March 6, 2007

F*cking Grammar Nazi

Wanna kill grammar?

Would you instead settle for silencing the copyediting Nazi who is constantly pointing out your lack of attention to detail? The last time I checked, it was illegal to kill anyone in all 50 states for bleeding on your articles with that bastardous red ink pen.

Relax, having poor grammar, spelling and style isn’t entirely your fault.

OK, mostly it is. But it’s also a product of our environment. As part of this new age of young journalist in a world of dying print newspapers, we tend to rely on the Internet for anything we can possibly think of. Even if its not as good as a more…”traditional” method.

I was chatting with a friend of mine the other day, a journalist from the other side of the country, about how most people our age are horrible at copyediting. He's actually very good though and I'm the one who constantly needs to re read my articles.

Anyways, we came to the conclusion that students and young journalist are becoming so lax with grammar and style because they've been raised with the Internet as their primary tool. I would argue to say that this is becoming every journalist’s main tool.

However, there is a difference between the young and old. Anyone who learned how to copy edit prior to the advent of widespread communication technology on the Internet, has an understanding of how to copy edit using more traditional methods. (i.e. Books, Webster's, AP style book, etc.)

The younger generation of journalists may have been taught these traditional methods of copyediting, but they prefer using a more techno-savvy service, which are not always (and often time not at all) on par with old fashion dictionaries and grammar books. The younger generation also has never had to use the traditional methods as their sole means of reference either, so they don't use them as efficiently as older journalists.

My friend decided that this would be the downfall of language. I however believe that eventually enough young people will create a standard of using efficient web tools to help the editing process.

Then I started looking for some:

This site offers ad-free definitions, word usage, and a feature that enables you to hear the word's pronunciation. Its also open source, which means that they allow anyone to view the "source code" (the basic makeup of a program) so that computer programmers can expand upon it by adding plug ins. The basic idea is to make your dictionary customizable, similar to FireFox. Perhaps someone will eventually create a plug in that shows correct AP style along with the search results of a particular word.

Government Documents:
Most of the time you can get official government documents on their Web sites, but it usually takes quite a while and if your working on deadline you may not have a chance to run to a library.

This is a google search engine that is tailored to looking up information on governmental Web sites. Its useful when you want to find information on a particular Act or piece of legislation. I prefer it to a regular google search because it only includes information from official sources, which can be good if you want to avoid google bombers and results based on popular opinion.

AP Style (quick)

Usually the AP stylebook says it best. When you need to know how to use a word and when/when not to capitalize, this book is truly the bible. I don't see that changing much in the future. However, often times I will come across a word, phrase, or usage that I can't seem to find in the style book. It's probably listed inside somewhere but I have no idea where to look for it. Even looking in multiple places sometimes does not yield an answer. For instance, if I needed to know if "hip hop" needed to be hyphenated, I'd never find it in the stylebook. The dictionary may tell me one thing, but who knows if its the standard for AP.

A quick, easier way to handle a situation like this is to do a Google search with the word you need (in quotations if necessary) and then AP. (Example: "hip hop," AP). The results should pull of enough AP stories to show you how the word is used. If you don't want to search for the word inside the page, try clicking the "Cached" link in blue below the search summary text. e.g.,

Names and Numbers:
This is a basic people search site. I prefer Yahoo to others like Google because there is no feature that allows other to remove their name from search results. As all journalist tell you, misspelling a name is all too common, especially when its an average name. (Example: John/Jon, Katie/Katey/Katy) If your unsure of the spelling its probably best to check to see if your correct. The search feature will be useful because it also gives a location as well. So Jon Johnson of Ohio does not get confused with John Johnston of Tennessee.

These are only a few of the methods I’ve used in the past, but there are more out there.

1 comment:

Kent Flanagan, aka Punster, said...

I don't consider myself a grammar nazi, but I must admit that I started in the newspaper business when hot type (look it up!) was the mainstay and offset printing was still being developed.

I learned that my ability to catch typos in copy was directly related to my voracious reading habits. I couldn't get enough books to read as a child and I had my own library card when I was in junior high (middle school to you Gen-Xers).

Attention to detail, however, was something I really developed as a fringe benefit of going through the Army's 6-month officer candidate school at Fort Benning, Ga., during the summer of 1969.

Everything had to be exact. Every wire shirt hanger had to be exactly one inch apart. There was a specific order in which uniforms were to be placed in each officer candidate's locker. When it wasn't right, my stuff got tossed. Even when it was right, sometimes it got tossed. I learned to handle the constant pressure and not let get to me.

Learning to deal with pressure either under fire or under fast approaching deadlines is a very important attribute. It can keep you alive. It is learned.

Stoicism also is learned. It is not innate. So, too, discipline and attention to detail are learned. And love of language is learned. I hate to see it abused or misused.

And that's why everyone needs an editor who may have dressed in a military uniform and combat boots in a previous incarnation and WHO WILL MAKE YOU PAY ATTENTION!

I believe success in this business or in life is as easy as not being afraid to take chances and when you make a mistake, learn from it and move on.