Sunday, October 30, 2011

You slay me!, or Overheard at a high-level summit

Summit
Two journalistic usages that have always bothered me are summit (for summit meeting) and slay.

I remember hearing about summit meetings in the 1970s, and the term made sense, even if it catered to the vanity of those involved in the meetings and the self-importance of the reporters who covered them. A summit meeting was a meeting of leaders at the very tops, or summits, of their countries. Then journalists (and maybe politicians) started abbreviating the term to summit, and, about a year ago, some reporter referred to (I am not making this up) a high-level summit.

To slay means, according to my desk dictionary, "to kill violently, wantonly, or in great numbers." To use it as if it meant simply "to kill" is to rob the language of a useful word. A few weeks ago, I read a newspaper story that said a police officer killed in a car crash while on the job had been "slain on duty."

The writers in question were, of course, ignorant of the meanings of the words they used. But does it serve a useful purpose to call them dopes? One man's illiterate mistake is another's linguistic evolution. Best to go home and read a good book.

© Peter Rozovsky 2011

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18 Comments:

Anonymous kathy d. said...

Gosh, that is absurd. To say a cop was "slain on duty," while a car crash killed him or her is really ridiculous.

And why didn't an editor, copyeditor or proofreader catch this mistake? If a writer doesn't write properly, several people should catch this.

Now, my pet peeve this morning is that I picked up Denise Mina's new book, a hard cover, "The End of the Wasp Season."

And what did I find on page one of this not inexpensive book, but a glaring editing page on page one. A sentence ends that something "needs fixed." Not "needs fixing," or "needs to be fixed." And it is the last line of the page.

I do not get it. Where are the editors, copyeditors and proofreaders? Isn't anybody reading the book? If I see this, surely most readers will see it.

Doesn't the publisher have any qualms about selling an expensive hard cover book to readers which has glaring editing mistakes? Is there no pride in publishing a perfectly edited and printed book? Or embarrassment in publishing one with errors?

Strange things are happening in publishing. Maybe staff has been downsized so much that there is no one left to check.

October 30, 2011  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sorry, I meant to say a glaring editing mistake on page one.

In my life of nonprofit book and newspaper support, everything is edited, copyedited and proofread by at least two people, if not three.

October 30, 2011  
Anonymous I.J.Parker said...

I detest the term "drug czar" for the government official who is supposed to control illegal drugs. It's always meant the opposite to me.

October 30, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

"To say a cop was "slain on duty," while a car crash killed him or her is really ridiculous.

And why didn't an editor, copyeditor or proofreader catch this mistake? "


Kathy, a copy editor did catch the mistake.

Who published the book where you found that mistake? That publisher deserves to be humiliated.

Where are the editors, copyeditors, and proofreaders? They're out looking for work.

October 30, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I.J., there's not much difference in tone between "drug czar" and "drug kingpin," is there?

October 30, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

"In my life of nonprofit book and newspaper support, everything is edited, copyedited and proofread by at least two people, if not three. "

Such care is no longer cost-effective.

October 30, 2011  
Anonymous I.J.Parker said...

Right. And these days, I do it myself. Every time you make changes (and I'm a compulsive reviser), something else goes wrong. I proofread every part of the book at least 5 times, and I have two readers and make corrections based on their comments. And still . . .

October 30, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I.J., that's the trouble with assessing the consequences of the decreasing attention paid to editing. One can write off any given mistake as just one of those things, nobody's perfect, and so on.

Sometimes, though, one can assign blame. I wrote a while back about the increasing sloppiness of copy transmitted by the New York Times News Service. Shortly thereafter, I found out that the Times had gutted the service’s editing staff and farmed editing out to a cheaper, non-union operation in Florida. In this case the results of the Times’ decision were apparent. I wonder how much the Times reduced the price it charges for the newly inferior product.

October 30, 2011  
Anonymous kathy d. said...

It's the Reagan Arthur Group of Little, Brown and Company, the U.S. publisher.

I wrote a message on Denise Mina's website, which probably will go through her publicist or publisher's public relations agent, which is fine.

Yes, true, lots of layoffs of necessary publishing staff, and the end products reflect that.

Folks I know who do this for nonprofits and as volunteers are quite alert and have memorized the AP Style book, and get a bit hyper about any deviations from it. However, fewer errors that way.

And Word's grammar and spell check is crazed and quite funny -- and often wrong.

October 30, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I met Denise Mina at Bouchercon in San Francisco. She seemed down-to-earth enough that I like to think she'd be embarrassed about a typo slipping into her book.

October 31, 2011  
Anonymous I.J.Parker said...

Word's grammar checker is on par with an illiterate highschool student's.

The reader can tell the difference between a typo and a gross grammar or diction error.

And I've seen the result of farmed-out copyediting contracted by the big publishers. You have to copyedit the copyediting.

October 31, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I feel compassion, scorn, and pity for anyone who relies on Word's grammar checker.

The results of farmed-out, dumbed-down, and neglected copy editing are so obvious and so predictable that anyone but the farmers-out would acknowledge them.

October 31, 2011  
Anonymous kathy d. said...

After seeing the same type of sentence contruction twice in Denise Mina's new book, I've concluded that this may reflect a bit of Glaswegian vernacular.

So perhaps it was not an editing mistake.

One would think that with a U.S. publisher for readers here, that would be corrected -- or not. A translator would have to be careful on the idioms or grammatical constructions, but since the writing was in English, it's probably true to the region.

The rest of the book is well-edited, and I found no spelling or punctuation mistakes.

Knowing no Glaswegians first-hand, I can't check, but I surmise this is the case.

November 06, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

And that leads to the sticky question of how much publishers should alter one variety of English for books to be published in another part of the English-speaking world. I generally enjoy seeing how my language is written and spoken in other parts of the worlds.

November 07, 2011  
Anonymous kathy d. said...

Exactly my thought!

I thought that Denise Mina would probably want her city's vernacular read by her readers, and not changed to fit our U.S. verbal or grammatical constructions.

I'm probably so used to translated books that I'm not looking at too many variations on English speaking,and writing styles in other parts of the English-speaking world.

I have to read more Irish mysteries, for one category.

November 07, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

You might try Australian, Scottish, or hard-boiled English mysteries as well for entertaining varieties of English.

November 08, 2011  
Anonymous kathy d. said...

I've been reading quite a bit of Australian crime fiction, and admit that as much as I loved Adrian Hylsnd's books, I needed a glossary.

I did not with Peter Temple, Garry Disher or Katherine Howell's books.

Scottish, hmmm. I've read all of Denise Mina's series books, the three in the Garnethill series, the three featuring Paddy Meehan and now the two with Alex Morrow.
And I didn't notice any grammatical constructions specific to Glascow before this book. But I may have just quickly read them and not thought about it.

November 09, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Hmm...I've read William McIlvannney, Christopher Brookmre, Russel McLean, Allan Guthrie, Ian Rankin. No need for gloassaries there, either. Maybe they just talk funny.

November 10, 2011  

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