Monday, November 29, 2010

Around the Word

Today we're honoring the rhetorical greats of years past, but we're also excited about the linguistic lights of the future.
  • Fourscore and seven years ago, Lincoln delivered an address that "flouts the rules for writing a good speech"—which is why it is so powerful, argues speechwriter Hal Gordon. Gordon, who once worked for Colin Powell, joins a handful of PunditWire contributors in reflecting on some of the best rhetoric in American history. Former Bush Administration speechwriter Paul Liben delves into Robert F. Kennedy's April 1968 remarks on the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., while Dave Helfert, a veteran Democratic flack, zeroes in on Obama's vision of "A More Perfect Union." What do you think? Who did the pundits overlook—or overrate?
  • And how does your work stack up to the greats? The 2011 Cicero Speechwriting Awards are your chance to find out. Designed to "recognize the work—the sweat and the blood and, with luck, the magic" that goes into penning great speeches, the contest promises winners "broad publicity and public celebration." For submission guidelines, judges' bios, and the texts of winning speeches past, check out the site.
  • The New York Times lights candles for four luminaries of lexicography who passed away this year. Edwin Newman, James J. Kilpatrick, Sol Steinmetz, and Frederick C. Mish were the dictionary dons of the 20th century, earning titles like "lexical supermaven" and "the rex of lex" from William Safire. We wonder how these umpires of usage would have responded to the death of spelling...
  • The Arctic isn't just losing its icecaps—the words used to describe them are also melting away. K. David Harrison, a linguist at Swarthmore College and author of The Last Speakers, has dedicated himself to protecting the world's fragile linguistic ecosystem, from Siberia to Bolivia. In an interview with The Economist, Harrison describes how the knowledge encoded in a language—such as Yupik's 99 terms for distinct Arctic ice formations—vanishes when the language dies.
(UPDATE: We corrected a few errors of identification in the Punditwire piece.)

    Wednesday, November 24, 2010

    On First Impressions

    Originally posted on, Gotham friend (and speechwriting pro) Colin Moorhouse advises freelancers and their clients on the art of the first meeting.

    Freelancers: How to win a speechwriting client
    By Colin Moorhouse
    What freelancers and clients should listen for in the first five minutes of a conversation

    If you’re an experienced freelance writer, you know this already: Prospective clients make up their minds about you very quickly—by the sound of your voice over the telephone, and the intelligence of your conversation. You don’t pass muster in that first five minutes, you know there will be no subsequent face-to-face to determine if you fill the bill.

    I can’t help you with the sound of your voice, but you should know that they are listening for beneath-the-surface clues. Can they trust you to put words—the right words—in their or their boss’s mouths?

    As for the conversation, the best way to sound intelligent is to say little. After the introductions are over, just shut up and listen. It is their dime after all, and you really need to hear what they are saying and what they are not. And frankly the more they talk, the more committed to you they become.

    While you’re listening, you can take in other considerations:

    They ask about money right off the bat. That means they don’t have much.

    They have left the job to the last minute and expect you to bail them out of a jam. If you could only do a so-so job in a short time frame, turn it down and explain why. The good ones will appreciate your honesty and professionalism and think of you the next time. The others you don’t need.

    The steepness of the learning curve. Alarm bells should begin to go off if the topic is highly specialized— particularly if the speech is for an internal audience of experts. I was once asked to write a speech for a defense establishment—to be delivered to an audience who specialized in buying—“procuring” I believe was the quaint phrase they used—military equipment. I knew immediately that there would be a lingo of military jargon that I didn’t have a chance of learning, much less understanding, before I would even begin to know the right questions to ask. Pass.

    The biggest deal-killer of all is if the speakers don’t know the message they want to deliver. I am happy to walk them through the matter of messaging. Hell, I will even make one up for them. But unless or until we agree on the message, it’s a no-go.

    Now of course specific messaging is not something you will hammer out in that first five minutes, but it is important that, in the limited amount of talking you allow yourself to do, you let them know that is the first thing you will be broaching when you get down to work.

