Sex clams and other editorial problems

Sometimes the lack of copy-editing is pretty obvious, as in the soon-to-be-legendary “sex clams” headline:

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Here’s a subtler problem, buried in the Boston Globe sport section:

The compensation committee comprises of Robert Kraft, John Mara, Art Rooney, Clark Hunt, Bob McNair, and Blank.

“Comprises of”? The writer seems to be aware that the correct usage of comprise is tricky, but doesn’t have a clue how to get it right. (Ditch the “of” and the sentence is fine.) Following journalists on Twitter is a good way to just how much they need editors; yesterday I saw one of them use the word dependant, which even WordPress tells me isn’t spelled correctly.

Of course, none of these are as funny as this headline’s missing hyphen in “first hand”:

first-hand-job-experience-article

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This usage peaks my interest

I spent some time on the phone recently talking to someone about the company where I work. The guy sent me an email the next day to tell me that my description of the place had “peaked” his interest. So he wanted to apply for a writing position there. Hmm. Well, at least he wasn’t applying to be an editor.

Confusing peak for pique is understandable, as these things go — better than confusing regretful for regrettable, or incredulous for incredible. You can make the case that peak is being used as a transitive verb, so the phrase means something like “created a peak in my interest.” Can’t you?

Here’s the Google Ngram of “pique my interest” vs. “peak my interest”:

pique

We see nothing much happening until about 1980, when “pique my interest” takes off. But “peak my interest” starts gaining a foothold around 2000 and, if the statistics for the last few years are meaningful, “pique my interest” may be starting to lose a little ground to it. The guy who used the phrase is a millennial, so maybe he represents the future of the language. Is this regrettable or incredible? Should we be regretful or incredulous?

The gig is up

I was intrigued by the Clinton camp’s response to the Times bombshell about Trump’s taxes. One phrase stuck out:

Clinton’s campaign said the report “reveals the colossal nature of Donald Trump’s past business failures” and declared “the gig is up.”

What does that mean: “the gig is up”?  Shouldn’t it be “the jig is up”?  Was the Clinton press team so excited that they misspelled “jig”? (Okay, shouldn’t I be more interested in the future of our nation?)  Google Ngram Viewer shows that “the jig is up” is way more popular, and always has been, although “the gig is up” also shows up occasionally.  But maybe the 2016 campaign will change usage, as with the word denouncement.

Here is a hilariously detailed discussion about jig vs. gig from the CBC.  Just a taste:

Replacing the “j” with a hard “g” (as in “guffaw”) suddenly makes the expression far less familiar, if not actually strange, to the ear and eye.

Musicians have called short-term jobs “gigs” since the early 20th century – especially one-night engagements. But do jobs ever become up? Certainly contracts can be up, which means they’ve expired on a specific date. But gigs?

Although there is no reason we couldn’t start saying “the gig is up” to mean “the gig is over,” the phrase isn’t well established.

“The jig is up,” on the other hand, is cited by lexicographers all over the western hemisphere. Indeed, in his Dictionary of Historical Slang, Eric Partridge points out that “the jig is up” was actually “standard English” until 1850, when it slid down a few notches to colloquial status.

Now that I have that off my chest, I can go back to worrying about our future.

We’re hearing a lot of denouncements of Donald Trump lately

But why aren’t they denunciations?

Here’s the sort of thing I’ve noticed, from the Times:

Representative Ben Ray Luján of New Mexico, the chairman of the House Democratic campaign arm, said his party was aiming to ensure that Republicans would be tarnished by Mr. Trump, even if they distanced themselves from him.

“A denouncement of Trump at this point is too little, too late,” Mr. Luján warned.

In another article, I spotted a Times writer using denouncements outside a quotation, but later the word was switched to denunciations in the online version.

Here’s a HuffPo article with denouncement in the headline and denunciation in the subhead.  “Trump’s Denouncements of KKK Leader Don’t Matter Anymore”:

“Anyone with two brain cells to rub together can see the denunciations are not sincere,” said a Southern Poverty Law Center fellow.

Maybe there’s just been a lot of denouncing going on lately.  Or maybe the language is changing, and denounce/denunciation is going the way of repel/repulsion, and the noun/verb pair is becoming similar.  In the case of repel/repulse, Google Ngram Viewer shows us a big uptick in the use of the verb repulse over the past twenty years, although repel is still more frequent.  Denouncement is used about ten times less than denunciation, Google says.  But maybe this campaign will change all that.

Is the word “cachet” losing its cache?

Here is a Boston Globe article about the Donald Trump scandal of the day: buying a Tim Tebow helmet with funds from his charitable foundation, apparently in violation of IRS rules.  But why isn’t it on display in photos of Trump’s sports memorabilia?

