Archive for the ‘Writing’ Category

Exercises in commercial style

November 6, 2017

Two recent pieces of p.r. ad-talk: one over the top with business jargon; one framed as a lifestyle or fashion ad. Both touting a preposterous product: a podcast about the “facets and opportunities” of death; a notebook of paper infused with the proprietary scent of a tech company.

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The 5-paragraph essay

September 26, 2017

The Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal from the 24th:

A potentially useful aid to writing, turned into a rigid framework, and so pretty much guaranteed to turn students against the task (not to mention the craft) of writing.

As for the strip, it’s bitterly pessimistic. About schooling, about learning, and about the state of writing in everyday life.

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How’s that coming?

September 5, 2016

A P.C. Vey cartoon in the latest (Sept. 5th) New Yorker:

Three things: the parallel between a steak on the grill and a book in progress; authorial anxiety over writing on something and completing it; and the pragmatics of the idioms in how’s it going? and how’s it coming?

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Mirror image

July 18, 2015

A David Sipress cartoon in the July 20th New Yorker:

Looking at text in a mirror is one way to reverse the image. But so is looking at it from the back side of a glass window, as here. The bar’s customer is just going along with the reversal.

You do wonder about the pronunciation of the reversed text. (There are people who’ve gotten pretty good at “talking backwards” — reversing the acoustic signal. The linguist Yuen Ren Chao used to do this as a kind of parlor trick.)

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Zippy’s diary

July 17, 2015

Today’s Zippy:

An eventful life indeed, and this was just one day.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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