    Of course, if you happen to be the client doing the calling, flip the perspective.

    In your five minutes you should listen for something else. Does the speechwriter appear to have a pulse? Is there any enthusiasm behind his/her words? I found out how important that was to a CEO client of very large international concern a few years ago. After we decided to do business I asked him why he chose me over two scriptwriters he interviewed.

    Apparently they made him feel like they were doing him a favor by taking on his speech—something to do while waiting for their next (read important) television job. They didn’t say that of course but that was the impression they clearly left. He said that he felt I really liked what I did and that I would bring a similar enthusiasm to what he did. Deal sealed.

    It is not a bad initial litmus test. Speechwriters might be able to fake sincerity over the phone about their mastery of their craft, but not their passion for it. You know they have a track record, or you wouldn’t have called them in the first place. So, if they also love what they do, if they do more listening than talking but are assertive enough to lay down a few ground rules of their own, and if they are likable (no small matter, that) then I would grab them fast.

    You both can talk money in the sixth minute.

    Colin Moorhouse has been winning over clients to his Vancouver-based freelance speechwriting business for many years. He may be reached at

    Tuesday, November 23, 2010

    Around the Word

    Here at the BloGG, we've found some unexpected reasons to be thankful for biographies, eReaders, and Patti Smith's ghostly editor:
    • To pen Just Kids, her National Book Award-winning memoir, rockstar-cum-literary-luminary Patti Smith followed two guiding rules: keep it visual, and keep it direct. "No matter what I remember or what I had," she told Jonathan Letham in an interview last spring, "if I couldn't see what I was writing about as a little movie then I took it away." Her prose also had to pass the Mapplethorpe test. Since her late partner, the photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, was the impetus for the book—"he asked me to write it on his deathbed," she reports—Smith wrote it with his short attention span in mind. "It couldn't be boring or too digressional or he would just be agitated," she told Letham. You can watch the full interview or read an edited transcript here.
    • Biographies can make good beach reading, but they're more than engaging stories—they're also fertile ground for new ideas, says PR coach Susan Young. At Ragan, Young suggests weathering the brainstorming process by observing other people's lives, whether in person or on the page. Reading a biography of someone you respect and admire can teach you new ways to tackle setbacks and offer fresh insights into old problems. And when you're talking with colleagues and clients, advises Young, maintain a biographer's curiosity: ask about details in their lives, and don't dismiss anything as trivial or boring. Have you found any great ideas lurking in biographies?
    • "I think there's going to be something that happens now, where books move in two directions, one toward digitized formats and one toward remembering what's nice about the physicality of them," says noted Vegetarian of Letters Jonathan Safran Foer on the future of print. Foer's latest project, Tree of Codes, which New York magazine calls "the anti-Kindle," falls staunchly into that second category. Building—literally—from Bruno Schulz's The Street of Crocodiles, the Brooklyn author teamed up with British publisher Visual Editions to cut up Schulz's text and form "a latticework of words...a new, much shorter story and a paper sculpture." What do you think—will eReaders usher in an era of art books?

