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/.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Leafiness

The house across the street sits within a grove of trees. Two of the most prominent, a sweet gum and a tulip poplar, are beginning to change color, the former to scarlet, the latter to gold. Another neighbor has a yard of mature oaks. He harvests a hundred or more bags of leaves every fall, in addition to what the wind generously deposits on our property. But until yesterday I did not think that we were leafy.

Yesterday’s Sun ran an article about a man who was shot as he tried to rob an off-duty police officer in the “leafy Glenham-Belford neighborhood.” Now I know from long experience that the leafy neighborhoods (sometimes tree-shaded) in Baltimore are Guilford, Roland Park, and Homeland.* Leafy is a code word in journalism for well-off and respectable, often paired with suburban. It provides a contrast to the gritty neighborhoods where the shabby people shoot one another to no one’s surprise.**

I’d have to go down to Calvert Street and be shepherded through the tight security to the newsroom to look at the city map of neighborhoods with names that no one who lives in them uses, but I’m fairly sure that Glenham-Belford, wherever it is, is a humble middle-class neighborhood much like mine. And if I’m leafy now, does that mean that the city is going to raise my property tax assessment?

Perhaps applying leafy to Glenham-Belford was simply a mistake, a writing or editing error. After all, yesterday was also the day that The Sun published this headline: Vote comes / on heals / of ACORN / scandals.

One additional item: In the current Best of Baltimore issue, the City Paper has named me “Best Laid Off Sun Staffer.” Too kind.

(It would be ungenerous to point out the omitted hyphen in the compound adjective.)



*For non-Baltimoreans readers, those are the neighborhoods where the quality live.

**I’m not quite sure where the grit in those neighborhoods comes from, now that there is no longer any industry in Baltimore.

20 comments:

  1. It's going to be another one of those days. Picking up this morning's Sun, I see in the second paragraph of the lead story on Page One a reference to Maryland's "31-mile coastline."

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  2. Congratulations, John, on being a Best-of-Baltimore! But we didn't need the City Paper to tell us that.

    Perhaps the hapless Sun headline-writer meant to say: Vote comes on, heals [the nation] of ACORN scandals.

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  3. The Best Laid Off-Sun Staffers gang aft agley.

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  4. The best-laid off staffers gang aft into public relations.

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  5. Sorry, Faldone! Missed your earlier one....

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  6. "Urban" is often used as a code word similar to "gritty." It can also have racial implications. See "urban schools," "urban neighborhoods," "urban residents."

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  7. The coastline error is an example, John, of the phenomenon I call "Out-of-Towner-Speak." The local TV newscasters who've just arrived are the most guilty of it, but that might be because we hear them say these things out loud; print journalists are just as liable to err in other areas. Examples: Calling Towson "Toe-son," calling Ellicott City "Elli-kott" instead of rhyming it with "delicate," and dropping the article from the name of our large estuary, "THE Chesapeake Bay." Any other examples jump out at you?

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  8. @John, re: 31-mile coastline

    Perhaps that is post significant global warming?

    That City Paper headline made my day. You should tape it to the wall in your room.

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  9. Re Sun headline: Must be a visual thing.

    Current Sun newsroom managers: Heel thyselves.

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  10. The "31-mile" figure, I hear from The Sun's newsroom, refers to the distance from Assateague to Ocean City. Perhaps the article might have better referred to "the state's 31-mile Atlantic coastline," given that Maryland has a lot more coastline than that.

    It is doubtful that anyone was referring to a map published in The Sun in the late 1980s, which, because someone left off one of the flaps necessary for color reproduction, omitted the Chesapeake Bay.

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  11. John,
    I've been reading your blog for a month and it has become one of my favorites. Thanks.

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  12. Congratulations to your wife for making you the best-laid...

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  13. Leafy? Glen Arm Road mistaken for Glen Arm, Maryland? That'd be an out-of-towner gaff.

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  14. "Heals." Sheesh. If I were the CCE, I would suspend that copy editor and slot for a week without pay. If they did it again, I would consider firing them. The same thing for anyone who confuses lie and lay.

    Unfortunately, no one but a few dedicated, diehard copy editors care about superior work anymore. The newsroom workers care only about pleasing the boss, and the boss cares only about cutting costs.

    Thus we are seeing more lose/loose errors, more rein/reign errors, more forward/foreword errors, more its/it's errors ... pathetic and saddening.

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  15. Oops, "care" should be "cares" in that last message.

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  16. I think that it is probably a mistake to be draconian about mistakes from newspapers' overmatched copy desks. It isn't the copy editors who have determined that errors of fact, grammar, and usage are no longer significant enough to warrant attention.

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  17. True. But then what was their excuse when they made the same mistakes 20 years ago?

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  18. Since there have been fewer and fewer copy editors at places like, say, The Sun, in the past several months, the editors at the top set the tone and the quality of the copy reflects on them first. (But don't believe it is just happening at The Sun.) I think it is fair to say that the top editor and the seconds-in-command keep people employed who think like they do. All those mistakes are a reflection of them.

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  19. You correctly point out the implications with "leafy," but what about the other side of the economic spectrum. I see "inner city" in print all the time and it really bothers me. Wouldn't any place inside the city limits be the "inner city"? Of course not. It's a euphemism loaded with racial overtones.

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