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, May 27, 2009

Lure a reader, get a book

A limited-time offer for fans of You Don’t Say:

Introduce five friends to this blog, and I will send you a free book.

The catches:

I want the names of the new readers, your attestation that they have not previously read You Don’t Say, and the titles of at least two posts they have read all the way through.

Four books are up for grabs. The first person to meet the goal gets to choose which. After that, the range of choice narrows progressively.

Offer ends June 6.

These are the prize books:

Mardy Grothe, i never metaphor i didn’t like: a comprehensive compilation of history’s greatest analogies, metaphors, and similes

Ralph Keyes, I Love It When You Talk Retro

Ammon Shea, Reading the OED: One Man, One Year, 21,730 Pages

David Wolman, Righting the Mother Tongue: From Olde English to Email, the Tangled Story of English Spelling

You Don’t Say will bear the expenses of postage and handling only for locations in the United States and Canada. Offer not valid to employees of You Don’t Say or relatives of employees of You Don’t Say. Cannot be combined with any other offer.








Do you know where Puerto Rico is?

Blame the McKinley administration.

Coming to imperialism just as it was passing its high-water mark, the United States, which had previously grabbed the Hawaiian Islands, picked a fight over Cuba with the ever-decaying Spanish Empire. Cuba got independence, and the United States got Guam, the Philippines, and Puerto Rico.

That was during a few months in 1898. We granted independence to the Philippines after the Second World War, but we held on to Guam and Puerto Rico.

Since 1917, by statute, people born in Puerto Rico are citizens of the United States. That is why an anonymous comment earlier today is — in part — spot on:

Another tidbit: Where's the Baltimore Sun copy desk when you need it?

From Alternet this morning:

A google search for "Sotomayor" and "immigrant parents" brings up 10 pages of results (including over 2,000 news pieces like this one, from the Baltimore Sun, which describes Obama's pick to replace retiring Supreme Court justice David Souter as having been "raised in a Bronx, N.Y., housing project by her Puerto Rican immigrant parents...")

Fun fact: Puerto Rico is part of the United States!


Two things:

(1) The error of calling people immigrants if they have come to the mainland from Puerto Rico is stubbornly persistent and likely represents the limited education and cultural understanding of some journalists.

(2) I think that the copy desk of The Baltimore Sun may in fact have been on duty last night, because the text I read in this morning’s print edition, in the article by Peter Wallsten and Richard Simon of the Tribune Washington Bureau, refers to Sotomayor’s “personal background — raised in a Bronx, N.Y., housing project by Puerto Rican parents.”

Apologies to the Klingons

Some time back, I made a snarky remark about Star Trek fans who had undertaken to translate the Bible into Klingon. Now, thanks to a new book by Arika Okrent, In the Land of Invented Languages: Esperanto Rock Stars, Klingon Poets, Loglan Lovers, and the Mad Dreamers Who Tried to Build a Perfect Language (Spiegel & Grau, 342 pages, $26), I see that I, not they, was misguided.

Ms. Okrent became fascinated with the visionaries — and cranks — who grew frustrated with the irregularities and illogicalities of the natural languages and sought to develop a pure, precise, regular, logical, international tongue. Most of them failed, as a look at the 500 artificial languages in her appendix will readily illustrate. And the 500 are only a partial listing.

You will want to travel with her to that strange crossroad where science and art and ambition and the quirky human personality collide.

The effort she describes is fascinating. An early example is a 17th-century member of the Royal Society, John Wilkins, whose Essay Towards a Real Character and a Philosophical Language attempts in its six hundred pages “a hierarchical categorization of everything in the universe.” Because to have exact meanings, one must be able to classify meanings. Wilkins’s language came to nothing, but his exhaustive taxonomy prefigured the thesaurus of Peter Roget.

Another effort at logic was mounted in the 20th century by James Cooke Brown, the inventor of Loglan, which attempts to give each word a single, unambiguous meaning. Like Wilkins’s classifications, Brown’s language is exhaustive, as is its schismatic offshoot Lojban. The problem is that the attempt to arrive at single, unambiguous statements requires such extensive qualification, that it is virtually impossible, Ms. Okrent found, even for adepts to conduct a conversation in the language.

Perhaps the most successful artificial language is Esperanto, the creation of Ludwick Zamenhof, which is a kind of stripped-down generic Romance language whose devotees aspire to achieve international understanding and peace through its use. Though it has fallen short of its ambitious goal, there are large groups of people who use Esperanto, and even, Ms. Okrent found, people for whom it is a native tongue. One of those she encountered is Kim Henriksen, an accordion-playing Esperanto rock musician.

But even Esperanto, she finds, develops colloquialisms and minor irregularities, just like the natural languages, as people use it. The dream of a pure, regular, logical language is ever elusive.

Oh yes, Klingon, the creation of the linguist Marc Okrand. The little band of fans or hobbyists — call them what you will — who speak and write Klingon, who translated Hamlet into that language and who are working on the Bible won Ms. Okrent’s surprised respect. She attended a conference of speakers and passed the beginner’s exam in the language. And then there was this scene at the hotel:

“I looked around and saw, near the reception desk, a group of glossy-toothed ‘mundanes’ checking in to the hotel. They appeared to be in town for a sales meeting, or maybe just the wedding of an old fraternity brother. They looked at us, immediately noticing, of course, a costumed member of our group. One of these so-called normal people walked right up to him and, without asking for permission, took out his cell phone to take a picture, saying to no one in particular, and certainly not to the Klingon in question, ‘If I don’t get a picture of this, no one will believe me.’ The Klingon stood tall and posed like a true warrior. At that moment, I knew whose side I was on. The world of Klingon may be based on fiction, but living in it takes real guts.”

I apologize for my previous lack of honor.