Archive | December, 2007

War of Words: “Irregardless”

27 Dec

My friend Tim blogged a while back in defense of the word “irregardless.” I guess the folks at Merriam-Webster’s stumbled across it and blogged in their own defense in November.

This raises a few points:

  1. Why don’t people ever get sarcasm, hyperbole, or just plain goofy jokes on the Internet?
  2. Why did M-W quote from their usage guide instead of their much more common dictionary, which says basically the same thing? And did they miss Tim’s point 3?
  3. Why didn’t M-W use the word “irregardless” in the title of the post? Have they never heard of SEO? This is 2007, people.

Completely irrelevant P.S. My dad wanted a dictionary that “has all the words” for Christmas. I recommended M-W’s Collegiate 11th, but my mom bought the Random House Webster’s Unabridged. I was about to geek out on her about dictionaries, but decided it wasn’t in the spirit of Christmas to tell my 73-year-old Mom that maybe she should return a 30-lb. Christmas gift for a 30-lb. Christmas gift that looks exactly the same but is from a different publisher.

Oh, and that was the second unabridged dictionary given by and to a family member at Christmas.

Old News: Merriam-Webster’s Word of 2007

21 Dec

w00t

Originally uploaded by scjody.

Really? w00t is Merriam-Webster’s word of 2007? Is it even a word if it has numbers instead of vowels? How old do I sound right now?

But before I get my red pencils in a twist, I have to consider the source. See, there are two basic philosophies when it comes to creating dictionaries, usage guidelines, etc. You can either be descriptive (you’re basically recording how people are currently using the language) or prescriptive (you’re basically making a determination about what’s right). Something like urbandictionary.com or, my friend Andrew‘s favorite, wordie is descriptive. L’Académie française, the organization that cuts out undesirable words from the French language and crusades against the anglicization of français, well, they’re prescriptive. They’re also nonbinding, which sort of points to the inherent problem in being a prescriptive linguist — people probably won’t listen to you.

Back to my point, Merriam-Webster is more descriptive, the American Heritage Dictionary is more prescriptive. So by choosing “w00t,” Merriam-Webster is embracing and calling attention to their whole approach to cataloging the English language.

W00t is an example of l33t (pronounced “leet,” short for “elite”) speak, which, frankly, I think is kind of dumb. There are so many words that already exist in the English language that are interesting and descriptive and beautiful — why not learn how to use those words rather than making up your own?

But Andrew, my connection to all things under-30 and a person who often offers sensible counterpoints to my old-lady reactions, had a good point about l33t-speak: it’s great for passwords.

Now playing: “Stop Breaking Down” the Rolling Stones, “I Let You Go” George Jones and Melba Montgomery, “Bugle Call Rag” Stuff Smith

What’s going on over at MSLO?

21 Dec

Blueprint coverAnyone who has ever asked me where I got the recipe for something knows that I love Martha Stewart Living. I’ve been a subscriber for about five years, and my cooking would be completely undistinguished if I never found Martha.

When Martha went to jail, the big concern was what do you do when a brand is based on one person. (I think that’s a really interesting problem — it’s a similar to the issue discount tire chain Les Schwab faced when Les passed away.) So, as a devoted Martha-phile and a magazine editor, I cheered on Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia during its resurrection, and to be honest, I felt they turned themselves into a better company by focusing on their core strength: putting out great magazines.

I subscribed to Everyday Food, and when Blueprint came out, I thought, “FINALLY! A Martha magazine for me!” After too many boring recipes in Everyday Food (the coq au vin recipe was really good, though), I let my subscription lapse. And although Blueprint never quite delivered on its excellent promise (and premise), I stuck with it for the first two years. They had a change in editors, I liked what they seemed to be trying to do, so I thought it deserved a chance.

But here were my main issues with it:

  • the 100 things section was pointless and difficult to read
  • they covered the same topic (skin care) TWICE in something like six issues in their Medicine Cabinet department (which, by the way, was a great idea for a department)
  • the crafts were lame
  • the clothes were ridiculously expensive and unwearable

So when I read the story from Fishbowl that MSLO was shuttering Blueprint, I wasn’t surprised. OK, I was glad. It was a bad magazine — it never felt cohesive, and the editorial voice was snobby. It read like someone I would have avoided in college.

But that’s not where my concern for MSLO ends. Their flagship title, Martha Stewart Living, changed editors recently from editorial director Margaret Roach (who did a great job at the helm while Martha was in prison) to Michael Boodro. Instantly, I started liking Living less.

Why? The Good Things, the department I used to turn to as soon as the new issue arrived, is now filled with Mediocre Things. The recipes have become overly fussy. The October issue, always my favorite, had hardly any Halloween crafts, and even worse, didn’t even have a Halloween-themed cover (the October covers were always great).

