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July 30, 2007

Heavy-handed plodder

One suspects that the prevalence of formulaic epithets in Homeric poetry was a device to assist the bards in their memorization: rosy-fingered Dawn, the wine-dark sea, gray-eyed Athena and all that.

One suspects that the prevalence of formulaic epithets in daily journalism has less to do with memorization than the need to fill the quota of words quickly. Such constructions were common when I started in the business in the 1980s: Fugitive financier Robert Vesco appeared regularly in print, and Pope John Paul II was alternatively the white-robed pontiff.

The sturdy device persists, as we see every time we read about war-torn Lebanon or war-torn Iraq, in the latter of which one finds the oil-rich city of Kirkuk.

One gets the white-robed pontiff and other clumsy circumlocutions to avoid repeating a term, such as the pope, monotonously. The rhetorical term for this particular trope is periphrasis or antonomasia, the substitution of a descriptive term for a proper name or a proper name for a quality associated with it. Admirable as the goal of avoiding monotony may be, reliance on stock phrases gets stale very quickly.

One defense of this technique is that it assists readers in identifying persons or places with which they may be unfamiliar. But mentioning the oil-rich city of Kirkuk in an article about violence in Kirkuk that makes no reference to the oil is pointless. And on what remote atoll do we imagine our readers have been stranded that they have not learned that Iraq is war-torn?

No, however much we want to vary the prose and inform the reader, there is no dodging the clear point that this kind of writing betrays hackwork, the construction of articles from prefabricated phrases. There is no disguising triteness from the reader.

Posted by John McIntyre at 9:39 AM | | Comments (2)
        

July 27, 2007

Career choice

Two advantages the plumber has over the editor:

1. The customer understands that the plumbing doesn’t work.

2. The customer doesn’t think that he knows better than the plumber how to fix it.

Posted by John McIntyre at 8:44 AM | | Comments (3)
        

July 24, 2007

Inquest on a sentence

Sometimes a single sentence exemplifies the hazards of writing and editing in daily journalism.

Take this one, from an article about the recently released Hairspray:

The fashions of the musical represent the silhouettes and styles of a well-known time period — the calm before the civil rights storm; the iconoclastic Jackie O years.
Perhaps you spot the two serious problems immediately.

(1)Hairspray is set in 1962, when the former Jacqueline Bouvier was still Jacqueline Kennedy, not Jacqueline Onassis.

(2) Then there is that troublesome word iconoclastic. I suppose that in some sense Jacqueline Kennedy, in reacting to the drabness of the 1950s and setting a new trend in style, broke a model of dress. But she was, if anything, iconic, her style of dress imitated by women throughout the country (often to less effect). She was chic, not iconoclastic.

So we have a problem of accuracy — if a writer is going to establish a historical perspective, it’s vital to get the factual details right — and a problem of language.

It is not my intention to hold a writer up to scorn. Indeed, though I winced on reading this sentence in the paper, I hadn’t intended to write about it until a colleague commented on it.

It is, rather, my intention to point out a lapse in editing. The editor’s function is to protect the writer from lapses and from lack of clarity. This sentence, by the standards established at The Sun, went through the hands of an assigning editor, a copy editor, a slot editor checking the copy editor’s work, and another copy editor reading page proof. That is the minimum, and it is entirely possible that one or two other editors had a look at the article before publication. The writer was not well served.

Even in a well-ordered newsroom, faulty and unclear sentences find their way into print. And as newspapers cope with economic pressures, we will see more faulty sentences, produced by fewer journalists doing more work in less time. The Jackie O sentence isn’t all that bad; it is not the kind of sentence that leads to an embarrassed correction or a lawsuit. But it is one more minute ding to the paper’s credibility.

The question, one that the business is hesitant to address directly, is how much slippage of quality publishers are prepared to tolerate — or perhaps more to the point, how much readers will tolerate before they simply look elsewhere.

Journalism is done in a hurry. Get the story. Get me a draft of that story. Get the story out. Get ahead of the competition. Meet the deadline. What’s the headline going to say? We’re running out of clock.

We need more editing, sharper editing. This is not an environment in which reducing the number of editors and copy editors is going to make the product more accurate, clearer, more compelling — better.

Posted by John McIntyre at 11:07 AM | | Comments (1)
        

July 23, 2007

A nation cringes

That rude beast, a presidential campaign, slouches inexorably toward us. Even if you have contrived to ignore the flurry of stories about how much cash the candidates have raised, there will be no escaping the elements of an American presidential election.

