Saturday, February 15, 2020

As the Word Turns

The week's best word news, for the casual logophile.

Don't Make Me Hurl

language change, pronunciation

It’s amazing (sometimes even in a good way) which innocent little statements can send people wandering en masse on tangents, or jumping down rabbit holes, or, in this case, tumbling into the sky. Editor Jaime Sperling started a little wordwind on Twitter this week by pointing out,

She wasn’t the only one who was surprised to discover they had been “mispronouncing” the word their entire lives. Or had they? If so many people are pronouncing trebuchet to rhyme with Chevrolet, wouldn’t that make it a legitimate pronunciation? Isn’t that how a democratic language is supposed to work?

James Harbeck of Sesquiotica offers up this explanation of the word trebuchet — both its history and its pronunciation — and now there’s a small contingent urging Merriam-Webster to add the maybe-it-shouldn't-be-considered-incorrect pronunciation to the word's dictionary entry.

The App’s Tale

app, literature

I had never really considered using a great work of literature as the basis for an app that wasn’t a video game. (BTW, programmers: I’m still waiting for Jane Eyre to show up to kick some ass in Mortal Kombat.) But as I read up about how an international team of academics (headed by folks at the University of Saskatchewan) has created a Canterbury Tales app, with audio recordings, a digital manuscript, notes, and commentary, it makes perfect sense. “We want the public, not just academics, to see the manuscript as Chaucer would have likely thought of it — as a performance that mixed drama and humor," says project leader Peter Robinson. Academic apps — who knew?

Currently, only the General Prologue is ready, but that’ll be enough to keep you busy for a while, no? And in a surprise turn, the late Terry Jones of Monty Python had a hand in making it all happen, and the app was deliberately released on what would have been his 78th birthday.

This is levels above, say, CliffsNotes, and what’s more, it’s free. And I’m downloading it to my phone while I type this. Look for “General Prologue” from Scholarly Digital Editions on Google Play or the App store.

Relevance of Style

editing, usage, style guides

On paper, a copy editor’s job seems pretty straightforward: Fix the grammar and usage, smooth the prose down, and keep the author from looking like a fool. Beyond that, copy editors make sure manuscripts conform to house style, which includes the treatment of numbers, capitalization, punctuation, preferred spellings, and other little niggling details.

Though I think most writers understand that, even though I can gloss over the job description in just two sentences, copy editors have a lot to consider. But few really understand how just how many "little niggling details" a copy editor contends with.

But here’s your chance to find out: Mother Jones published its style guide online this week. It is a book’s worth of editorial guidance — and this is in addition to the AP Stylebook and the Merriam-Webster Dictionary.

Mother Jones decided to share this guide, writes Daniel King, “to encourage readers, and ourselves, to learn out loud about words’ consequences and constraints.” I encourage you to dip into this, whether you’re familiar with style guides or not. I guarantee you’ll find some aspect of getting writing, editing, or journalism “right” that you hadn’t considered before. It could make your writing better, but what's more, it'll make you appreciate a good copy editor.

Cartoon of the Week

style guides, cartoon

Speaking of style guides...

DON’T LET ME STEAL IVA CHEUNG’S CLICKS! Go to her website and check out some of her other editing-related cartoons. (And learn more about editing while you’re there.)

One Off the Airwaves

podcast, word history

In this week’s That’s What They Say podcast, Anne Curzan talks about one-off, a possible replacement for the weakening unique that some Americans are hearing more often. A folk etymology claims that one-off came from a shortening (and parheps mishearing?) of one-of-a-kind. Not so, says Curzan; the word comes from British manufacturing, where you might also find two-off or sixty-off. Take four minutes to listen to the whole episode, "A Manufactured 'One-Off.'"

Rank and Phile

self-promotion, vocabulary

My short language quiz (which originally appeared in the January/February issue of The Saturday Evening Post) is up online. The idea is simple: Match the “-phile” on the left (e.g., chionophile, selenophile) with the object of that “lover’s” affection. Can you get nine out of nine? (Also check out my new post about eponyms, “9 Things You Didn’t Know Were Named After People.”)