Don’t like singular they? Tell Mike Tyson.

Everyone has a plan till they get punched in the mouth
Mike Tyson helps James “Quick” Tillis adjust his plans in 1986.

 

 Everyone has a plan till they get punched in the mouth.

Obviously, this brilliant quote from Iron Mike works both literally and figuratively. But it’s a great and timely example of the value and utility of a singular they, which was just declared 2015’s Word of the Year by the American Dialect Society.

If you listen carefully, you can hear copy editors and the least-adaptable among us gnashing their teeth. Late last year, the Washington Post updated its style guidelines to accept singular they, and junior high school English teachers everywhere panicked and bemoaned the decline of the language and the death of rules and meaning. Of course they probably didn’t read the memo from Post copy editor Bill Walsh:

It is usually possible, and preferable, to recast sentences as plural to avoid both the sexist and antiquated universal default to male pronouns and the awkward use of he or she, him or her and the like: All students must complete their homework, not Each student must complete his or her homework.

When such a rewrite is impossible or hopelessly awkward, however, what is known as “the singular they” is permissible: Everyone has their own opinion about the traditional grammar rule. The singular they is also useful in references to people who identify as neither male nor female.

See that? Singular they is acceptable only when a rewrite is impossible or hopelessly awkward. Most of the time, there’s probably a graceful solution. And for those rare other times when there isn’t, or we’re referring to someone who prefers a gender-neutral pronoun, we’ll continue to do what I suspect we’ve already been doing this whole time.

The language isn’t going to die, everyone. We’re all going to be OK.

UPDATE! The Associated Press has finally joined the rest of the world and is grudgingly allowing singular they:

They/them/their is acceptable in limited cases as a singular and-or gender-neutral pronoun, when alternative wording is overly awkward or clumsy.

‘In Dog We Trust’ isn’t the real blasphemy here

Remember that time the Vatican misspelled Jesus on a commemorative coin? Solid comedy gold.

Now some sheriff’s office in Florida misspelled God on its office rug. But you know what’s a bigger blasphemy than misspelling a deity on a rug? This lede on the AP story, that’s what.

LARGO, Fla. (AP) — The Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office in Florida has gone to the dogs. Well, at least its rugs have.

Gone to the dogs? Geez, guys, really? That’s the very best you could come up with? I rolled my eyes so hard I’m blind now. Thanks, AP. My life is ruined.

On another note, the sheriff’s office is just putting the rugs away somewhere. I say they should repurpose them and use them in the offices of their K-9 unit. That would be a perfect solution.

It’s true. Dogs are supertrustworthy.

Update! Looks like the rug has been auctioned off to benefit an animal shelter. Good for you, sheriff’s office, good for you.

Worst headline ever? I dunno, but it’s pretty awful.

First of all, let’s answer the most obvious question: Yes, I was at the gym. I go to the gym sometimes. You don’t get pythons like this by just sitting around eating Cap’n Crunch all day and reading financial copy. Also, there’s a sauna there.

Anyway, I was in this sauna when I came across a copy of Golf Chicago Magazine (apparently there’s a magazine devoted to golf and Chicago) and this awful, terrible headline on a story about Jeremy Roenick, the badass former hockey player.

A real headline in a real magazine.

Blackhawk Down. With Golf. Someone wrote a “clever headline” referring to either the 1993 incident in Somalia in which 18 U.S. service members were killed (along with hundreds of Somali militants and civilians) or the 2001 Oscar-winning film about that incident.

Not only did someone write the headline, someone approved it. And it was published. But maybe the headline writer wasn’t referring to either of those and just meant that this former Blackhawks player is down with golf, as in, Jeremy Roenick is OK with golf. He doesn’t love golf or have a passion for golf. He doesn’t hate golf. He’s OK with it. Best-case scenario: Still a terrible headline.

In general, I’m not a fan of movie references or puns, though I’ve succumbed to the temptation periodically (Game of Thrones!). And this is why. In the very best circumstances, it’s merely lame. In cases like this golf magazine, it’s offensively horrid. If you’re going to use an unrelated pop-culture or historical reference in your headline, at least try to make sure it didn’t involve hundreds of deaths or terrible suffering.

This is me being sad at the gym after reading that terrible headline. Totally ruined my workout.

 

AP’s latest revelation makes copy editors cry like little girls

Pretty disappointed today in my editing brethren after the Associated Press’ bombshell that it will no longer make the distinction between more than and over.

If Facebook and Twitter are any indication, the AP ruined many lives yesterday and copy editors nationwide are in full revolt. The language world is in chaos.

But here’s the thing: Over means more than. It always has. Look:

o•ver (ō´vər) prep. [[ME ouer < OE ofer, akin to Ger über, ober < IE *uper (orig. a compar. of *upo, up) > L super, Gr hyper]]: More than, or above, in degree, amount, number, etc. [a moderate increase over his current salary, a gift costing over five dollars]

And if you can’t believe the dictionary, how about language hero Bryan Garner?

“In one of its uses, the prepositional over is interchangeable with more than <over 600 people were there>—and this has been so for more than 600 years. The charge that over is inferior to more than is a baseless crotchet.” — Garner’s Modern American Usage

It seems to me that editors and others who are supposed to enjoy language should be impressed by over‘s versatility and appreciate that it can do so much (I’m over it; hand it over; he was over the line; discussed over drinks; ad infinitum). I also wonder where all of our copy editors ever got the idea that words can do only one thing. How limiting.

