Thursday, April 3, 2014

What I’m reading #116

The Daily Telegraph interviews linguist Geoffrey Pullum about grammar Nazis. Quote unquote:
The trouble is, most of these rules are wrong. “I’ve never seen a book so bad on my subject,” says Pullum of Gwynne’s Grammar. “It’s the familiar old nonsense, modified through 200 years of rubbish, from teachers who didn’t quite understand it to students who understood it less.” Split infinitives, for instance, have been commonly used for hundreds of years. Another myth is that the word “none” is always singular (so you can’t say “none of them are coming to the party”, you have to say “none of them is coming to the party”), even though it’s been used since the 1640s and the plural version was the more common form for 300 years. There’s a similar ruling against using “they” to refer to a single thing. “That would mean that you’re not allowed to say ‘nobody seems to think the rules apply to them’,” Pullum says. None of these are uneducated mistakes or modern slang: as Pullum points out, William Shakespeare and Jane Austen use singular “they”. But still, a certain kind of person insists that it’s bad English.

Music to my ears. The Mozart clarinet concerto, say. Or a Haydn string quartet.

A Los Angeles Times editorial on copyright in the 21st century. Quote unquote:
It's appropriate that content owners bear the responsibility for enforcing their copyrights; after all, they're the only ones who know for sure whether an upload was authorized. But the notice-and-takedown system isn't much help against foreign sites that ignore takedown notices or neuter them by rapidly re-posting pirated files. One potential answer is for search services (e.g., Google) and copyright owners to find a way to allow the rapid removal of an extremely large number of links to sites that are offshore piracy hotbeds, cutting off much of their traffic. The challenge is to ramp up the takedowns without overwhelming sites with notices or removing links that aren't infringing.

Drama title of the year so far: a new play by Rodrigo Garcia called I’d Rather Goya Robbed Me of My Sleep Than Some Other Arsehole.    

Spectator editor Fraser Nelson writes in praise of sub-editors, specifically his magazine’s brilliant Peter Robins. Quote unquote:
I’ve worked for newspapers that have unwisely cut back on sub-editing. It seems to work, at first, because there is no immediate cliff-edge drop in quality. But the rot accumulates. Errors creep in that would have been unthinkable a few years earlier. Sloppy writing goes unchecked, flabby ideas go unchallenged. And even then, the newspapers don’t suffer immediate penalty – readers who have been with the same title for years put up with a lot, before giving up on it. But when they do, the reputation for quality is hard to win back. The management respond to falling revenues with even more cuts, which send even more readers into despair. This is what I call the cycle of doom.

Which brings us to John Drinnan, the New Zealand Herald’s media writer. Here he is on Wednesday reviewing Radio New Zealand’s Morning Report:  
Guyon Espiner and Susie Ferguson breathed fresh air into the new Morning Report today.They added some long lost assertiveness to New Zealand's only public radio breakfast show.The format for the Radio New Zealand show has only been tweaked.But the return of an assertive interview style is a blessed relief and may bring back lapsed every-day listeners like myself .With the lead story there are signs of a fundamental rethink of news values at the state broadcaster with the lead story.The story Peter Jackson's jet being chartered for the MH370 search – which was sort of interesting.But Morning Report seemed more enthusiastic than myself that it was the biggest story of the day.In the two pillars of news stories – important and interesting – to me it was fifth story interesting.It was a self generated story based on a tip given to an RNZ reporter and so unlike RNZ you can see why they used it so strongly.

No sub-editors were harmed in the production of that story. But a few hyphens were.

Danyl McLauchlan at the Dim-Post on the relative popularity of PM John Key and Opposition leader David Cunliffe, with graphs. Quote unquote:
Key has been running the country for almost six years and seems pretty good at it and Cunliffe is this guy you’ve never heard of who wants Key’s job, but the very first thing you heard about him is that he had some kinda dodgy secret trust and wasn’t straight-up about his first policy launch. It’s a bit like having an old friend and a total stranger dressed in a pirate costume both turn up at your house and ask to borrow your car. Who are you going to give the keys to?

David Thompson brings us the good news from academe:
Skidmore College, ranked as one of the nation’s most expensive private colleges in the country, is now officially offering a course on Miley Cyrus: “The Sociology of Miley Cyrus: Race, Class, Gender, and Media.” The 2014 summer course will be taught by assistant visiting professor of sociology Carolyn Chernoff. “I am interested in cities, arts, and social change, particularly on the level of social interaction and the production of ‘community,’” Chernoff’s professional bio reads on the school’s website. “I investigate the role of culture in reproducing and transforming social inequality, and research conflict around diversity and difference.”

Speaking of diversity and difference, if not Miley Cyrus, here is the cover of tomorrow’s Listener, starring my friend Deborah McKinlay and her brilliant novel That Part Was True. Hasn’t she done well! 


Anonymous said...

Every time newspaper bosses cut editing staff -- and it's always by 15%, or about one in six, what's with that? -- they say "the readers won't notice." And then they wonder why the readers aren't buying the paper anymore. I watched this happen for 25 years. Then I stopped buying the paper.

helenalex said...

I hate how the Listener turns everything into self-help bollocks. Their cover story can't be 'we interview great new writer', it has to be 'secrets to writing success'. Subtext: 'you too can write a million dollar novel! Just follow our easy tips!'

Stephen Stratford said...

Anonymous - yes, cutting back on subs must seem an easy savings plan for the managers, few of whom have worked in a newsroom. I fear for the Listener and Woman's Weekly, both of which have had their subs cut by Bauer.

Stephen Stratford said...

Helenalex - to be fair, that's the coverline not the actual story, which is essentially an interview with Deb, plus a few sidebars. No easy tips, though certainly that's how the cover designer has tried to make it look.