    Monday, November 22, 2010

    Around the Word

    Today the BloGG is traveling around the world and backwards in time to see how writing, reading, and words change—and how they stay the same.
    • Robert E. Lee didn't have Gawker, but if he had, contends historian Adam Goodheart, it might have looked something like this. At Disunion, Goodheart's New York Times blog, he covers the Civil War day by day, describing events and republishing newspaper coverage in daily posts—an exercise as much about media as about history. Like blogs, Goodheart says, the 3,700 newspapers of the era (many of them daily—or even twice-daily!) "rewarded the people who could be the most outrageous." The colorful invective and vivid, grotesque details of battle in those papers appealed to the reader's emotions in a way that seems less Washington Post than Huffington Post. Hear him discuss the project on NPR's On the Media and share your thoughts: has Goodheart made you rethink the War Between the States—or the blogosphere?
    • Lonely Planet invites readers on a whistle-stop tour of the world's greatest bookstores, stopping in at historically, politically, and aesthetically notable shops around the globe. Among their picks? London's Daunt Books, which sorts its volumes by color, Paris's Shakespeare & Co, where stray bohemians sleep among the shelves, and Beijing's Bookworm, which boasts a rare cache of banned books (and a whisky bar). San Francisco's Beat hotspot, City Lights, is the lone U.S. pick. (Though, as the L.A. Times' Jacket Copy blog points out, the City of Angels made the cut when the Guardian did a similar roundup in 2008.) Have you visited any of these bastions of bibliophilia? Are there any bookstores you think should be on the lists?
    • "I wouldn't say that word if I were you—do you know where it's been?" Etymologies seem to matter more than ever now, as neologisms put down roots faster than they can be refudiated. Enter Etymonline, a free online etymology dictionary, compiled and copyedited by home-grown linguist Douglas Harper. Harper created the dictionary because he wanted to use it—and it's kept him busy ever since. Language maven Stan Carey reflects on Harper's project, and digs up an interview with the man himself over at Drunken Koudou. We decided to give Etymonline a spin, and suddenly "let's blog that" takes on a whole new color:

      "Blog": 1998, short for weblog (which is attested from 1994, though not in the sense 'online journal'), from (World Wide) Web + log. Joe Bloggs (c.1969) was British slang for "any hypothetical person" (cf. U.S. equivalent Joe Blow); earlier it meant "a servant boy" in one of the college houses (c.1860, see Partridge, who describes this use as a "perversion of bloke"), and, as a verb, "to defeat" in schoolboy slang.

    Friday, November 19, 2010

    Around the Word

    Everything old is new again: a new site tracks British rhetoric, a new analytics tool tracks who's reading what, and old James Frey is up to some very new tricks.
    • For our speechwriting friends across the pond, there's a new kid on the block: British Political Speech. The site is an ever-expanding online archive of British political orations of all stripes dating back to 1895. Visitors can submit speeches, explore speechwriting resources, and—of course—discuss, analyze, and revel in rhetoric. Hat tip to David Murray of Vital Speeches of the Day for pointing us toward the site.
    • It's the age of exploration for online writing. Scribd, the document-sharing site called the "YouTube for documents," is releasing a kit of analytics tools that will allow writers to track their documents across the web—and the world—with pinpoint accuracy, according to Fast Company. Aside from knowing the number of hits documents are receiving, writers will be able to identify the most magnetic search terms, watch how their documents travel through social networking sites, and locate reading hotspots, both on the web and in the world. There are even infared goggles: a new "heat map" will scroll along the left side of a document, glowing red wherever readers linger, and darkening to blue on portions that readers skip. Using this heat-seeking tool, writers will be able to shape content based on how readers react. The whole kit and caboodle is free for Scribd users, and requires no programming. Would you try it out? Do you think these tools will revolutionize writing, or are there regions even the best technology can't (or shouldn't) access?
    • James Frey, most famous for his controversial not-quite-memoir A Million Little Pieces, has since moved onto bigger and better things. Or at least, bigger things. Specifically, masterminding Full Fathom Five, a 30-person young adult fiction factory designed to supply the YA market with a steady stream of latter-day Harry Potters and Twilights. "A lot of artists conceptualize a work and then collaborate with other artists to produce it," he told a group of Columbia creative writing MFAs. New York magazine investigates the terms of that "collaboration," which include $250 up front, possibly $250 upon completion, and either 30 or 40 percent of all generated revenue. In exchange for the (possibility of) big bucks, writers agree, among other things, to give up control their name and image: the company can "use the writer's name or a pseudonym without his or her permission…[and] substitute the writer's full name for a pseudonym at any point in the future." So what do you say? You ready to sign on?