One possible reason: the Tebow gear has lost some of its cache. In hindsight, Trump’s famous eye for a good deal seems to have deserted him on the night of the auction: as it turned out, he was buying Tebow gear close to its peak price.

What the heck is the word “cache” doing there?  Obviously they meant “cachet” — presumably they thought “cache” was like “cliché”, with an acute accent over the final “e”.

Turns out this isn’t random: Here is Fox Business wondering if the American Express Black Card is losing its cache.  They liked the word so much it appeared in the article’s title.  This Chicago real estate publication wonders if Park Tower has lost its cache.  It’s interesting, though, that the Globe article is reprinted from the Washington Post, which uses the correct word (online, anyway).

This (mis)usage isn’t anywhere near as common as the similar use of cliché as an adjective, on the model of passé.  That’s so cliché!  Here’s a grammarian who is OK with this:

By now, I think, “so cliche” seems normal to a lot of younger speakers and writers. And I have a soft spot for it myself, as I confessed in that 2003 column, because it’s such a natural choice:

Though cliche came into English as a noun, it retains its French form — and that form is a past participle, perfectly happy to be used as an adjective. English is full of such French words, some used as nouns (divorcee, souffle, negligee), others as adjectives (passe, flambe).

For me, that usage is like fingernails on a chalkboard.

Is your solution in the cloud or on-premise?

Part of my day job involves answering questions from potential customers about my company’s products and solutions.  Here’s one that comes up all the time:

Is your solution in the cloud or on-premise?

This new meaning of the word cloud is ubiquitous now, and I think it’s great.  I don’t need to know where exactly WordPress saves my blog content — it’s just somewhere out there.  “Cloud” captures this perfectly.

Inventing a singular version of the word premises is also ubiquitous in tech-speak, but that usage is like fingernails scraping down the chalkboard of my mind — at least partially because premise is a totally different word.  Here’s a web page from IBM that leads with a customer who is supposed to be saying: “I want self-service access to on-premise services and data from the cloud.”  But the page also manages to use “on-premises” a paragraph later; apparently IBM hasn’t gone totally over to the dark side.

And here’s an entertaining rant about this usage in technical documents and press releases. Its title is “So apparently we lost the grammar war”:

Seriously I don’t know why this is. The two terms do not mean the same thing and are not interchangeable. Are we all just that lazy that we can’t stumble through the three entire syllables of premises? And if we’re too careless to notice that, what chance do we have of actually paying attention to the technical documents to install these products? (Again, I don’t fault individual usage of IT pros, but vendors’ press releases? Seriously??)

Or maybe this is the evolution of language. It’s shortened, perverted, and flexed to evolve with the times. Fine, let’s call it linguistic evolution.

bt i srsly dont lik it. do u?

The thing is, that extra syllable does make “on-premises” harder to say, especially when it leads into a word like “services” that repeats the sibilant. I predict complete victory for “on-premise”, although saying that gives me a pit in my stomach.

“Service is suspended due to a medical emergency”

Did you notice the grammatical atrocity in the title of this post?

Neither did our local transit authority, the MBTA, when it sent out a tweet like that after a person was struck and killed by a train.  Some people were worried about the victim, I suppose, but others were outraged about that “due to” in the tweet.

Huh?  I know the issue here, but I’d never heard the one about fiduciary responsibility.

I decided to find out what my cold-eyed editors at work have to say about “due to,” so I checked out our Writer’s Guide.  Here’s what they say:

“Due to” should only be used as an adjective, not a preposition.

Well, that certainly clears everything up.  Here’s how I understand this persnickety rule: Use “due to” when you can substitute “caused by” or “attributable to,” and not when you can substitute “because of.”  Which means, in effect, that it should only be used after a copulative verb like “is.”

At work we are responsible for an online help system containing well over two million words.  Apparently having nothing better to do, I did an online search to find out how many uses of “due to” we’ve got.  The result: 140.  Then I did a random check to see whether our highly experienced writers were following the editors’ persnickety rule.  The answer?  We’re a lot closer to the MBTA than to Mr. Stephen Wojnar.  Almost every “due to” in our Help system is a “because of,” not an “attributable to.”  What’s up with that?

My interpretation is that, even though our cold-eyed editors may know the rule, the “incorrect’ usage is so common that even they don’t spot it.

Bryan Garner in his Dictionary of Modern American Usage includes “due to” among his “skunked terms” — words so fraught with controversy that you’re better off just not using them, at least until the traditionalists die off.  Hopefully used to be the standard bearer for skunked terms, although by now the odor around that word has mostly disappeared.  I bet that, in a hundred years, “due to” will also smell just fine, and the MBTA will have won.