Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Four Great Moments from ACES 2015

The high point of my year two years running has been the annual conference of the American Copy Editors Society. Yes, I recognize that that's a little sad, but it's a great conference with wonderful people who speak the same language I do.

This year's conference, ACES2015, was no different . . . apart from its being so much colder in Pittsburgh than it was in Las Vegas for ACES2014.

I met a lot of people and learned a lot of stuff, but here are five moments from the three-day conference that I will remember for a long time.

Linguist's Delight

During his keynote address on Friday night, Ben Zimmer (executive editor of Vocabulary.com and the Visual Thesaurus and language columnist for The Wall Street Journal) voluntarily sang a passable rendition of "Big Rock Candy Mountain." He thought he could then move on to  "Rapper's Delight" and get away with not actually performing it. The more than 450 editors chanting "Do it!" had other ideas.

Ben succumbed to the peer pressure, and so we got to hear his halting (because he couldn't stop laughing) rendition of The Sugarhill Gang's classic as part of an illustration of the first known appearance of the phrase "rock the mic." Read the collection of live tweets of the event on Storify.

Hortatory Subjunctives!

If you're going to give a session about grammar to a room full of people who already spend their days fixing other people's grammar, you're going to have to go deep. Lisa McLendon (@MadamGrammar) did just that in her aptly named "Deep Grammar" session. Lisa gave those attending the vocabulary to describe some little-known and often-edited-out grammatical structures, such as the aforementioned hortatory subjunctives ("Let us not forget our manners or our underwear."), nominative absolutes ("Andy having witnessed the joy that attendees of this session expressed, he knew he was among his people."), and ungrammatical fused participles ("I understand you drowsing off at this point."). Only a certain kind of logophile could enjoy such a talk, and my heart warmed to be in a room full of such people.

That Old English Sound

Kory Stamper. Pic by @WiseKaren.
One of the early sessions of the conference was given by Kory Stamper (@korystamper), an editor at Merriam-Webster dictionaries. Her presentation about the evolution of the English language was chock-a-block with interesting little tidbits about our language (like why Chaucer was so important). But the high point for me was when she did "the only thing [her] degree qualified [her] to do": read the opening of Beowulf in Old English. It was beautiful.

Kory said she thought this "drunk, sideways German" sounded like Klingon, but to my ears, it sounded like Elvish, as if Galadriel herself (but with bright blue hair) was telling us the story of a young adventurer.


On Thursday night, I participated with thirteen others in an adult spelling bee. I won third place, thank you very much! The whole thing was fun, my favorite part was when I was given the word schussboomer, which I had never heard before. A couple of questions later, I somehow managed to spell the word correctly, which led to cheers from the audience and my personal favorite tweet of the entire conference.

I've already started getting ready for ACES 2016 in Portland, Oregon.