Archive for the 'Language and Style' Category

William Safire’s 18 steps to better writing

28 September 2009

It’s not known if William Safire, who wrote the “On Language” column in the New York Times Magazine for 30 years till earlier this month, was conversant with the ways of social media, but it is safe to presume that he would have been horrified at how his demise last night was coveyed to readers subscribing to Jim Romenesko‘s media notes via Google Reader.

“NYT ‘On Language’ columnist Safire dies at 79″

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Of course, Safire, the author of “the nattering nabobs of negativism” and “hopeless, hysterical hypochondriacs of history”, would get the joke, but you get the picture?

Neatorama has a compilation of Safire’s rules for writing:

*  Remember to never split an infinitive
* The passive voice should never be used
* Do not put statements in the negative form
* Verbs have to agree with their subjects
* Proofread carefully to see if you words out
* If you reread your work, you can find on rereading a great deal of repetition can be by rereading and editing.
* A writer must not shift your point of view
* And don’t start a sentence with a conjunction. (Remember, too, a preposition is a terrible word to end a sentence with.)
* Don’t overuse exclamation marks!!
* Place pronouns as close as possible, especially in long sentences, as of 10 or more words, to their antecedents
* Writing carefully, dangling participles must be avoided
* If any word is improper at the end of a sentence, a linking verb is
* Take the bull by the hand and avoid mixing metaphors
* Avoid trendy locutions that sound flaky
* Everyone should be careful to use a singular pronoun with singular nouns in their writing
* Always pick on the correct idiom
* The adverb always follows the verb
* Last but not least, avoid cliches like the plague; seek viable alternatives

Read The New York TimesWilliam Safire obituary

Also read: George Orwell‘s six rules for better writing

Sir V.S. Naipaul‘s seven rules for writers

‘How can you say it better in your own style?’

7 September 2009

James Thurber, the legendary New Yorker writer-cartoonist, in a 1959 memo on editing:

“Editing should be, especially in the case of old writers, a counseling rather than a collaborating task. The tendency of the writer-editor to collaborate is natural, but he should say to himself, “How can I help this writer to say it better in his own style?” and avoid “How can I show him how I would write it, if it were my piece?”

Link via Jason Kottke

‘A grammar book by grammatical incompetents’

15 April 2009

April 16, 2009, marks the 50th anniversary of the publication of The Elements of Style, the landmark book by William Strunk and E.B. White.

In The Chronicle Review, Geoffrey K. Pullum, a professor of linguistics and English language at the University of Edinburgh, uses the occasion to stick a long, deep, and well honed knife into the “little book” that is loved and admired by anally-retentive, grammar conscious journalists.

The Elements of Style does not deserve the enormous esteem in which it is held by American college graduates. Its advice ranges from limp platitudes to inconsistent nonsense…. both authors were grammatical incompetents…

“Some of the recommendations are vapid, like “Be clear” (how could one disagree?). Some are tautologous, like “Do not explain too much.” (Explaining too much means explaining more than you should, so of course you shouldn’t.) Many are useless, like “Omit needless words.” (The students who know which words are needless don’t need the instruction.)”

Read the full article: 50 years of stupid grammar advice

Also read: The Elements of Style

Link via Nikhil Moro

If you’re working hard to put food on your family

27 January 2009

Fouler? Fullare? Fullo? Foiled?

17 November 2008

The blood stains of a language murdered

20 September 2008

Sunanda K. Datta-Ray, the former editor of The Statesman and a wordsmith par excellence, in The Telegraph, Calcutta:

“Speaking many years ago at Secunderabad’s Central Institute of English and Foreign Languages on editing an English-language newspaper in India, I recalled having to explain to young journalists that a district is a geographical term and does not always have to have a collector or magistrate.

“I also recalled trying to stress the inappropriateness of writing juggernaut in the archaic English sense of an unstoppable force that crushes all obstacles.

“‘James Cowley uses it,’ the reporter protested, referring to the paper’s elderly London correspondent. When I said that was Anglo-Indian usage, the surprised young man asked, ‘Cowley is Anglo-Indian?'”