    Thursday, November 18, 2010

    Around the Word

    Roll out the red carpet: today we've got winners, finalists, and some superlatives in the world of writing.
    • Punk singer Patti Smith rocked the National Book Awards last night by winning the prize in non-fiction for her memoir, Just Kids. As she accepted the award, Smith blessed the beauty of the printed page, pleading—to the world at large?—never to "abandon the book." Both she and non-fiction finalist Megan K. Stack (Every Man in This Village Is a Liar) gave GalleyCat fitness advice: push that pencil! Smith compared writing to exercise, and recommends reading as a cure for writer's block. Stack, an international war correspondent, urges daily journal-writing as a way to tone your scribbling muscles.
    • "Hell is empty, and all the devils are here!" That is, they're all on Wall Street, charges a new book on the financial crisis. New York Times columnist Joe Nocera teamed up with The Smartest Guys in the Room co-author Bethany McLean to heap blame on the vivid (and lurid) characters in those Manhattan boardrooms. The book, All the Devils Are Here: The Hidden History of the Financial Crisis, has garnered fiendishly good reviews, and won a renegade award from financial columnist Don McNay, who dubbed it the "Best Business Book of the Year" in the Huffington Post. Have any of you peered into the infernal abyss (or picked up the book)? What did you think?

    Wednesday, November 17, 2010

    Around the Word: A Tale to Tell

    This is your brain. This is your brain on stories. For hump-day, the BloGG takes a look at the art and science of narrative.
    • Jay-Z says that his new memoir Decoded "follows the jumpy logic of poetry and emotion"—and so does its marketing campaign. In a nation-wide scavenger hunt, all 306 released pages of the memoir have been "hidden" in major cities around the country, explains The New York Observer. The pages might be found scrawled on the backboard of a basketball hoop, sewn into the silk lining of a Gucci jacket, or printed on the roof of a New Orleans theater, depending on their content. Fans can find clues on a Bing site that logs the discovered pages, and one lucky Jay-Zealot will win lifetime passes to Jay-Z's shows.
    • Once again, science tells us what we already know—we are the stories we tell. The voice in your head that narrates your life ("So-and-so makes you happy," "You are suffering unfairly") actually shows up in PET images of the brain, activating not only the language centers but the comprehension and interpretation areas as well. The mind is hardwired to narrate the self—one reason stories can be so persuasive in ad campaigns and speeches. But how did we get here, and where are we going? Writing in New Scientist, neuroscientist John Bickle and philosophy of science student Sean Keating tell the story of the "narrative self," and consider the effects that fragmented "2.0" digital narratives may have on that inner voice.
    • In a classic tale of the Little Word That Could, the abbrev "O.K." grew from humble origins as a spelling error ("oll korrekt") into an international morpheme of mystery. The Baltimore Sun's John McIntyre sums up the word's journey, based on a new historical account, OK: The Improbable Story of America's Greatest Word. In the book, Allan Metcalf of the American Dialect Society chronicles the rise of the little term that now implies everything from "good enough, serviceable" (just OK) to "a mantra of tolerance and acceptance" (you're OK by me). What other quirky words would you like to see biographied?

    Tuesday, November 16, 2010

    Around the Word

    Today's trip around the word discusses the art of persuasion—in politics, in movies, and, more sordidly, for the sake of swindling teachers:
    • Meet "Ed Dante," a self-styled "academic mercenary" who has "attended" three dozen online universities, written everything from legal briefs and lab reports to Ph.D-level papers, and has completed twelve graduate theses—all for other students. Last year he ghosted around 5,000 pages on every topic under the sun, largely for cheaters he classifies as "the English-as-second-language student; the hopelessly deficient student; and the lazy rich kid." In an article for The Chronicle of Higher Education (written under an assumed name, like the rest of his work), "Dante" describes his life as a "shadow scholar" operating "from some invisible location far beneath the ivory tower."
    • "Polemics" is almost a four-letter word these days, but the true art of argument has nothing to do with the theatrics on cable television, insists columnist Lee Siegel in the Wall Street Journal. Far from any "feral opining," Siegel believes true polemics is about patiently absorbing your opponent's rhetoric first—and then meticulously undermining it by pointing out logical gaps where your counter-arguments can flourish. Who are your top polemicists to watch?
    • Sure, we've all seen a blue-faced Mel Gibson rallying Scotland's rebels, but what about speeches by female firebrands? The Eloquent Woman is going to the cinema in search of powerful oratory delivered by women on the silver screen. So far, she's catalogued Samantha's stirring address at the breast cancer benefit on Sex and the City and Norma Rae's iconic one-word speech in Norma Rae. Help populate the list with your own favorite scenes of rousing rhetoric by leading ladies.

