John McIntyre, whom James Wolcott calls "the Dave Brubeck of the art and craft of copy editing," writes on language, editing, journalism, and random topics. Identifying his errors relieves him of the burden of omniscience. Write to firstname.lastname@example.org, befriend at Facebook, or follow at Twitter: @johnemcintyre. The original site, http://weblogs.baltimoresun.com/news/mcintyre/blog/, at www.baltimoresun.com/news/language-blog/, and now at https://www.baltimoresun.com/opinion/columnists/mcintyre/
Saturday, May 9, 2009
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.
A couple of readers have inquired about videos, such as the bow tie, the martini, and the first and second pronunciation videos, as well as the weekly video jokes.*
The appearance of video at this site will have to wait until (a) I acquire a video camera, (b) learn how to operate it or coerce someone into operating, (c) learn how to edit the resulting video, and (d) figure out how to post it here. Although I have acquired an unanticipated fund of free time, this may take a while.
*The titles of the video jokes all begin with “Surely you jest,” which makes them easily searchable.