First, the candidates will issue vague and gassy papers on The Issues, which will be soberly analyzed by The Serious Journals. Never mind that once in office, the winning candidate will likely do very different things — keep in mind Franklin Roosevelt’s pledge in 1932 to balance the federal budget and Richard Nixon’s assurance in 1968 that he had a plan to end the Vietnam War.

Second, because journalists know that virtually no one will read The Serious Journals on The Issues, most news stories will be written in the language of sports. Horse racing is the dominant element; one candidate is ahead, one has fallen behind, they’re making the turn, they’re in the stretch. The factual basis for these conclusions will be polls of dubious reliability. (Dubious because their methodology is unsound or because it is so hard to measure the public’s flickering attention from one week to the next.)

Third, the public will be bombarded by advertising, largely mendacious, by the candidates, by their parties, by interest groups. Amid this noise, something like half the electorate may trudge to the polls.

Fourth, the winner will be showered with puff pieces about what a swell fellow and admirable American he is: He eats toast for breakfast! He ties his own necktie! His children can read and write! Within weeks will come the discovery that he is an imbecile and a danger to the Republic. That will mark the point at which the next presidential campaign commences.

There’s not much anyone can do about this, except to resist some of the most egregious excesses and cliches. Watch out for poll stories, partisan claims of shaky accuracy (Think Swift boat), and formulaic language:

Dark horse
Retire this and other metaphors from the track.

Front-runner
Ditto.

War chest
This metaphor has been dead so long that Mason Adams made fun of it in an episode of Lou Grant. (That was a television show in the early 1980s, children.)

Of course, there are rare occasions on which the term may be applicable. The late Paul Powell, Illinois secretary of state, was discovered after his death in 1970 to be hoarding $800,000 in cash — some of it stashed in shoe boxes — in his hotel room in Springfield. If memory serves, it was Adlai Stevenson III who commented, “It will take a big man to fill his shoe boxes.”

One reader prompted this post by complaining about the term top vote-getter and wondering whether there was a simpler English equivalent of this ungainly compound.

Perhaps some of you — yes, you out there, sitting in the basement reading blogs instead of frolicking in the sunshine — could nominate your own suggestions for banning.

Posted by John McIntyre at 11:46 AM | | Comments (2)
        

July 18, 2007

The test of our mettle

These are evil days.

You civilians can listen in, but this post is mainly for others in the business.

A colleague I’ve known for years writes that the copy desk at his paper is undergoing yet another staff reduction, which will leave it down 65 percent from a couple of years ago. It appears that proofing has been virtually abandoned, and even slotting is diminished. Pages are going straight from a rim editor to print.

The traditional tripartite checking on copy desks — the article given a first edit by a copy editor on the rim, checked by an editor in the slot, read in proof by a third copy editor — isn’t featherbedding. Errors get caught at every stage, often small but sometimes substantial. On a recent evening, two copy editors, reading page proof as edition deadline neared, identified a problem with a lead paragraph that overstated the conclusion of the article. It was a paragraph that had gone under my hands in the slot. We got it fixed in time for publication because of that final stage of proofing.

Newspapers everywhere are under pressure from falling circulation and declining revenue, and I don’t mean that the copy desk should be immune to the contractions the rest of the newsroom is experiencing. But cutting back too far on the editing will not serve the business well. Multiplication of errors will not increase readers’ confidence or boost circulation. If slack or hurried editing leads to lawsuits, where then are the savings from staff reductions?

But I’m not here to whine. Newspapers brought it on themselves by being complacent and slow to innovate. And if copy desks are to continue to function, to enhance accuracy and clarity in publications, both electronic and print, then copy editors will have to push for maintaining the importance of editing.

Here’s one possibility. Since much of our work is invisible (the correction of errors) or anonymous (the writing of headlines), I’ve asked all The Sun’s copy editors to send me a note each week with a couple of their best catches and headlines. I compile those lists each month and make sure that my masters are aware of what the copy desk does for the paper.

You, too, can do that. Present the bosses with specific examples of how the copy desk protects them from errors, corrections and lawsuits. Put them on the spot; ask what level of error in the published editions they are willing to tolerate. Show them the connection between adequate staffing of the desk for Web site and print edition and the integrity of the product.

I’m not giddily optimistic. Managers of newspapers have always tolerated quite a bit of shoddy work. But if we respect our own work, it is worth fighting for.