    Monday, November 15, 2010

    Around the Word

    We're starting the week with a crash course in communications: Gotham President Dan Gerstein comments on concession speech gaffes, Ragan debates the worth of writing in corporate communications, and the roar of Mama Grizzly goes down in linguistic history.
    • Gotham's on TV: last week, in the wake of the mid-term elections, Fox News asked Dan to comment on concession speech goof-ups and the value of losing gracefully. While Christine O'Donnell's declaration that "We have won!" didn't seem particularly gracious—or even accurate—Dan applauds Linda McMahon's willingness to throw in the towel and congratulate her opponent. Check out the full clip for more analysis of the season's rhetorical winners and losers.
    • "Getting the message across" is the bottom line in corporate communications, but in the modern business world, just how much does literary finesse matter? Ragan's Russell Working referees the scrimmage between the craftsmen and the critics. In the digital age, communications expert Liam FitzPatrick tells Working, companies are looking for "good communications" rather than "great writers." Former journalism school prof Don Ranly, however, disagrees: a company "will look like idiots if there isn't somebody writing decent copy." What do you think—have new media pulled the rug out from under writing?
    • Here's another feather in Sarah Palin's bonnet—neologist of the year. "Refudiate" has been declared the New Oxford American Dictionary's 2010 Word of the Year, edging out "bankster" (a hybrid of banker and gangster), "retweet," and "Tea Party." Not quite identical to its parents "repudiate" and "refute," the infant word means something akin to "reject." CBS news hosts the clip of Palin's first call to "refudiate"—though the word actually made its television debut when John McCain used it on the Letterman Show in 2009.

    Friday, November 12, 2010

    Of Speakers and Sketchballs

    From the podium to the gutter, everyone's talking about speech:
    • Ted Sorensen's "taut, muscular orations" were more than speeches: they were "political theater of the highest order." At Pundit Wire, Ted Widmer explicates the top ten speeches of Sorensen's career to demystify—and show off—the master's rhetorical magic. Among the most notable speeches: Kennedy's underrated but often-quoted address at University of Washington, ("We must face the fact that the United States is neither omnipotent nor omniscient") and his Lincoln-influenced "Farewell to Massachusetts," ("We shall be as a city on a hill—the eyes of all people are upon us").
    • Thanks to Jerry Tarver, retired Professor of Speech Communication and "speechwriting guru-of-guru," Ohio State is now the proud owner of thousands of rhetoric, oratory, and elocution books and manuscripts. The Tarver Collection—housed at the university's Rare Books and Manuscripts Library and focusing on pre-1900 texts—includes all 58 issues of Edgar Werner's Readings and Recitations, lecture notes from and 1837 rhetoric course, and a handful of elocution books in languages other than English. Tarver tells Vital Speeches that the institution "has my total respect for its willingness to preserve, along with obviously important literary material, items that tell us something about the byways of our culture." Plus, he notes, "it's a hoot getting all this together."
    • "Slang has always served as a secret language, in one way or another; one meant to exclude parents or dweebs, to shun outsiders or tag criminals," writes The Book Bench's Deirdre Foley-Mendelssohn. But while new insider terms for unwanted outsiders—think "creeper," "rando," and "sketchball"—are popping on college campuses, such coded language has an equally rich (or richer) history less savory circles. Foley-Mendelssohn takes a tour through the linguistic underbelly courtesy of The First English Dictionary of Slang, 1699, (original title: A Dictionary of Beggars and Gypsies Cant).

