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, July 3, 2009

Shine on

You’d think that these jaded old copy editor eyes would have seen it all, given the monotonous repetition over the years of the set of errors to which journalists are prone. But the inventiveness of writers should not be underestimated.

This morning’s reading of The Baltimore Sun brought a bright new malapropism. In an article on a lightning strike and fire in the steeple of Bethel A.M.E. Church, this sentence was nestled:

City workers picked up stray shingles Thursday morning and that afternoon the sun shown through the damaged steeple to a newly cleaned sidewalk.

Shown for shone may not be original, but it is my first encounter with the error.

(The omission of the comma after morning to indicate a compound sentence, however, comes out of the set of common errors.)

Murder must wait

The editing function does not shut off easily.

Cruising through yesterday’s front-porch reading, Susan Hill’s The Pure in Heart, I stopped short at a reference to a doctor who was to fill in for another doctor about to give birth as a “temporary locum.”

British writers and readers are more enamored of Latinisms than American, and locum tenens, familiarly shortened to locum, is one that crops up regularly. A locum tenens locum, place; tenens, holding — is most commonly a priest or physician who is holding another’s place, filling in, substituting. So being a locum is inherently a short-term arrangement; “temporary locum” is redundant.

And now, back to our story.