Montaigne says that “the name of virtue presupposes difficulty and contrast, and that it cannot be exercised without opposition.” It was easy for journalists to look good when the business was flush. Now that we are in trouble, it will be a struggle to uphold the values we preach. But giving in would be ignoble.

Posted by John McIntyre at 11:35 AM | | Comments (9)
        

July 17, 2007

What 'is' is

A former colleague is adamant that he's must be a contraction for he is and may never be used for he has. Presumably this is to avoid ambiguity. And this distinction has apparently been elevated in various places to the status of a Rule.

But oddly, Garner’s Modern American Usage, Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary of English Usage, the New Fowler’s and Bernstein’s Careful Writer do not address the issue, at least as far as I could tell from a hurried check. The formidable Bill Walsh writes in The Elephants of Style that “many people are quite uptight about the fact that ’s can stand for either is or has. Unless that dual role could somehow cause confusion, don’t worry about it.”

It seems unlikely that anyone would understand “She’s going to work” as “She has going to work” or “He’s been on the phone for an hours” as “He is been on the phone for an hour.”

Focusing on a potential confusion that will almost never occur reflects the manufacture of unnecessary “rules” that bedevils the business — wasting editors’ time on gossamer distinctions instead of genuine ambiguities and outright errors. If you object to he’s for he has on personal, aesthetic reasons, don’t use it. But don’t compel others to endorse your preference.

(I myself am a reformed sinner, having spent untold keystrokes on this unnecessary fussiness. But no more.)

In a broader context, though, there is reason to take some care in using contractions. While they are still forbidden in most academic work and other formal writing, they have become increasingly acceptable in the informal, conversational tone of most journalism and popular writing.

But even there, as Bryan Garner advises, it is best to stick with the most common contractions unless you are trying to reproduce speech. So, he says, avoid I’d’ve, it’d, she’d’ve, should’ve, there’re, who’re, and would’ve.

Posted by John McIntyre at 11:48 AM | | Comments (2)
        

July 16, 2007

Caught

A message came the other day from Peter Fisk, an able editor and a staunch friend, who pointed out a couple of typographical errors on my LinkedIn networking Web site. (I am a vile typist.) He apologized (!) for mentioning the errors.

Not a problem. In one of Rex Stout’s early Nero Wolfe mysteries, to which I have been addicted since high school, Wolfe says, “I love to make a mistake, it is my only assurance that I cannot reasonably be expected to assume the burden of omniscience.”

Every proper copy editor understands that the more he or she knows, the more is unknown. All of us are painfully aware of our fallibility and personal limitations. So correction, the bete noire of the insecure and touchy, is no bugaboo for us. Every correction, however much it humbles us, enlarges the scope of understanding and nibbles at the border of error.

Posted by John McIntyre at 11:05 AM | | Comments (0)
        

July 13, 2007

Stones unturned

A year ago, the task of tormenting undergraduates in a summer journalism program in Italy often involved lancing and draining much of the local color from their stories. We were stationed in Cagli, a hill town in the Apennines, and nearly every story the students submitted opened with some reference to "the town with the quaint cobblestone streets nestled between the mountains."

It fell to me, the grim copy editor hovering over their texts, to point out that (1) when the same device opens a dozen stories, little originality is present, and (2) the streets of Cagli are not paved with cobblestones. The streets of Cagli are paved with rectangular stones.

Cobblestones are rounded stones, “larger than a pebble and smaller than a boulder” in Webster’s New World College Dictionary’s helpful citation, used to pave streets. Bouncing over them is a little like driving on cannonballs.

What careless or ill-informed writers call cobblestones are seldom that, but rather a different sort of paving stone. In Baltimore, Philadelphia and New York, the common paving stones were Belgian blocks, rough-hewn rectangles of granite, often carried as ballast in ships. They provide a durable surface, and one much less uncomfortable to navigate across than cobblestones.

Whenever you see cobblestones, ask the writer if the stones were rounded. Or just make a safe substitution of paving stones. Ditch the quaintness, too.

Posted by John McIntyre at 9:28 AM | | Comments (2)
        

July 11, 2007

Tour group

Welcome to the Baltimore Sun and the opportunity to see firsthand how news is made. But first, please, everyone must don a hardhat for safety reasons. This is mandated by OSHA, the Oeditorial Syntactical and Headline Administration — no one seems to know why the agency kept the classical diphthong in its name.

