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PostPosted: Sat Feb 03, 2007 6:11 am 
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SeaRaven wrote:
If that's true, it's a bloody shame, because a lot of those blustering old trolls were really nothing more than pathetic buffoons who often didn't know what the hell they were talking about.

...

I'll tell you something else: Most of the so-called "canon" listed in this thread provides fine ammunition for the decision makers in this industry who already think copy editors are, on balance, not only a waste of money but in fact counterproductive to the goal of good writing and good journalism. And that's not a desirable sentiment to be encouraging in these days of industry-wide payroll slashing and transition to new media.

-----------------

Heck, this post almost sounds like a parting manifesto. I'll be surprised if it doesn't get surreptitiously deleted or "edited," but for now at least, there it is.


Bravo, SeaRaven!

And while we're putting up posts that cry out to join the Desaparecidos of this site, I'll add that any copy editor who makes changes in accordance with most of the items listed in this "canon" should be fired for gross incompetence.



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PostPosted: Sat Feb 03, 2007 9:37 am 
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Le Petomane wrote:
I'll add that any copy editor who makes changes in accordance with most of the items listed in this "canon" should be fired for gross incompetence.



Tsk.


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PostPosted: Mon Feb 05, 2007 2:32 pm 
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Phillip Blanchard wrote:
VIII. There is more to life than money.

From a review of Peter Kramer's "Against Depression" in the 8/05 issue of Harper's:
"There is no greater American campaign than the effort to get the citizenry to withstand whatever execrations its leaders throw its way without missing a day on the job or a night at the mall--to convince them that happiness is just one lottery ticket, one good consumer choice, one positive thought, one little pill away."
Perhaps that should be a corollary to the motto: "One of the great things about being a copy editor is that you'll never get rich doing it."


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PostPosted: Sat Apr 21, 2007 11:36 am 
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I. There is no such thing as a miracle.
II. We do not refer to soldiers as “peacekeepers.”
III. We do not show stories to anyone outside the newspaper before publication.
IV. Newspapers published in English use headlines written in English.
V. We do not allow people to render their names as logos.
VI. The term "black box" serves no useful purpose. Use "flight data recorder" and "cockpit voice recorder."
VII. Dictionaries are the second-to-last refuge of scoundrels.
VIII. There is more to life than money.
IX. The rules we learn as newbies will stay with us through all our days.


That's nine commandments. How about a tenth?

X. Except as needed.


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PostPosted: Sat Apr 21, 2007 1:22 pm 
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The IX you list is apocryphal, incidentally.


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PostPosted: Sat Apr 21, 2007 4:51 pm 
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SeaRaven:
    A few years ago, I had the opportunity to discuss this issue with a prominent lawyer who regularly represents a large U.S. newspaper in libel matters. He told me flat-out that the copy desk aversion to using alleged that way has no basis in legal fact whatsoever, so long as the story establishes that a reputable authority, such as the police or a prosecutor's office, lodged the allegation.


True. It's important though to note how the lawyer qualified his statement -- as lawyers do. The source of the allegation (a judge, court testimony, indictment, congressman speaking on the floor of Congress or in a hearing, etc.) needs to be privileged to make the accusation. In this circumstance the publication enjoys qualified privilege and can use "alleged" as much as it wants so long as there's an "absence of malice."

Copy editors have to beware of "alleged" when the accusation is made by a source that does not have privilege (i.e. a neighbor, a roommate, etc.) because in that case they may be turning a slander into a libel and making themselves vulnerable to a lawsuit. In that situation, truth and absence of malice will help the newspaper's defense; use of "alleged" won't.

In some cases, of course, "alleged" adds nothing to the meaning or euphony of the sentence, and can be looked at critically for that reason alone.

So this is yet another case in which judgment rather than blind obedience to a rule is called for.


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 Post subject: Alleged ---
PostPosted: Fri Apr 27, 2007 5:28 pm 
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This is why we should avoid "alleged ---" or "accused ---." In my paper this week, the screaming headine:

NOT GUILTY and next to it, a thumbnail of the guy with this caption: " Accused rapist Kenneth Glenn Hinson listens as the verdict is read."

Now Mr. Hinson, no matter what you think of him, deserves not at this point to be called a "rapist" -- "accused," "alleged," "suspected" or any other type.

It's not a mater of libel or legality. It's a matter of civility. Words do have meaning and power. And the signal this sends is that "well, we don't really agree with the jury and its decision about this scumbag."