    Thursday, November 11, 2010

    What We're Reading

    From books to speeches to breaking reportage, many of our ghosts are penning pieces under their own names. A few of our Gotham friends passed along word of their latest publications:

    In Miller-McCune, Richard Korman reflects on the changing landscape of the American Family, his own divorce—and what he wishes he could tell the newly-single Tiger Woods.

    At, Brooke C. Stoddard digs into Ben Franklin's lesser-known military history. The Founding Father may be best remembered for his diplomacy, his inventions, and his role in the writing of a certain Declaration, says Stoddard, but we shouldn't forget his stint in the French and Indian War.

    Meanwhile, Rena Silverman recalls her moment as an accidental artist's model in BlackBook. Posing for famed photographer Gregory Crewdson, she writes, was about becoming "a hologram of Crewdson's brain."

    Keep the good news—and the good reads—coming!

    Tuesday, November 9, 2010

    Around the Word

    Today is the BloGG's history lesson, with a look at presidential memoirs and a speech that was never delivered (plus a fieldtrip to bibliophile heaven in L.A.)

    Former President George W. Bush's Decision Points hits bookstores today, inspiring The Daily Beast's Josh Robinson to take a walk down presidential memoir-y lane. The genre saw its first commercial success when Mark Twain founded a firm dedicated to publishing Ulysses S. Grant's wildly popular memoir. However, the practice only picked up in earnest after WWII, when presidents also began collecting their papers in personal libraries for the sake of future historians. Since then, most Commander-in-Chief chronicles have been considered dull at best, self-serving at worst. In recent memory, Clinton's My Life (which he wrote himself, prompted by interview sessions with historian Ted Widmer) is among only a handful of bestsellers.
    How will Bush's fare? While Michiko Kakutani notes that the book "gives the reader an uncanny sense of how personality...can affect policies that affect the world," the verdict is still out on how the marketplace—and the American public—will respond. If you've already picked up a copy of Decision Points, what are your impressions?

    In 1969, as the world waited for Apollo 11 to land safely on the moon, President Nixon's speechwriter William Safire imagined Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin becoming stranded there. He wrote a preemptive—and thankfully unused—memorial speech honoring the astronauts "mourned by a Mother Earth that dared send two of her sons into the unknown." For an eerie voyage into counterfactual history, read the transcript on the Letters of Note blog.
    When it comes to imagining the worst, though, Safire's got nothing on the British. One of the Prime Minister's official duties is to compose the Letter of Last Resort—commands given to a nuclear submarine in case the entire British chain of command is wiped out in a nuclear attack. The letters are locked in a safe within a safe within a submarine, and are destroyed, unread, with each outgoing PM. The Daily Mail imagines the experience of writing the letter, while journalist Ron Rosenbaum discusses the custom on This American Life.

    Dispatch from Lalaland: former director of the Big Read David Kipen is on a mission to free books from the shackles of attics and storage rooms. His new store Libros Schmibros in L.A. sells books for around $1 and lends them for free, with a due date determined by the book's difficulty and length. Interviewed by the L.A. Times, the ardent literacy advocate invites visitors to come during business hours or by "rapping on the glass." How will he stay afloat? Well, he explains, he's resisted the "siren song of solvency" so far because he takes joy in releasing books into the world: "These are books that had been in captivity, in a storage kit in Agoura Hills, in some cases getting nibbled on by termites," said Kipen. "And I wanted to let 'em out and walk around a little, to go into the neighborhood and maybe bring back stories."

