Ever read something so good you’re angry because someone else wrote it?

Yes, well, that’s where I am with this post by Kory Stamper, whose blog I found today somehow.

I know you’re surprised that I would ever be angry about anything, but whatever. She wrote something awesome, so I’m sharing it even though I resent her.

Let’s say that you feel, despite the evidence I may put in front of you, that “decimate” should not be used to refer to utterly destroying something. That’s fine, assuming you’ve gone through Steps 1-5 above. But before you move in to correct the next guy who uses “decimate” to mean “to utterly destroy,” consider: is this the hill you want to die on? Do you want your legacy in life to be “That One Person Who Bitched Endlessly About ‘Decimate’”? Are you happy with a life that will be beset by smart-asses like me asking why, if you are so interested in so-called etymological purity, you aren’t also tackling “nice” and “frankfurter” and holy hell half the month names of the Gregorian calendar?

That’s all. Carry on.

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.

Posslecue is perfect

Add to the list of things I didn’t know: POSSLQ.

What a great thing I learned today in the New York Times article about what to call those of us who choose to shack up instead of marrying. It is true that girlfriend sounds too junior high, and partner is too businesslike.

But now I see POSSLQ is an option. In 1980, I couldn’t be bothered to pay attention to anything beyond Iron Maiden and trying to look sinister, so it’s not a surprise that the U.S. Census Bureau’s category POSSLQ never landed in my world.

In 1980, the United States Census Bureau made its first attempt at naming these creatures in order to count them. It really outdid itself lexicographically: “person of opposite sex sharing living quarters,” abbreviated to POSSLQ and pronounced “possle cue.”

How this great word never caught on is a mystery. It is now how I will refer to my gal, my old lady, my significant other, my better half. I’m going to change its spelling, though, and go with posslecue. One word.

Me and my posslecue.

Required reading for any language person

I’ve encountered my share of know-it-alls and fussbudgets in the editing (and writing) world, many of whom probably really believe they are doing God’s work and making the world a better place by pointing out every single misspelling, misplaced comma, or unconventional usage.

I wrote about the topic earlier this year when people corrected President Obama’s grammar on Reddit, but this blogger’s series of posts are far more graceful and informative. If you work with words, either writing or editing, or are interested in language at all, her posts should be required reading.

Fact is, language is hard, and some people are better at it than others. And there are a lot of people who only think they’re good at it. Best policy, as with many things, is to be less judgmental.

The language of Abraham Lincoln

I got to see Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln” recently, and it was a dazzling film. Daniel Day-Lewis, of course, was incredible, but he had a great script to work with. Screenwriter Tony Kushner really nailed it. Ben Zimmer at the Boston Globe writes about how Kushner pulled it off:

One key to making the language historically suitable, he told me, was having the 20-volume print edition of the Oxford English Dictionary close at hand. A complete set of the OED—which includes deep histories of all its entry words, with examples—was one of his first purchases when he started earning money from his 1993 Pulitzer Prize-winning Broadway play, “Angels in America,” Kushner said. Through the many drafts of “Lincoln,” he checked every word that he thought might not have been appropriate for 1865.

The 20-volume OED is about $1,300, by the way. But the dialogue in “Lincoln” really is a treat to listen to, so I’d say it was money well-spent. And Tommy Lee Jones’ character (Thaddeus Stevens) has some especially good lines. Well-done, Mr. Kushner. Very impressive work. I am a little disappointed, though, that grousle isn’t a word anywhere.

And, again, Daniel Day-Lewis’ performance was flawless — and surprising. Add to the long (and getting longer) list of things I did not know: Abraham Lincoln apparently had a high-pitched voice. Not high-pitched like a woman or a crying cat, but higher than what you’d expect coming from such a large man — in stature and presence. Civil War scholar Harold Holzer wrote last year at Smithsonian.com about what Lincoln might have sounded like:

When Holzer was researching his 2004 book Lincoln at Cooper Union, he noticed an interesting consistency in the accounts of those who attended Lincoln’s speaking tour in February and March 1860. “They all seem to say, for the first ten minutes I couldn’t believe the way he looked, the way he sounded, his accent. But after ten minutes, the flash of his eyes, the ease of his presentation overcame all doubts, and I was enraptured,” says Holzer.

