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 jemcintyre@gmail.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/.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Omnium gatherum

The title is mock-Latin for a miscellany — omnium, all, combined with gather them — and a tipoff that this post is not devoted to a single subject.

Item: Grant Barrett, the lexicographer, has launched a Web reference on words, an online dictionary called Wordnik. It aggregates meanings from various dictionaries, perovdes etymologies and illustrative sentences, gives readers the opportunity to contribute material, and offers a number of other interesting features. Give it a try. You may well want to bookmark it.

Item: We told you that skimping on the editing would wind up embarrassing publications. A former Sun colleague observes on Facebook: “Headline at the top of washingtonpost.com says that ‘Sonia Mayor's’ confirmation hearings will begin July 13.”

Item: I complained in a tweet this morning (Feel free to follow me, @johnemcintyre on Twitter): “Ticker on WBAL describes a fire as having been ‘intentionally set.’ So ‘set’ is not enough for them to indicate intention?” Since then, a couple of respondents have questioned whether set always indicates intention to start a fire. What say you?

Item: At Headsup, "fev" shows us once again why sports headlines should not make childish plays on players’ names.

Item: Yesterday, in a narrow vote of 277 to 263, members of the Newspaper Guild at The Boston Globe rejected concessions demanded by the parent New York Times Company. An article in The Times quotes Dan Kennedy of Northeastern University as saying that both sides contributed to an ugly outcome, the company by appearing remote and arrogant, the union by giving in to anger and resentment.

I have no stake in this, but I would like to suggest to my fellow journalists at The Globe that, based on recent experience, any employee of a daily newspaper who imagines that he or she is indispensible and enjoys job security may soon be carrying personal possessions to the curb in a cardboard box.

10 comments:

  1. I once set the back seat of my car on fire, and I had no intention of doing so. I suppose I'm willing to let go of the word 'set' in this circumstance, but what is the alternative? "I lit the car on fire", "I started a fire in my car", and others all seem to imply at least the same level of intent.

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  2. Wordnik: love it already. Smoke-addled carnivores at Dining@Large are currently involved in a bit of Flinstonian chasing of their own tails over the definition of barbecue. This meta-reference would be helpful to them, but I think the only authority in this case lies deep within some primitive charred DNA strands.

    – Sloppy Joe

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  3. Without intent, maybe you should not be an active player in the sentence. How about, "The back seat caught on fire due to the stray ashes from my cigar"?

    I always feel like Cinderella at the fancy ball when I suggest things here.

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  4. Perhaps Christopher accidentally set the back seat of his car on fire.

    I set a fire in the kiva.
    A fire was set in the kiva.

    I think intention is implied, which is why we need an explanation when it's not intentional.

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  5. I'd change it to "the fire was intentional" if I had to save a word, but otherwise I wouldn't bother.

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  6. Um, you can definitely accidentally set something on fire.

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  7. By "mock-Latin" do you mean such as the one I saw many years ago that began "O Sibili. Si ergo. Fortibus es enero."?

    I have to go along with David's suggestion of using "arson" instead of "intentionally set." It is short, unambiguous, and commonly understood. All things a Copy Editor wants to see.

    Retired in Elkridge

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  8. The Guild vote at the Globe puts me in mind of the Battle of the Somme. The smartly outfitted British officer jumps up on the parapet, blows his whistle, yells "c'mon lads," and is promptly stitched across the chest by machine-gun bullets. As his lifeless body tumbles backward into the trench, everyone clambors over the top and races valiantly into the abyss of history.

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  9. So, "... describes a fire as having been arsoned"-- ? :-)

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