    Monday, November 8, 2010

    Around the Word

    Monday, schmonday! Allison Wood turns personal weaknesses into public speaking strengths, Mark Peters celebrates the joy of Yiddish, and the Oxford University Press wants YOU! (to save endangered words)
    • Nobody's perfect—but you can spin those character flaws into speechwriting gold, advises executive communications expert Allison Wood. In Vital Speeches of the Day, Wood shares her own sad story: she's too sensitive, is nosy and a worry wart, and can't make up her mind. Enter Rumpelstiltskin: Wood's thin skin helps her empathize with the audience and internalize their responses. Her busybody curiosity picks up tiny details about her client that strengthen their partnership. "What-iffing" and flip-flopping allow her to anticipate weaknesses and counterarguments. Have any of your quirks served you well on the dais?
    • "Keep your schnozz away from schmucks and spare me the spiel." Even if your bubbe never gave you an earful of Yinglish, you probably get the picture. The Yiddish "schm" has been schmeared all over English, to the delight of Good language columnist Mark Peters. The acidic, lip-puckering sound raises vivid pictures of unsavory schmucks and schmos and shmutz. The sound is so closely linked to insults that it has become "a Swiss army knife-like, one-size-fits all diminisher," Peters remarks.
    • Even as new words tumble into the OED with astounding celerity, the senescence of older, obscure words has alarmed linguistic conservationists. But fear not! Now, through, you can rescue old, superannuated words. The Guardian explains how to "adopt a word" on the site, which is run by a Malaysian subsidiary of the Oxford University Press. Register for free, choose from among 450 endangered words, and use it in casual conversation. You, too, can save English from spoliation!

    Thursday, November 4, 2010

    Around the Word: Post-Election Edition

    As pundits parse the political implications of Tuesday's midterm elections, some of our favorite metamedia outlets review the grammatical, lexical, and—yes—orthographical fallout.
    • President Obama may or may not have reinvigorated the Democratic Party, but judging by the response to his speech yesterday, he's definitely breathed new life into an old word. Reflecting on Tuesday's humbling results, he acknowledged he'd taken a voter "shellacking." Wait—shellacking? On his DCBlog, linguist David Crystal traces the history of the word, from is origins as "a resin or varnish" to the "thrashing, beating" Obama received at the polls.
    • While cliches may have their place (and, judging from the CJR's roundup of "midterm metaphor madness," that place seems to be election headlines), don't let them infiltrate your NaNoWriMo manuscript, says GalleyCat. With Cliche Finder, a searchable index of more than 3,300 tired phrases, you can determine once and for all if that coinage is really yours—or yours and everyone else's.
    • At Slate, Jon Lackman explicates the Tea Party's enthusiastic use of mid-sentence capitalization. "The point," he writes, "is to hark back to better times, to establish your politics as more authentically American, and to associate yourself with the Founding Fathers." Makes sense, except that, as Lackman goes on to note, "their orthography imitates not Thomas Jefferson and James Madison but the far-less famous Timothy Matlack and Jacob Shallus—a couple of secretaries."

    Wednesday, November 3, 2010

    Featured Writer: Ben Greenman

    This is the latest in a series of posts highlighting the work of our Gotham friends

     With Celebrity Chekhov, author Ben Greenman jolts the Good Doctor's short stories from the Russian past into the E! True Hollywood present—the tales are the same, but instead of Anna Sergeyevna and Ivan Andreitch, we've got Oprah Winfrey, Lindsay Lohan, Jay-Z, and David Letterman. For Greenman, the book is as much about reading contemporary culture as it is about reading Chekhov. Part of the project, he says, is "to restore depth to contemporary celebrities." And it's true: transported into Chekhov's melancholy landscape (it looks a lot like the Hamptons), Alec Baldwin's malaise is downright lyrical.
    If Greenman is interested in rescuing celebrities from their US Weekly caricatures, it's hardly a surprise. After all, in addition to being a New Yorker editor, novelist, essayist, and Chekhov aficionado, he's an accomplished ghostwriter and the pen behind Gene Simmons's Kiss and Make Up and Simon Cowell's I Don't Mean To Be Rude, But.... Yesterday, Greenman took a minute to chat with the BloGG about the ins and outs of ghosting with the stars. The interview follows after the jump.

