John McIntyre, whom James Wolcott calls "the Dave Brubeck of the art and craft of copy editing," writes on language, editing, journalism, and other manifestations of human frailty. Comments welcome. Identifying his errors relieves him of the burden of omniscience. Write to email@example.com, befriend at Facebook, or follow at Twitter: @johnemcintyre. Back 2009-2012 at the original site, http://weblogs.baltimoresun.com/news/mcintyre/blog/ and now at www.baltimoresun.com/news/language-blog/.
Saturday, May 9, 2009
Talk retro to me
Help is available.
Ralph Keyes has published a book, I Love It When You Talk Retro: Hoochie Coochie, Double Whammy, Drop a Dime, and the Forgotten Origins of American Speech (St. Martin’s Press, 310 pages, $25.95), that will help you caulk the gaps in your cultural education.
I was particularly touched to find his entries on newspaper lingo, particularly piquant now in the twilight of print journalism.
Deadline, for example, the appointed time by which copy is due or an edition is to be completed, derives from the line in a prison that an inmate could not cross without being shot. (I would very much have liked to recover the original penalty in the newsroom, but I could never persuade my betters even to issue sidearms to the copy editors.)
The spindle on which stories written on copy paper were impaled when editors decided not to run them was called a spike, and to this day a story that is killed is said to have been spiked.
Theodore Roosevelt, alluding in 1906 to “The Man with the Muck Rake” in Pilgrim’s Progress, said that journalists exposing scandals were “raking the muck,” and muckraking has been a badge of honor in investigative journalism ever since.
Let Mr. Keyes help you. With a perusal of his book and a little practice, you could contrive to sound almost as antique as I do.