The sooner we can stop blindly following arbitrary and meaningless rules and editing like robots, the sooner we can get back to the business of clarity and common sense. For the record, I don’t think much of the distinctions between over and during; like and such as; or since and because, either.

Copy editors riot after the Associated Press announced on Thursday that it no longer sees value in enforcing the imaginary distinction between “over” and “more than.” Many protesters wore helmets of bread because most copy editors cannot afford actual riot gear.

 

 

Going forward, I see potential upside to synergies

But only if we can leverage our core competencies!

It’s been a long time, everyone. Have you missed me? Of course you have.

I’ve been away for the past few months getting used to my new day job at Morningstar, the financial people, not the sausage company. That’s right: High Finance. I bring the street to Wall Street. Or something.

Anyway, in addition to learning about daytime commuting, I’m also learning a great deal about stocks, markets, Big Business, “financials,” P/E ratios, forward earnings, trailing 12-month earnings, CAGRs. It’s a little overwhelming sometimes, but fun. I remember feeling like this before, back when I worked in the Sports department of a newspaper even though I wasn’t a “sports guy.” You get the jargon wrong in a baseball story, your coworkers will torment you for a long time.

The language of finance is really, like with any other specialty, very much its own language. The editors try to keep the jargon to a minimum, but it’s a losing battle, I’m afraid. Fact is, in any specialized industry or field, its language is a large part of what distinguishes it. Legal writing, medical, academic — a certain amount of jargon indicates authority. But it’s also often used to exclude, to show off, or to cloud meaning (obfuscate!). And the audience, too, expects a certain amount of jargon or it can feel like you’re being talked down to. Most readers of financial documents know what EPS means, so do we need to spell it out for them? I think that might be insulting to some readers. But readability is important, too; nobody likes to read a bunch of abbreviations or other shorthand.

It’s unlikely we’ll eradicate jargon, nor should we strive to. It’s just a matter of balance and purpose, I guess. Like editing any other kind of copy: You want accuracy and clarity, with a focus on readers.

Apparently, I watch Jay Leno now

In the past week or so, I’ve watched two episodes of “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.”

It makes me ashamed a little, but it’s not like I planned to watch it. OK, that’s not entirely true. The other night, someone I know happened to be on a segment of the show, so I watched it on purpose.

But tonight, it was just on. I guess I could have changed the channel, but Monday night, apparently, is Headlines night, which comes with a special schadenfreude for me.

I’m going to go ahead and just man up to watching Jay Leno sometimes. Judge if you must. I can take it.

Jay Leno Headlines
Is it wrong that this brings me so much joy? Probably. I am probably a bad person.

A heaping helping of alphabet soup

I had a boss once who hated acronyms and abbreviations so much that he even discouraged us from using FBI.

“Alphabet soup,” he called it.

I get it. It can get pretty jarring to the reader if copy is littered with long stretches of all-caps words. And also, unfamiliar acronyms or abbreviations can sound jargony.

A while back, I was reading a Chicago Reader story that referred to an “LGBTQ-focused service organization.” LGBTQ? I was familiar with LGBT: lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender. But Q?

A Facebook friend suggested the Q was for queer, which seems a little redundant considering queer could conceivably cover gay, lesbian, transgender and bisexual. (The reclaiming of a negative word and embracing it is a fascinating bit of semantic change in itself, but a topic for another day.)

But then I stumbled onto this newspaper headline from Roosevelt University’s newspaper, the Torch: College of Education Dean pushes for a GLBTQIA welcome.

GLBTQIA would have given my old boss an AMI (heart attack). Not to mention the capitalizing of “Dean.”

That is a lot of letters. According to the article, the Q is for questioning, which makes more sense to me. I is for intersex, and A is for ally. To be honest, I wasn’t familiar with intersex till I looked it up.

Seems like this phrase is getting a little out of control. But I don’t have any better ideas, so carry on.

The view from the other side of the AP story

At some point earlier this year, I buckled up the tool belt and went to work on this old house in Colorado to prepare it for selling. Not too long after we sold it, The Associated Press was asking its Twitter followers if anyone had any thoughts on housing and real estate. Well, we had some thoughts, considering we sold our house in only 10 days. Turns out that if you have a nice product and price it right, real estate does OK. Anyway, we couldn’t get back to the reporter in time for the story.

I guess they kept our info, though, because today, Adrienne and I were interviewed for what sounds like a pretty extensive package about politics and the economy.

It’s weird talking to a reporter. You’re talking and talking, then after awhile, it occurs to you that you’ve been rambling for some time and that you’ve probably said 500 stupid things that might end up in print somewhere with your real name. It’s possible that I even talked about our cats.

Why, yes, Mr. Journalist, I’d love to discuss the economy with you and offer some Average Person Insight. But first, let me tell you about my cats.

It’s a good reminder about what makes a good reporter: the ability to get information so effortlessly from people, to make them trust you. He’s asking the right questions in the right way, and the subject feels a lot like it’s just a conversation, not an interview. Nice job, Dave Carpenter. It’s easy to forget, I think, that compelling news and information isn’t easy to produce.

Not sure if anything I said will be used in the article, but it was interesting to be a part of it. My familiarity with AP stories is from the other side of the desk, where they’re so often gutted to fit in a briefs package. Glad to have experienced the other side of it, even if I’m quoted saying something dumb.