I, for one, would much preferred to be called a murder suspect, say, than a suspected murderer. For a group of professionals so schooled and attentive, supposedly, to the connotations as well as the denotations of language, we seem to have a very deaf ear on this. I suspect our audience does not.


Last edited by dfisher on Thu May 10, 2007 3:50 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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PostPosted: Fri Apr 27, 2007 6:18 pm 
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Quote:
The IX you list is apocryphal, incidentally.


Spurious? Fictitious? Rejected for the canon of copyediting rules by the Church fathers?

If you mean, "He made that up, and then pressed the Submit key," I must take umbrage [that big heavy thing that sits on the shelf next to the portmanteau, Webster's Second and all three editions of Fowler].

If you mean, "We can come up with a much better list than this one," I agree. There is no reason it has to be 10 commandments, except for the cliched comfort of it, like watching the Charlton Heston movie on ABC every April.

If you mean, "Well, I'm a copy editor, or a copyreader, or a rimman, or a sub, or an assistant news editor, or a line editor, or a redactor, and no one ever taught me any rules or shibboleths that I must consciously remember not to unconsciously follow out the window," well, then, we should be canonizing that person instead of that rule.[/i]


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 Post subject: Miracles
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Isn't it dismissive of religious beliefs to say miracles never occur? Say that I predict tonight that "Jerusalem will be destroyed by a great earthquake," and a great earthquake occurs a month from now and Jerusalem is indeed destroyed. Was I miraculously correct? Just lucky that I predicted an event with 1:infinity probability of occurring?
Does a miracle always have a religious significance? Can there be secular miracles? Isn't the test how far beyond normal probability an event or happening is?

Let me tell you something that happened to me. I was doing an investigative piece called "Who Owns Hollywood?" for a pub called Film News Inernational. Itn took me four years and was a real bear. But during the process of gathering information, i wisely or unwisely decided to do some Dumpster diving, and I hired an acquaintance who was homeless to do some of the diving for me.
We had a basement nearby where we could examine the stuff I was gathering from this bank that was started by a lot of mob figures of the '50s and '60s. As he went through a trash bag, he pulled out a letter. It was from his father. His father wrote in the letter that he had been listening to the radio and caught a signal from Los Angeles (this bank was in the middle of Beverly Hills) at his home in New Mexico and heard an ad from the bank about some of its investment products. He said he had some money he'd like to invest and wanted more information. My friend read the letter and looked at me and said, "That rat! He told me he didn't have any money!" . Isn't that so far outside the realm of probability that it is "miraculous," even if it didn't necessarily have any salutary effect? And yes, this really did happen.


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We don't have to go out of our way to offend religious sensibilities by saying that miracles don't happen. But we can't say they do.

What happened to you sounds like a coincidence to me. Same with the hypothetical earthquake. Somewhere, there's someone who will "predict" the next catastrophe. There's a lotta would-be prophets in the world. The truth is that if something happens, it's not a miracle.


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Put another way, the standard for "miracle" is higher than "against the odds but it happened anyway".


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Put yet another way, the odds of finding a letter written by your father in the dumpster are much higher if (a) you're dumpster-diving in the first place and (b) your father actually wrote a letter rather than just make a phone call or use the Internet, in which case the odds against finding said letter are astronomical indeed...


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Any chance of moving this part of the discussion to a new thread? Otherwise, our version of Scripture could become 400 posts long.


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What happened to the investment?


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Well, if you eliminated extra versions of the same story from the bible, it'd be a lot shorter, too, so I don't really have a problem with us having a 400-post scripture. But once again, hound cuts to the chase and asks the most salient question: What, indeed, happened to the dumpster-diver's father's investment? Inquiring minds want to know...


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Have the polls closed? Because I'd like to nominate this gem from Capo di tutti copy (March 13 blog entry titled "Sorry, but no") for canonization:

"It takes considerable time and energy to keep real mistakes out of the paper, and we don’t catch all of them. We don’t have time — or interest — in addressing things that aren’t mistakes in the first place."

Edited to add link, how silly of me not to have put it in in the first place.


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 Post subject: Re:
PostPosted: Sat Aug 07, 2010 5:14 pm 
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lfelaco wrote:
Have the polls closed? Because I'd like to nominate this gem from Capo di tutti copy (March 13 blog entry titled "Sorry, but no") for canonization:

"It takes considerable time and energy to keep real mistakes out of the paper, and we don’t catch all of them. We don’t have time — or interest — in addressing things that aren’t mistakes in the first place."

Edited to add link, how silly of me not to have put it in in the first place.


This one might be outmoded. I doubt many editors have time to niggle over fine points real or imagined anymore.


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