    Tuesday, November 2, 2010

    In Memory: Ted Sorensen

    The speechwriting community mourns the passing of a towering icon. Ted Sorensen, JFK's speechwriter, ghostwriter, and "intellectual alter ego" died Sunday at age 82. Sorensen, who penned much of Kennedy's book Profiles in Courage, became a close confidant and adviser to the future President during three years on the grueling campaign trail. In JFK's circle, he stood second only to Robert Kennedy (the pair were instrumental in diffusing the Cuban Missile Crisis, drafting a letter to Nikita Khrushchev that Sorensen counted among his greatest accomplishments). In the popular record, though, Sorensen is remembered most reverently as the speechwriter of JFK's 1961 era-defining inaugural address. Famously modest, he swore that the President's legendary challenge to "ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country" was Kennedy's coinage, but there's no doubting that Sorensen had a hand in his eloquence.

    We've culled a few memorials and interviews from the sea of media honoring of the "poet of Camelot." What memories, tributes, or thoughts would you like to share about Sorensen?
    • The Washington Post remembers Sorensen's profound influence on JFK and The New York Times offers a tribute to the wordsmith of the White House, including a video obituary with clips from an interview with Sorensen.
    • Time, which admired the "sober, deadly earnest, self-effacing man with a blue steel brain" in 1960, highlights Sorensen's career from before and after Kennedy's thousand days in the White House.
    • In a snapshot view, the L.A. Times's brief but trenchant obit reminds us that Sorensen's well-wrought phrases derived power from his deep understanding of JFK's ideas and personality.
    • Former presidential speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, James Fallows, reminisces in The Atlantic about Sorensen's modesty and gallantry.
    • WNYC's website hosts past radio interviews with Sorensen from 1963 (in which he broke his silence on Vietnam) and 2008 (in which he explained why he felt that he owed history a personal memoir to complement his opus, Kennedy.)
    • Ragan CEO Mark Ragan interviewed Sorensen in 2008. In the video, Sorensen discusses the qualities that make a great speechwriter, pithily summarizes the speaking styles of politicians including Barack Obama and Bill Clinton, and recites what he calls the "model English sentence" from Churchill's speech after the battle of Dunkirk in WWII: "The news from France is very bad."

    Monday, November 1, 2010

    Around the Word

    Today on the BloGG, science supports the savvy typist's hunch, Cory Doctorow self-publishes, and Bob Lehrman sings the praises of healthy online debate.
    • When it comes to typos, your fingers are your third eye, suggests a recent study by psychologists at Vanderbilt University. Attempting to "tease apart the various ways people catch their own mistakes," researchers engineered a computer program—essentially a doctored typing test—to surreptitiously correct some typos made by the subjects while secretly inserting others. Wired Science reports that while the typists couldn't consciously tell their real errors from the computer-induced ones, their bodies could sense the mistakes. After hitting a wrong key, the subjects' fingers slowed going into the next keystroke—even if the computer automatically corrected the word on screen.
    • It takes a village to self-publish a book—that's one take-away from best-selling science fiction writer Cory Doctorow's experiment in self-publication. Pulling every string in his social media network, Doctorow is building buzz around his collection of stories, With a Little Help, and has already made $10,000...and the book isn't even out yet. Doctorow describes his business model on NPR's All Things Considered. You can read an excerpt from the book here. Do his guerrilla publishing tactics inspire you to eschew Random House for the control—and potential rewards—of self-publishing? And if you're already in Doctorow's self-published company, how did you market your work?
    • Earlier this month, we blogged in support of PunditWire co-founder Bob Lehrman's bid to be the Washington Post's "Next Great American Pundit." He made it all the way to the top ten before getting cut in the third round. As the final three wannabe-WaPosters out-opine each other for a chance at the gig, Lehrman reflects on his stint in the contest—and the nature of online discourse.
    • Add "natural editor," to the list of Keith Richards's gifts. In The Daily Beast, Life's ghostwriter James Fox debriefs on working with the star. "We sat down at a table with the manuscript, and I read the whole thing [aloud]....There is a musical rhythm to his prose, dots and dashes and that kind of stuff....He cut according to the sound of it." Capturing the figurative music of Richards's voice was just one of the project's challenges—there was also Richards's literal music to contend with. "I remember our first negotiations," recalls Fox. "I said, 'Keith, we're going to have a slight problem if the music's this loud.' And he said, 'Well, that's kind of too bad.'"