If you’ll step over here, you can see the intake valves. Don’t stand too close; we have all the letters of the alphabet and all the punctuation marks coming in under extremely high pressure. Owing to a problem that the engineers haven’t figured out how to fix, a crimp has developed in the semicolon feeder, which explains why so many of our reporters have been using commas instead.

From the main intake, pipes under the floor distribute the letters and punctuation marks to each work station. Now you may think that the newspaper is produced by Industrial Age factory processes, which is partially the case, but each product, or “story,” is produced by hand by a reporter. It is something like individual weavers working at their looms — the work of craftsmen and craftswomen. The work is very exacting. You’ll sometimes see an editor undoing the weaving, like Penelope in the Odyssey, and returning it to the reporter to be done over.

What’s that? Speak up, please. Oh, you mean the periscopes? They are operated by a team of specialized observers from the Features Department to spot trends.

Now back to the actual stories. The final fitting is done on the copy desk, which makes use of several specialized pieces of machinery.

Over there, for example, you can see a copy editor operating the Lexicon Adjustment Treadle. It takes a text in which the writer has said that the subjects snorted, chortled, barked, snapped, quipped, drawled, intoned, recounted, grumbled, growled, muttered, sputtered, averred, revealed or opined and replaces them with said.

Next to that copy editor, another is operating a Cognate Compactor, which takes long headline words and converts them into shorter words to make a fit. Let’s see what he’s busy with. Ah, you see? Corporation has just been compressed into firm. Not really the same thing, of course, but now it fits.

Over there, on that platform, you see the man in the leather vest with the drum? He beats cadence throughout the day, doubling as deadline approaches. The copy editors call it “ramming speed.”

Now if you’ll look above the working floor, you can see those glass-enclosed rooms in which the supervising editors work. It is actually a suite of meeting rooms, and they proceed from one to the other throughout the day. In early evening, a herald is dispatched to that rostrum to proclaim the day’s decisions.

At the far end of the room you can see a door. But it’s not an ordinary door. It leads to the Editorial Department in a separate wing. Security is tight. Entrance is limited by fingerprint scan and optical scan of the iris. Beyond that door is the bombproof sanctuary — it has separate heating and cooling systems, and manufactures and recycles its own oxygen — in which the editorial writers arrive at their pronouncements.

I hope that this glimpse of the workings of a modern newsroom has given you a fuller understanding of The Sun and the people who work here. If you would, please leave your name and address with the representative of the Circulation Department who will be waiting at the door.

Posted by John McIntyre at 8:56 AM | | Comments (6)
        

July 10, 2007

Grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr

I was walking down the corridor at Morrill Hall at Michigan State beside one of my professors, who looked gloomy. “What’s up?” I asked. “I’m off to teach ‘Prufrock’ for the twentieth time,” he said. “When are they ever going to figure it out?”

I have in my files at The Sun copies of various in-house editing newsletters going back to 1970, and the same damn things keep turning up over and over. When are they ever going to pay attention?

The Enoch Pratt Free Library has a central library on Cathedral Street and branches throughout the city. We have referred to the building once again as the “central branch.” The central Pratt is not a branch; it is the trunk from which the branches radiate.

This morning we’re informed that police “have no motive or suspect” in a shooting. While we should all be pleased to know that the police do not have a motive for shooting someone, it would be even better to read that they know of no motive in the shooting.

We ran two headlines using the word proactive, which sets some purists’ teeth, including mine, on edge. I’ve had little more success in stamping out the wasted adjective dramatic, which has turned up in references to a dramatic drag race and a dramatic struggle in a bicycle race. If circumstances are genuinely dramatic, the reader will perceive that without coaching; if they are not genuinely dramatic, no piling up of adjectives will make them so. Show, don’t tell, they tell you in writing class, and they are right.

All this pales, unfortunately, in the face of this morning’s solecism, an article in which Voldemort, the villain of the Harry Potter series, is referred to twice as Voldermort — after a correctly spelled first reference. Flagging inconsistent spellings of proper names is one of the few things that the spell-check function is good for. It would have been helpful if someone, writer, assigning editor or copy editor, had used it.

Bad enough to have offended the Dark Lord. Now I have to turn off the lights, lock the office door and hide under the desk until the mob of furious Potterphiles sweeps past.

Posted by John McIntyre at 10:54 AM | | Comments (2)
        

July 9, 2007

Swing those hips

From an article about a fatal fall in a state park:

He tried to shimmy down to lower ledge and seemed to have lost his balance and fell, said Sgt. Ken Turner, spokesman for the Maryland Natural Resources police.

