Archive for the ‘Writing’ Category

Journalistic conventions

June 23, 2015

Practice 1. Newspaper and magazine stories often have a human-interest lead-in, about a specific person or group involved in the story; that’s designed to engage the readers’ interest, before the real subject of the piece, the hard news or analysis, kicks in.

(I’m not sure how old this practice is, but it’s now very common, even though some critics find it objectionable.)

Practice 2. A convention of newspaper journalism is that on first appearance, someone is introduced with a full name and and a brief characterization (“john Smith, the victim of the crime”), but that later mentions will use Prefix + LN (or just LN), with no recharacterization (“Mr. Smith”, “Professor Smith”, “Smith”). This convention is designed for economy (“Omit Needless Words”), but it diverges from the usual practices of story-telling (also adopted by many writers of non-fiction), where people are re-introduced into the discourse if they have dropped from topicality,

The two practices taken together can make newspaper stories hard to follow. A case in point, from “The right choices: America’s bloated prison system has stopped growing. Now it must shrink” in The Economist of 6/20.

(more…)

Cavemen at the dawn of writing

May 23, 2015

Today’s Bizarro:

Self-reflective cavemen, with a keen sense of lexical semantics in English. Most people use the word prehistoric in a sense NOAD2 labels “informal”:

very old, primitive, or out of date: my dad’s electric typewriter was a prehistoric machine

But the cavemen understand it in its technical (and etymological) sense:

of, relating to, or denoting the period before written records: prehistoric man

(If you’re puzzled by the odd symbols in the cartoon — Don Piraro says there are 2 in this strip — see this Page.)

Don’t shade your eyes

May 18, 2015

Today’s Zits:

Has Jeremy been involved in “the practice of taking someone else’s work or ideas and passing them off as one’s own” (NOAD2)? Well, he’s certainly passed off as his own work something that was not. His defense appears to be that there is no person whose work this was; he wasn’t stealing from anyone. A bold move, but one that’s not flying with his teacher.

(more…)

Words to eliminate

May 15, 2015

“15 words you should eliminate from your vocabulary to sound smarter”, by Jennie Haskamp for The Muse on Mashable, 5/3/15 (hat tip to Paul Armstrong). The list is a mixed bag, though many are criticized for being vague or overused.

(more…)

More detection

April 26, 2015

Follow-ups to my posting on Ronald Knox and his ten “rules” for detective fiction (enjoining writers to play fair with their readers): the origin of the rules; floutings of the rules; and attacks on detective fiction as a genre.

(more…)

“Cosseted like rare orchids”

April 24, 2015

Very briefly noted: in a book review by Christine Smallwood in the May Harper’s,

Reality wasn’t directly relevant,” one character thinks, all too relevantly, in Nell Zink’s manic new novel MISLAID … The fun begins in the hazy 1960s at the all-female Stillwater College, a former plantation decked out with Virginia creeper: “A mecca for lesbians, with girls in shorts standing in the reeds to smoke, popping little black leeches with their fingers, risking expulsion for cigarettes and going in the lake.” One of these lesbians is a would-be playwright named Peggy, and before you can say “freshman orientation,” she’s shacked up with the resident campus queen, a gay male poet and professor named Lee Fleming who lives down the lake and paddles to class in a canoe. Their eventual marriage isn’t exactly a sham — “vestiges of heterosexuality . . . cosseted like rare orchids” produce two children — but neither does it provide what you might term fulfillment.

A wonderful turn of phrase.

Fictobiography

December 29, 2014

Today’s Calvin and Hobbes, in which Calvin embarks on writing a book:

Extended discussion (with examples) of two types of fiction/biography crosses in “Memory and fictobiography” of 6/26/10:

(auto)biographical fiction, fiction with an (auto)biographical cast: biofiction for short

fictionalized (auto)biography, (auto)biography with a fictional cast: fictobiography for short

Calvin’s project is fictobiography, heavy on the ficto-.

Paper vs. screens: handwriting

November 12, 2014

Briefly noted.

In the latest NewScientist (for11/1/14), a piece by Tiffany O’Callaghan, “Goodbye, paper: What we miss when we read on screen”, subtitled “Digital technology is transforming the way we read and write. Is it changing our minds too – and if so, for better or worse?”. A report on reading and writing on paper vs. on-screen. O’Callaghan observes that, for the most part, there’s been plenty of speculation, but very little conclusive research. We don’t really know much. One notable exception, in a box on the work of neuroscientist Karin James of Indiana Univ.:

Writing freehand, then, seems to be an important part of learning to read – but does the type of handwriting make a difference? Some schools have stopped teaching cursive or joined-up writing. In the US, for instance, it is not part of the national curriculum adopted by 46 states, though it has been reinstated by some states in response to a public outcry. When it comes to learning to read, though, James has found that writing in cursive doesn’t seem to add anything to the mix. “It seems like it’s any kind of creation of a letter by hand that makes the difference,” she says.

That is, the physical action of writing, in whatever style, facilitates learning to read.

feuilletonist?

October 30, 2014

My postings on this blog range over a number of topics, and they also take a number of forms. Many of them are relatively short responses to things I’ve overheard, examples I’ve come across in my reading, or linguistic phenomena in the comics. Often light in tone, but with serious linguistic content. What to call this sort of posting?

The New Yorker used to call similar columns casuals; now they appear as items in the “Talk of the Town” section of the magazine. Another label recently came to my attention: the feuilleton. Not entirely perfect, but close. In any case, that would make me a feuilletonist.

(more…)

Musical talent decomposed

May 7, 2014

A cartoon from New Yorker artist Tom Cheney decomposing musical talent into an assortment of distinct abilities, much as style books decompose writing style:

The band has a lot of work to do.

(more…)


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 853 other followers