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/.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Friday roundup

Item: A reader* inquired whether I used sex in the headline for a post just to lure readers. Of course I did. The point of a headline is to lure readers. You think I’m going to draw throngs to this site with “Friday roundup” or “Jay Hancock”? (Sorry, Jay, but you’re no Ashton Kutcher. Perhaps you should be grateful for that.)

Item: A reader wonders what was meant by stentorian in this overripe passage from The New York Observer: For the past 19 months, since Mr. Murdoch got his hands on The Journal, he has been slowly, deliberately turning it into his newspaper. The Journal, until so recently the quiet, stentorian creation of Barney Kilgore, reported in a newsroom with the hush of the library about it by gentleman commuters generally more interested in making it home for dinner than making it to Michael’s for lunch, worried over by editors with a literary bee buzzing around in their fedoras, has been his for a year. None of the doomsday scenarios have played out.

Stentorian, the classicists among you will remember, derives from the eponymous Stentor, a herald in the Iliad famed for his loud, carrying voice. The word means “very loud,” so the writer, pairing it with quiet is either straining for the effect of oxymoron or mistaken about the meaning of the word. Feel free to suggest a substitute in the comment field below.

Alternatively, suggest how this passage might be pruned into something offering more meaning and less affectation.

Item: As I have been plodding through Robin Lane Fox’s The Classical World this week (up to the Peloponnesian War), I came across a construction that I recognize from the newspaper copy that it used to fall to my lot to untangle: [I]n 449 the new temples did start to be built on Athens’ Acropolis. ... Ah, so many programs I’ve seen started to be carried out. This combination of active voice and passive voice — inanimate object does something while being acted on — may not be an error of grammar, but it is certainly maladroit. An editor would probably smooth this out into In 449 Athens did begin building new temples on the Acropolis.

No charge, Professor Fox.

Item: In case you missed the hoo-hah over the putative millionth word in English, watch here as Geoffrey K. Pullum and commenters at Language Log explode this stunt for one more time.

Item: On June 4, Twitter carried this tweet from @APStylebook to its thousands of followers: @johnemcintyre disagrees with Stylebook on our split verb guidance. What do you think? (Find it under "verbs.") I saw two tweets in agreement with my post attacking the “split-verb” non-rule that has been repeatedly denounced by linguists and prescriptivists alike. How about it, AP?



*My practice when I use material from readers’ messages is not to name the reader unless I’m given specific permission to do so.