Category Archives: Language and Style

What’s in a word? Don’t ask the poor ‘sod’

As if cricket’s byzantine “Laws” weren’t enough, the lexicon is becoming a potent weapon in the wars of words that have enveloped cricket in recent months.

Down under, the use of labels like “monkey” and “obnoxious little weed” by rival players sent cricket correspondents scurrying to their dictionaries. Back home, the use of a three-letter word in a blog critique of a newspaper editorial seems to have stirred a semantical tsunami in an oversensitive editor’s teacup.

Commenting on an editorial in The Telegraph, Calcutta, on the auction of players in the Indian Premier League, Darius Nakhoonwala wrote on The Hoot that the “poor sod”—the “usually sensible” leader writer—seemed to have been stung by a bee in the proprietor’s bonnet midway.

The paper’s editorial page editor Rudrangshu Mukherjee, Mastermind finalist and historian of standing, has no problems with the critic imputing proprietorial injections in the leader. He doesn’t have any problems either with the guesstimate of the leader writer’s financial status.

Instead, he gets into a slanging match with the blog editor, Sevanti Ninan, and the critic on whether “sod” is a permissible epithet or not.

Read the full exchange: Is ‘sod’ permissible?

In a dark subway, an unlikely grammar figure

Louis Menand, an English professor at Harvard, has called its use “impeccable”. Lynne Truss, the author of Eats shoots and leaves, has called it a “lovely example”. Geoffrey Nunberg of the University of California at Berkeley sees it as a burgeoning sign of “punctuational literacy”.

On the pages of The New York Times, Neil Neches, a writer in the New York City Transit agency’s marketing and service information department, is earning plaudits for properly inserting the semi-colon into the subway placard that reads “Please put it in a trash can; that’s good news for everyone.”

Read the full story: Celebrating the semicolon in a most unlikely location

How not to write in the year ahead

The department of English and comparative literature at San Jose State University has announced the winner of the 2007 Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest, and the winner is Jim Gleeson of Madison, Wisconsin, for this passage. The goal of the contest is to submit bad opening sentences for imaginary novels.

Gerald began—but was interrupted by a piercing whistle which cost him ten percent of his hearing permanently, as it did everyone else in a ten-mile radius of the eruption, not that it mattered much because for them “permanently” meant the next ten minutes or so until buried by searing lava or suffocated by choking ash—to pee.”

The runner-up is Scott Palmer of Klamath Falls, Oregon.

“The Barents sea heaved and churned like a tortured animal in pain, the howling wind tearing packets of icy green water from the shuddering crests of the waves, atomizing it into mist that was again laid flat by the growing fury of the storm as Kevin Tucker switched off the bedside light in his Tuba City, Arizona, single-wide trailer and by the time the phone woke him at 7:38, had pretty much blown itself out with no damage.”

Also read: How to write badly—a proud winner tells all

KISS, as in Keep It Simple, Stupid

The obese feline reclined on the linoleum = The fat cat sat on the mat.

According to Dave Barry, “Methodological observation of the sociometrical behavior tendencies of prematurated isolates indicates that a causal relationship exists between groundward tropism and lachrimatory, or ‘crying,’ behaviour forms” =  It is noticed that kids cry when they fall down.

Link via India Uncut

Subs of the world unite. You’ve commas to lose…

On National Public Radio, Laura Conway invites readers to sharpen their red pencils for this paragraph from The New York Times:

Yet deep down in his soul, the transplant will hold on to the notion that umbrellas are to be used only as protection against the rain, which is wet and, when it drenches the clothes and skin, makes one uncomfortable.

Link via truemors

Of the 22 best writing tips, No. 15 is a good idea

There are writing tips. And then there are writing tips. And there are some more.

Writing Forward has 22 of them.

2. Read as much and as often as you can. Remember, every writer is a reader first.

3. Keep a journal or notebook handy at all times so you can jot down all of your brilliant ideas.

9. Read works by highly successful authors to learn what pleases publishers and earns a pretty penny.

10. Read works by the canonical authors so you can understand what constitutes literary achievement.

15. Start a blog. Use it to talk about your own writing process, to share your ideas and experiences, or to publish your work to a live audience.

18. Let go of your inner editor. When you sit down to write a draft, refrain from proofreading until that draft is complete.

Read the full story here: The 22 best writing tips ever

Why do (old) reporters end stories with ‘-30-‘?

“Some say the mark began during a time when stories were submitted via telegraph, with “-30-” denoting “the end” in Morse code. Another theory suggests that the first telegraphed news story had 30 words.

“Others claim the “-30-” comes from a time when stories were written in longhand — X marked the end of a sentence, XX the end of a paragraph and XXX meant the end of a story. The Roman numerals XXX translate to 30.

“It is rumored that a letter to an East India company ended with “80,” a figure meaning “farewell” in Bengali. The symbol supposedly was misread, changed to 30 and took root.

“Some say the mark comes from the fact that press offices closed at 3 o’clock.

“And there’s the theory that 30 was the code for a telegraph operator who stayed at his post during a breaking news story until his death 30 hours later — versions of that story even include that the unfortunate operator hit two keys on his machine when he collapsed. Which ones? That’s right, 3 and 0.”

Read all the other theories here: So why not 29?