To shimmy is to shake. A car shimmies when the front wheels wobble. Or, if you would like something more vivid to lock meaning in memory, shimmying is what Blaze Starr used to do so memorably at the Two O’Clock Club on The Block in Baltimore. (Her movements so captured the imagination of the governor of Louisiana, Earl Long, Huey’s brother, that he embarked on an extended affair with her.) The word derives from chemise, which may or may not suggest an original context to you.

To shinny is to climb, specifically by gripping with hands and legs while climbing a rope or pole. It derives from shin — you know, the leg.

If you can distinguish between a gym class and a strip club, you can probably master the distinction between the two words.

Posted by John McIntyre at 12:06 PM | | Comments (1)
        

July 5, 2007

The grit in the salad

The tile for the backsplash is up, after a day of noise and disruption that had the cats hiding under the beds. The refrigerator no longer looms like a Pharaonic sarcophagus in the living room. There is running water in the kitchen, even though the faucet turns out to be one that Consumer Reports doesn’t recommend. While there must be further touches and expenses to endure, our long domestic nightmare is over: We have a functioning kitchen.

Once again there is leisure to consider the comparatively minor irritations of newspaper prose, the errors discovered like sand in incompletely washed spinach.

Large evergreens appear sun-kissed with outermost bows outlined in yellow. The sun can smooch the livelong day if it likes, but trees have boughs.

She has gone from charming to annoying just by being herself. If her giggle is a nervous tick, your pointing it out to her and putting her on edge might make it worse. A nervous tick would be one jumpy invertebrate. The unfortunate woman has developed a nervous tic.

Under blue tents in Cockeysville, archeologists scrub shards of pottery with toothbrushes. Nearby, small flags jut from the grass and a hole reveals a stone foundation and steps. A reader wrote to complain, “Archaeologists is misspelled.” Actually, archeologist is one acceptable variant, but Sun style prefers archaeologist.

Most colonists drank the fortified English wines, like madeira, claret and port, that could more readily make the journey across the ocean. Claret is the term by which the British (and some of their former colonists) refer to Bordeaux, a dry red wine that is not fortified. Madeira, port and sherry are wines that have been fortified by adding alcohol.

But, still, the spinach has been washed, as is plain from the following sampling of errors caught recently by The Sun’s copy editors.

An article referred to a clown’s “neon-green” outfit. Fluorescing neon is reddish-orange. Fluorescent green would have been a better choice of words.

An article on runoff into the Chesapeake Bay referred to pollutants “leeching” into the bay. When water filters through a substance, dissolving and removing a chemical, the action is leaching.

An article about the film Gracie, in which a 15-year-old girl seeks a place on a high school soccer team after the death of her brother, referred to "the days before Title IX." The movie was set in 1978, and Title IX, which had the effect of prohibiting discrimination against women in the funding of high school and collegiate athletics, was enacted in 1972.

A logo designed to accompany an article bore the image of a Muslim crescent and star on a blue field with red and white stripes. A copy editor pointed out that it bore a strong resemblance to the Malaysian flag, and the logo was redesigned.

Posted by John McIntyre at 11:44 AM | | Comments (1)
        

July 3, 2007

The name of the game

The features copy editors crave more italics.

They came to me yesterday asking for a ruling about the titles of computer games, because running them as we have been, capitalized, in roman type, “doesn’t look right” or “confuses the reader.”

Readers must be readily bewildered, because we seem to have gotten along all these years writing about Monopoly and Scrabble and other games without benefit of quotation marks or italics. But I suppose that a case can be made that as computer games grow more sophisticated, they have elaborate narratives, animation and other effects, so that it makes sense to rank Grand Theft Auto San Andreas along with Light in August and Citizen Kane.

(If you perceive Cranky Old Guy peeking through the prose, you are correct. I played one game of Space Invaders in a bar in 1979, which is the extent of my personal involvement with computerized games.)

A little research shows that the Associated Press Stylebook lists computer games, along with films, plays, novels and other artistic works, in the “composition titles” entry. So the AP would use quotation marks with the names of computer games. The AP does not use italics in copy, because it can’t transmit italics to subscribers. The Sun, which can use italics, italicizes the titles of major works and uses quotation marks with the titles of minor works, according to the generally accepted conventions outside newspapers.

