All posts by Ben Yagoda

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The Re-Creationist Myth

The journalistic missteps, errors, and omissions in Rolling Stone’s “A Rape on Campus” began to be exposed shortly after it was published last November. They were exhaustively described in an Columbia School of Journalism report, issued April 5, that’s even longer than the original article–13,000 words versus 9,000.  (Rolling Stone removed the article from its website but it can be viewed courtesy of the Internet Archive.)

The commentary has detailed many poor decisions made by the writer of the…

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Confidence Game

“To write you must have a streak of arrogance.” —Richard Hugo

At a comedy show I was at not long ago, the stand-up was doing a bit about how the main reason he was happy to be married was not having to deal with getting married. In the middle of it, a woman near the front of the audience shouted out, “Him too!” and gestured at the guy next to her.

There was a pause.

Then the comic looked at her and said something to the effect of, “You just messed up my act. But putting that aside, I’m very, ver…

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Oh, Man

I did a mental double take the first time I heard my wife, Gigi, say the word policeman. She gave the second and third syllables roughly equal stress and said -man with an ash sound (what was traditionally referred to as a short vowel), represented in International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) as /æ/. It came out the way I would say Batman or milkman. To me, the -man in policeman has a reduced stress and a schwa vowel (/ə/ in IPA), as in woman.

I actually must have done a physical double take because…

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Iwo Jima Letter

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On Saturday, my wife was going through some old papers and found a letter her cousin Bob Terese had written to his parents on March 22, 1945 — almost precisely 70 years ago. He was a Chicago kid, 20 years old at the time. (The gap in age between him and my wife is explained by the fact that Bob’s mother was the oldest of twelve children, while my mother-in-law was the third youngest and became a mother relatively late in life.) The address is given only as “IN PORT” and the letter begins:

I gue…

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And Now ‘This’

I came upon this at an online question-and-answer site:

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The most popular answer was this: “There’s nothing grammatically or syntactically wrong with starting a sentence with ‘this.’  It’s essential,  however, that it’s clear what the ‘this’ is referring to.”

This sentiment is widely endorsed by writing authorities. The Penguin Handbook counts “Vague use of this” as a “common error” and counsels: “Always use a noun immediately after this, that, these, those, and some.… Remember: Ask yourself ‘th…

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Mewling Quim

Loki

Loki

It started with an e-mail in 2012 from a Londoner named John Stewart. He was writing to me because I conduct a blog called “Not One-Off Britishisms,” which deals with British words and expressions that have gained currency in the U.S.

Stewart directed me to a post on the Bleeding Cool website about a moment in the then-current film The Avengers, written by the Americans Joss Whedon and Zak Penn. Loki (a bad guy) addresses Black Widow with the two-word epithet that’s the title of this post…

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Comma Maven Meets Comma Queen

If the phrase “copy-editing memoir” quickens your heart, then you’re in store for a treat: Between You and Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen (Norton), by Mary Norris of The New Yorker. One of the many tasty tidbits in the book is that Norris’s title at the magazine actually isn’t copy editor, but rather “page OK’er”—

a position that exists only at The New Yorker, where you query-proofread pieces and manage them, with the editor, the author, a fact checker, and a second proofreader, until they go …

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That’s Not a Word

My friend Rick Valelly recently ate at a restaurant that used to be the commissary for Paramount Studios in Queens, N.Y. He kindly sent me a photo of half of the back of the menu (all that could fit on his phone, I think):

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The reason he sent it to me is the first word in the third line. There is no definition for intrical in dictionary.com, merriam-webster.com, or The Oxford English Dictionary. However, there is one at Urban Dictionary: “A word that doesn’t exist. Usually used by dumbasses who …

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A Further Piece

FPRB_FeelDiff_4C_VtHt_R02The New York Times obituary last week for the former University of North Carolina coach Dean Smith ended with this anecdote:

Matt Doherty, a forward for Smith’s 1982 N.C.A.A. champions and later the head coach at North Carolina, told Sports Illustrated: “In a team meeting once, we were going over a trapping defense, and he referred to ‘the farthest point down the court.’ Then he stopped and said: ‘You know why I said “farthest,” not “furthest”? Because far — F-A-R — deals wit…

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Baaack to the Future

I picked up The Philadelphia Inquirer last week and read an article by Jeremy Roebuck about how a judicial ruling had revived the onetime local news anchor Alycia Lane’s long-dormant lawsuit against her former station. Here’s the line my eye was drawn to: “‘We’re back,’ Lane’s attorney Paul R. Rosen singsonged in an interview Friday, giving his best Poltergeist impression.”

You know that singsong. It’s an ascending musical fourth, then a descending third, with the word back elongated into two sy…