Read the full article: For maximum gain

Because the Bombay Duck is not a duck

25 August 2008

‘Get me copydesk on the other side of the globe’

27 June 2008

Outsourcing medical operations to India is understandable because our doctors have a well-earned reputation for being among the best in the business. Outsourcing backend telephone work to India is understandable because we know how to talk—or we think we know how to talk.

Outsourcing film editing and post-production to India is understandable because the skills are more or less the same anywhere in the world. But outsourcing writing and editing? Sure, Sonny Mehta and Salman Rushdie are Indians, but does that put every greenhorn sub in the same category?

Outsourcing journalism is cheaper than making it at home, for sure, and in the age of falling circulation numbers and advertising revenues, it makes enormous business sense to bottom-line obsessed managers and accountants, here and there. But is it necessarily top-class from the client’s (and readers’) perspective?

Uniformly?

Does anybody get the feeling looking at Indian newspapers and magazines that Indian writing, reporting, editing, headlining, captioning, pagemaking is up there with the best of the world? Or does it not matter too much as long as we can get the message across?

The Orange County Register has become the latest American paper to be bitten by the outsourcing bug. It has decided to send some stuff to Mindworks Global Media. So far so good. But how good is Mindworks Global Media’s own editing skills?

Independent journalist T.J. Sullivan decided to put it to the test. Although he has no experience being a copy editor, Sullivan picked up Mindworks careers page, which surely must have been vetted by their best editorial heads, to clean it up for language. The results are revealing.

# You must have [an] excellent command over [of the] English [language] and close familiarity with [have a working knowledge of] international media.

# Ability to perform well under pressure is a must and so is ability to work well in [on] a team. You need to have 2-5 years of work experience.

# Mindworks is looking for graduates with an excellent command over [of] written English.

# The right candidates should be alive to [keep abreast of] current events, have high analytical skills and a burning desire to learn.

# Good comprehension skills are a must, and so is an ability to work well in [on] a team. Prior work experience is not a must, but experience with web-based [Web-based] content management systems for uploading/editing text will be an advantage [is preferred].

Read the full article: Native intelligence

Also read: Media outsourcing is cheap, but is it good?

Why Google can’t find Dr K. Haminahamina

Rest in peace: Jyoti Sanyal

14 April 2008

Sans Serif records with regret the passing away of editor, teacher, writer and language terrorist, Jyoti Sanyal, in Calcutta on Saturday, 12 April 2008.

A former assistant editor with The Statesman, whose stylebook he wrote, Sanyal spent 30 years in the Calcutta newspaper, where he gained a well-earned reputation, in his own words, of being “hot-headed, choleric and impatient.”

As the paper’s editor Ravindra Kumar writes:

“Mercurial and acerbic, Jyoti favoured a personal style that rubbed many people the wrong way. It wasn’t enough to correct someone who, in his view, was talking nonsense; he did so with a raised eyebrow and a sneer that was intended to leave his victim in tatters.”

Over the last decade, he left a lasting imprint on the minds of hundreds of journalism students and student journalists. In 1997, he played a key role in the setting up of the Asian College of Journalism in Bangalore, of which he became dean. He later set up the Indian Institute of Journalism & New Media, also in Bangalore.

In recent times, Sanyal had made it his life’s mission to encourage people “to use good contemporary English instead of Raj-day commercialese”. In 2006, he wrote Indlish, a 418-page book on the hotpotch of languages, expressions, meaningless fads “we, 80 millions” like to think is English.

Read the Mid Day obituary here: Enemy of the cliche

The Statesman tribute: A man of style, and great substance

Interview: David Juman in conversation

Tribute: Viju Hegde on her teacher

Visit Jyoti Sanyal’s blog: Plainly Speaking

Photograph: Sanyal (middle) with two titans of Indian journalism, M.J. Akbar (left) and T.J.S. George (courtesy Mid Day)

Can a language teacher use profanities?

6 April 2008
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