Same with Daniel Day-Lewis. After about 10 minutes, the incongruous voice starts to make sense and it just becomes part of the character.

Here’s an interview where Daniel Day-Lewis talks about finding the voice he used.

The trailer for Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln.”

Tommy Lee Jones using words as weapons in “Lincoln.”

Of course the very best Daniel Day-Lewis character ever is Bill the Butcher in “Gangs of New York.” So here’s a clip from that movie for no reason at all. Enjoy.

I will never be able to spell “poinsettia”

I have taken (and given) many, many editing tests in my life, and one thing has become very clear to me: I will never be able to spell poinsettia.

It looks wrong to me no matter how I spell it. First, it seems like it ought to have another T in there somewhere. Pointsettia? Then I realize that, no, that’s absurd. Oh, wait, I know: The -ia at the end is all wrong. Needs to just be an -a because that’s how it’s pronounced. I think. Look, I’m not a florist.

Poinsetta. No, still looks wrong.

Luckily, most programs have dynamic spellcheck by now, and lucky, too, that there is just not that much content that contains this cursed plant.

I also look up siege and seize every time, too.

Can't spell poinsettia? Try tulip
This is a tulip. We should think about phasing out the poinsettia in favor of this easier-to-spell flower.

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.

A proofreading font?

Distributed Proofreaders is a site to “help ease the conversion of public domain books into e-books” in the mission of “preserving the literary history of the world in a freely available form for everyone to use.”

DP has adapted a font for proofreading that is supposed to be easier for readers to distinguish similar characters (lowercase Ls and ones, for example) and often-overlooked errors (e.g., rn looks like m).

Guess it makes sense that there’s an optimum proofreading font. I always just used a nice, fat serif font when I had a choice. Often, I didn’t have any say in the matter and had to do the best I could with 9-point Interstate Light Condensed.

Still, I’m not sure this proofreading font, DPCustomMono2, does much for me — it actually makes my eyes hurt a little. But maybe I’m just not used to it.

Here’s DPCustomMono2 proofreading font (on the right) compared with a more typical font (Arial). Easier to proofread with this font? Maybe. For me, the jury’s still out.

Schadenfreude is the best word ever

I used to keep a sticky note at my desk called “Words I Hate.” These were words that I would run across in the course of my editing that I, well, hated. They were usually either awkward, clichéd, or bureaucratic. It was nothing personal. Some of the words, in isolation, were probably just fine. Here are a few I remember: due to the fact that; fled on foot; recently; found (as in: He found himself enjoying opera); every (noun’s) nightmare; died doing what he/she loved; deliverable; efficiencies (corporate usage, not the dwellings, which can be quite charming); mouthfeel.

But I’m not interested in hating anymore. I’m looking forward to a more positive word world. Especially after keeping up with this guy, Ted McCagg, who declared diphthong to be the Best Word Ever in a Final Four bracket-style competition. Diphthong won out over gherkin, by the way. Some really beautiful and wonderful words in the competition, including kerfuffle, detritus, canoodle. All very fine words. I’m also a fan of the words fisticuffs, umami, milquetoast (which is unrelated to milk).

But if I had run the word competition, I would have done anything I could to get a different word at the top of the heap. Of course I’m talking about the actual very best word ever: schadenfreude. Not only does this word have all the requisite sounds that make a word fun to read and say, its meaning is also sublime. That there’s even a word at all to describe the feeling of joy one gets at the misfortune of others is seriously beautiful. I experience schadenfreude every time a bullfighter gets beaten up by the bull. Wrong, I know. Still. Schadenfreude.

So nothing against diphthong, but schadenfreude is the clear winner here. Sorry, Ted.

Careful, buddy. The bull never wins, but he sometimes puts up a good fight.