And perhaps the worst indication of the new personality of the magazine: the editor’s letters are far too long. (Any magazine editor knows that a ridiculously long editor’s letter usually means that the editor is either a self-absorbed gasbag in love with his own writing or that he can’t meet his own deadlines, so all there’s time for is a quick proof before everyone else scrambles to get the issue off to the printer.)

Michael, we just don’t care about how you got those shots of the cranberry bogs. MS Living readers do want to peak under the hood, but not that hood. Cut the word length in half, point out a few highlights from the magazine, and sign off. But more importantly, get it back to being a magazine I love. The future of my subscription (and my mom’s gift subscription) is in your hands.

Now playing: “The Fallen” Franz Ferdinand, “Your Side of My World” Joe Henry

Pumpkin-Chocolate Tart

5 Dec

(Am home sick today, so I’m using the time to catch up on some blogging.)

I always intend to blog about various cooking projects (but of course, the road to hell is paved with good intentions), but never seem to find the time. So here’s a quick update on the ridiculously decadent pumpkin-chocolate tart (from MSL 11/2003) I made for the vegetarian Thanksgiving down in Santa Cruz.

Crust for pumpkin-chocolate tart

Next time, I’m going to build the sides up a bit more. They shrunk more than I remembered. And yes, that is chopped chocolate in the bottom of the chocolate crust. You can see one of my test pots de creme for post-Thanksgiving (before they met their unfortunate fate) in the background.

Pumpkin filling for pumpkin-chocolate tart

The creme fraiche in the filling gives it a nice tang that helps, slightly, to cut the richness of the chocolate. The store-bought creme fraiche helped speed up the preparation. I’ve made this twice before and made my own creme fraiche both times.

Pumpkin-chocolate tart

Sadly, my photos of the finished tart either make the chocolate look strangely purple or are out of focus. Next time, I’m going to heat the chocolate a bit more to get it a thinner consistency for dripping. The globby look of the chocolate undermines the presentation and doesn’t make it look as yummy as it is, although it does remind me of lattice-crust pie.

Cut in small pieces. This is one of the richest desserts I’ve ever made.

Follow-up on Consistency

5 Dec

I just noticed that this WordPress template capitalizes all words in a title in the post, but in the list of recent posts, it lowercases all words in a title. I admire that although it is inconsistent, it’s consistently inconsistent.

The Cupertino Effect: Spell-Check and Consistency

5 Dec

Spell-checkers are either the bane of an editor’s existence or a lifesaver, depending, largely, on the spelling ability of the writer submitting a story. When I worked on one writer’s lessons at a guitar magazine, I would open the file, replace “excercise” with “exercise,” and then begin editing. Thank god for ctrl+H.

Benjamin Zimmer, in the Language Log, posted semi-recently about the “Cupertino Effect,” and linked to his more in-depth post (“When Spellcheckers Attack”) on the Oxford University Press USA blog. In a knee-jerk response, I took offense to the name of the phenomenon (Why not “The Redmond Effect”?), but he explains that it refers to older spell-checkers offering “Cupertino” as the suggested correct spelling of “cooperation.” The hyphenated “co-operation” was considered the true spelling.

What I find more alarming is that, when I tested this in my version of MS Word, it found both “co-operation” and “cooperation” to be spelled correctly. Now, technically, they are both correct. It’s a style issue. Whether to hyphenate or not depends on the context, the style rules chosen by the publication — sort of the editorial version of relative morality.

In a perfect world (for editors), you’d be able to choose AP vs. Chicago style or Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate 11th vs. American Heritage 4th in your spell-check, and it would apply those rules. But that’s a level of sophistication that most people don’t need.

To put it bluntly, spell-check exists to make us not look stupid. It is designed to catch the mistakes that the average human misses, to think about details that most people don’t care about or even realize exist. After all, who, besides editors, cares about a serial comma or which, if any, prepositions should be capitalized in a title? To communicate functionally, we don’t all need an editor’s precision. (Which is good, because I like my job and don’t want you all getting into my kitchen, so to speak.)

Allowing two conflicting styles to coexist (co-exist?) in the same document defeats the purpose of a spell-check. Consistency is a key element in making writing appear smarter because it helps the reader’s brain focus on the words and meaning, not the spellings or treatment. To enforce consistency, spell-checkers should find one spelling correct and an alternate spelling incorrect (and then suggest the correct spelling, not a town in Silicon Valley).

Style points: how to spell “spell-checker”:

  • Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate 11th: spell-checker
  • American Heritage, 4th: spell checker, with spellchecker as an alternate spelling

(Thanks, vinayd, for pointing me to the Language Log. Stamp image by itchys.)