Thursday, June 19, 2008

Parvum Opus 283 ~ 'Tis a Gift to Be Simplex


Number 283


Elegy for Copy Editors

Dave DaBee referred us to a good article in The New York Times, “Elegy for Copy Editors” by Lawrence Downes, who calls Web journalism “that world of the perpetual present tense”. (I’ve used the phrase “the eternal present tense” before, but I meant the use of the present tense not only as a literary device ~ a cheap trick to add a phony literary quality to prose that the simple past would not ~ but also as a constant habit of news reporters to report recent past or long past events, as in “Elvis dies”.)

I sent a potential client a rationale for editing to give to her potential grant providers for the project:

||| Why do places I’ve worked at such as Harvard, MIT, Lycos, large corporations, small magazines, nonprofit fundraisers, advertisers, and so many other entities hire editors? Because while content is primary, presentation is also important to convince readers of the integrity of the material.

||| Some things the average reader won't notice consciously, but most readers are unconsciously made uneasy by errors. If you expect your book to be taken seriously and respected by historians, librarians, and other writers, as well as non-professional readers, you have to be professional. A reader who questions your grammar will also question your facts and your thinking.

||| What difference does it make if a word is misspelled or a graphic is misplaced, as long as the meaning is clear? Sometimes the meaning is not clear. And as I used to ask my students, what difference does it make if someone misspells or mispronounces your name?

||| Even good writers need editors. It's hard to edit your own work because you know in your mind what should be there on the page; you're too familiar with the material so you skim over it more quickly with every re-reading.

||| Errors are distracting. One mistake, a tiny fraction of a percentage of all the words in a book, pops out of the page more vibrantly than all those other correct words. Artistic mistakes could be attributed to artistic license, if they’re even perceived, but misspellings usually cannot.

5-Minute Read

Dear Reader is an online book club that will e-mail a brief selection daily from a book in the genre you choose. I subscribed in order to find new mystery writers to like. Other publishers’ book clubs are listed at the bottom of the linked page, but I haven’t checked them out yet. I notice that spam-ban words are dealt with the way I sometimes deal with them: h ell and d amn, for instance.

Simplistic vs. Simple

This week I heard two instances of one of my peeves, simplistic used in place of simple:

(Decorator) Swedish style is very simplistic.

(Doctor) I’ll explain (cholesterol) in very simplistic terms. ... It’s a pretty simplistic term.

Simplistic means unrealistically simple, oversimplified, not the same as plain old simple. Think: simple = good, simplistic = bad.

A college friend (the late Dave Paulo, for those of you who knew him) invented the word simplex as a corollary to complex, and amused himself by using it on a job application, as well as “adaptable plasticity”, a quality he thought he had. However, it turns out that simplex is a real word, but has technical meanings. So, simplex = don’t use it unless you work in technical communications or linguistics.


Paul Greenberg wrote “Apologia Pro Redneck, or: In Defense of a Word ~ and a People” that’s so good I have to quote at length, in defense of my people; Fred’s people too. (Ignore the photo on the web page; that doesn’t look like my kin. That I know of.) This editorial appears on some sites with the head “Enough Verbicide”.

Who are these rednecks anyway? One inadequate definition would be to say they're the descendants of the Scots-Irish who pushed the American frontier across first the Appalachians and then ever westward, spreading as far north as the hills of Pennsylvania and as far south and west as wide-open Texas, leaving their manners, speech and customs an indelible if often unremarked part of the American character.

Oh, yes, rednecks are also fighters. Which means that, ignored and snubbed in times of peace, or just patronized by those who think their very name an insult, they are always called on when the country's in real trouble. To this day, they are part of the backbone of the United States military. They are, in short, people to tie to. They will stand their ground, as America's enemies have discovered since 1776 and long before. They need no one to come to their defense, let alone shield them from their honest name. Yes, they can be touchy, but only about matters of honor.

Do the Yankee

In his memoir, We’ll Always Have Cleveland, Les Roberts writes:

The Gund Arena, named after the Gund family who owned the Cavaliers for many years, changed its name to Quicken Loans Arena. The new owner, Dan Gilbert, also owns Quicken Loans.

You can’t even ascribe this hideousness to vanity. It could just as easily have become the Gilbert arena and Dan Gilbert wouldn’t even have had to change the initial on the towels.

Roberts named one of his novels The Dutch after he learned that “to do the Dutch” means to commit suicide. For some reason idioms with “Dutch” in them are usually negative, as in Dutch uncle, Dutch treat, Dutch rub.

“Yankee” probably has a Dutch origin, as a nickname for John, pronounced Yahn. The Dutch, of course, settled New York. Luckily we Yankees aren’t called Dutch now. Let’s invent a new saying, “do the Yankee”. What might it mean? It has to be something good.

Driving Truck

Heard on radio: “My husband and I both drive truck.” This formulation, instead of “drive trucks” or “drive a truck” is peculiar to the profession. (Also, “drive bus”, which I heard from my school-bus driving sister-in-law and her co-workers.) This might be seen as a reversal of the common formation of noun-as-adjective plus active agent, or compound noun, “truck driver”. Or the object of the verb, truck or bus, perhaps has been turned into a category noun rather than a specific item. I don’t know if the usage exists in other professions: “I teach student” or “I write program” doesn’t work, for instance.

Have His Carcase

Do you know what habeas corpus means? I thought I did. Something to do with having the body. Dorothy Sayers’ mystery Have His Carcase [sic] refers to the usefulness of actually having a dead body in order to prove murder. But it also seems to have something to do with the law having your carcase for too long, without trial.

The subject came up since some judges have reversed eons of precedent to allow prisoners of war the same legal rights as citizens, and more legal rights than our soldiers. They’ve outstripped even Geneva Convention requirements for treatment of POWs. We may introduce quartering of enemy combatants in private homes. Sort of an exchange program. After all, the American Revolution was partly about not having British soldiers bivouacked in your house; nobody said anything about POWs.

Dennis Miller noted that the excellent HBO series, John Adams, opened with Adams defending British soldiers against charges of murder in the Boston Massacre. However, technically we were still an English colony and not yet at war with England, so it was a case of domestic law.

I don’t see how you can apply one country’s laws to non-citizen combatants, even if they’re clever enough not to put on uniforms. From his own point of view, the combatant or terrorist is doing the right thing according to his orders or his religion. It’s just that we don’t want him to kill us, which is a more than fair point of view.

Migrant Firm Workers

Dea R., who lives in California, sent Job Market 2009 on YouTube. A Mexican with a pickup truck loads up suited Anglo executives for day work in accounting, marketing, etc. Cute, but not likely. I saw a cartoon like this years ago captioned “Migrant Firm Workers”.

New on Cafepress

New for carnivores in my Cafepress shop: “I eat dead things” items with a photo of a turkey vulture (photo by Robert Bernstein for the Vulture Society, which I bet you didn’t know existed).


Trivium pursuit ~ rhetoric, grammar, and logic, or reading, writing, and reckoning ~ Parvum Opus discusses language, education, journalism, culture, and more. Parvum Opus by Rhonda Keith is a publication of KeithOps / Opus Publishing Services. Editorial input provided by Fred Stephens. Rhonda Keith is a long-time writer, editor, and English teacher. Back issues from December 2002 may be found at Feel free to e-mail me with comments or queries. The PO mailing list is private, never given or sold to anyone else. If you don't want to receive Parvum Opus, please e-mail, and I'll take you off the mailing list. Copyright Rhonda Keith 2008. Parvum Opus or part of it may be reproduced only with permission, but you may forward the entire newsletter as long as the copyright remains.

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