Category Archives: Language and Style

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

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?


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

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)

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