I could, I suppose, poll the copy desk staff. But then I would almost certainly be asked why we have to use italics at all, because some of the editors still complain about my decree that our practice should follow what the rest of the world does.

So, at some point later today, I will have to issue some arbitrary ruling. It will probably include the names of computer games in the category of titles using italics. Let it not be said that I denied the full measure of dignity to Pong.

Posted by John McIntyre at 10:26 AM | | Comments (6)
        

July 2, 2007

We've heard that before

A benefit of this blog (at least for me — you’re on your own) is that people send comments on posts that compel me to think. A month ago a reader of a post on stale expressions, “Get rid of it,” asked what all the fuss is about cliches:

Interesting post, but why would you be upset about cliches? Especially the "war on terror"? we use the notion of "war" as a metaphor in so much of our everyday language, and you'd probably do well to look at a rather interesting read on the topic of war as a metaphor - "Metaphors we live by" by Lakoff & Johnson. I've also noted that in a number of your other posts, you also use cliche to effect. Style guides are just that, a guide (kinda like a serving suggestion in my opinion). Sociolinguists shudder to think of the rich cultural insights we could lose if we were to ban the use of the cliche! I say use them freely and frequently, so long as they don't interefere with the gist... (and make up as many new ones as you can along the way!)

This was refreshing. English majors, creative writers, prescriptivists and other members of the language tribe have been cautioned so frequently to avoid stock expressions that the injunction, mechanically repeated, remains unexamined. But to think about cliches and their value could lead to a clearer understanding of how people use language.

Think, for example, of all the metaphors and expressions from Shakespeare and the Authorized Version of the Bible that, fresh and original 400 years ago, have become the common coin of writing and speech. We do not live by bread alone. To every thing there is a season. All the world’s a stage. What’s past is prologue. These two sources occupy page after page of Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations, and the words have become so familiar that people often do not recognize that they are quoting.

English is also full of buried metaphors — expressions of metaphoric origin that no longer carry a symbolic charge. We talk or write of the mouth of a river for the point at which it opens into a larger body of water, but the expression no longer carries the image of a mouth. We give an investment adviser free rein without thinking of him as a horse or ourselves as a rider.

Proverbs abound and are so familiar that they can be truncated. If someone is thinking of giving up on a sure thing for a chancy prospect, a bird in the hand is as much caution as one has to administer. Catchphrases tend to be ephemeral, but they function before they exhaust their span. The Seinfeld show has been off the air except for reruns for nine years, but a number of expressions it popularized have lingered, and they provide a useful shorthand for conversation. Yadda yadda yadda still does fine as a compressed equivalent of and then events followed in exactly the course you could have predicted.

All these elements account for a considerable volume of conversation and writing, and they are undeniably useful. Because people understand them, they add to clarity of discourse (except when the meanings deteriorate, as in the use of free reign by people removed from horse culture).

Particularly for journalists, who must cobble together (another buried metaphor; we’re not shoemakers) texts in a short time, the use of prefabricated phrases is unavoidable.

So cliche has an undeniable utility.

But here is where my function as an editor comes in. It’s not my job to regulate people’s speech or their private writing. I am concerned with writing for publication, where I have to ask whether a stock expression is a substitute for thought or so trite as to be useless. Clarity of meaning, though fundamental, is not the sole consideration. Is the writing also effective? Do trite expressions mar its effectiveness?

Peter Fisk, who appears to enjoy rolling the Apple of Discord into a conversation, challenged me: “John, if you would, please offer us a list of recognizable English expressions that are not to be rejected on the grounds of cliche, redundancy, or non-literal-mindedness.”

Not a trap I mean to fall into. Humbly obedient as ever to the writers’ stricture that I am not to substitute my wording for theirs, I merely point out that avoiding cliche is a task left to their powers of imagination and originality.

Posted by John McIntyre at 12:12 PM | | Comments (0)
        
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About John McIntyre
John McIntyre, mild-mannered editor for a great metropolitan newspaper, has fussed over writers’ work, to sporadic expressions of gratitude, for thirty years. He is The Sun’s night content production manager and former head of its copy desk. He also teaches editing at Loyola University Maryland. A former president of the American Copy Editors Society, a native of Kentucky, a graduate of Michigan State and Syracuse, and a moderate prescriptivist, he writes about language, journalism, and arbitrarily chosen topics. If you are inspired by a spirit of contradiction, comment on the posts or write to him at john.mcintyre@baltsun.com.
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