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Over the transom

One of my vows this year, not yet abandoned, is to keep up better with the queries and comments that come to my desk. Here is a miscellany.

O western wind

One of The Sun’s loyal readers — a hardy tribe — was disappointed in the headline for the article on the cancellation of the New Year’s fireworks display because of dangerously high winds: Wind rustles planned festivities.

She thought that ruffles might have been intended, since rustles doesn’t appear to match any of the common senses of the word. I caught the sense of the headline but think that it was a misjudged effort at wordplay.

See for yourself

Paul J.J. Payack, the million-words-in-English man, has responded to my post suggesting that his enterprise is flawed and largely pointless, inviting me to examine the article in which he sets out his argument. You’re welcome to have a look, but I have to say that I am unpersuaded.

You’ve seen them before

Virtually all journalism is infested with cliches — do you live in a leafy suburb or on a gritty inner-city street? (I come from what some of my colleagues would probably call hardscrabble.) And there are the stock story forms and stock story structures; usually you can read the headline, maybe a sentence or two, and predict the entire contents of the story. The odd thing is that the writers who employ these shopworn devices almost always imagine that they are being original. “It’s not a cliche when I use it,” a reporter once told me — with a straight face.

Probably no writers have to resort more frequently to cliches than sports reporters. They typically have to turn out a large volume of copy under demanding time constraints, which makes it inevitable that prefabricated phrases comes to hand.

Andy Knobel, who capably oversees The Sun’s sports copy editors, offers this link to an annual column in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette identifying some of the most notable sports cliches of the year just past.

The purple sweater

Some of you have commenter on the purple sweater and tie that I am wearing in the “Surely you jest” series of video jokes. Let me repeat what I said in a comment on the most recent one.

Mike Catalini has far weightier responsibilities as a multimedia editor than the production of the videos on this site. To spare him time and labor, I record a batch of these jokes at a sitting and then post them at intervals. The next one will display a change in wardrobe that will run for half a dozen posts until I put together the next batch.




Posted by John McIntyre at 10:30 AM | | Comments (10)


Wind rustles planned festivities.

I thought it was a cowboy reference which doesn't make a lick of sense, neither does any other interpertation that I can conjure.

See for yourself

My father used to acuse his kids of talking just to hear ourselves talk. Mr. Payack's article made me think of Dad.

The purple sweater

Oh. I've been imagining the sweater and bowtie as rather the uniform of The Storyteller. Well. I guess I'll have to adjust.

Predictably, "Wind Rustles Planned Festivities" made sense to me. (Maybe, because I'm just now reading the headline having already known what happened. But I think I would have gotten it anyway.)

Also, thanks for the little video box thing over there. I've actually used both the martini and the bow tie videos as references (for others). Having them in one place makes it handy for viewers.

I'm disappointed to learn the truth behind the sweater. I too had imagined it as a sort of "uniform," much like the rubrics or column headers we employ in publication design.

Is it necessary to actually see the face of a person to determine whether he is saying something "with a straight face"?

Nobody will ever know how many words are in the English language, but if he's counting, someone needs to inform Paul J.J. Payack that "unquivocally" is not one of them.

Have you noticed how much more raucous this place has become since the Sandboxers started wondering over? Miscellany is our speciality (to paraphrase Wallace.)

Well, RtSo, The Sandbox is a wordy place.

re: "Wind rustles planned festivities"

Would you have preferred "Maria steals off with planned festivities?"

(Before you start scratching your heads, one of the songs in "Paint Your Wagon," a musical about the California gold rush, was "They Call the Wind Maria," pronounced Mariah)

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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
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