Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Around the Word

New hot blog: A new blog to watch for you speech junkies was launched this week by Gotham friend David Meadvin, a former top speechwriter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid who runs his own speech shop in DC. To kick things off, Meadvin challenged Fox anchor Lou Dobbs for his ill-informed comments about federal officials who use speechwriters. Dobbs said on air that if you can't give a speech without a speechwriter, "then you probably ought to just shut up." Meadvin clarified for Dobbs that the problem isn't a lack of ability but time.

"In principle, I get this.  No one likes to think that the leader they elected can’t think for him or herself.  Here’s the thing, though.  I’ve never worked for a boss who expected me to create thoughts, policies or positions. The job of a speechwriter — like any good staffer — is to extend their boss’s capabilities.  The leaders I’ve written for — from the U.S. Senate Majority Leader to the U.S. Attorney General and a wide variety of other government, corporate and non-profit leaders — could write their own speeches if they had the time."

Toward better punmanship: Another Gotham friend, John Pollack, has just released the latest ur-text of English wordplay, the Pun Also Rises. The former Clinton speechwriter provides a taste of what's to pun in a typically pithy Wall Street Journal piece this week, offering readers a few key rules for better punsmanship. He advises avoiding the unintended and overextended word plays, and to stick with wit. But most of all, he writes, "Pun with pride." "With practice," he adds, "it's easy as pi."

Giving new meaning to new meanings Over at Slate, Ben Yagoda has an insightful piece on the meaning of the changing meaning of words. As a case in point, Yagoda unplugs "nonplussed" and "disinterested": traditionally the former has meant confused and the latter has meant impartial, but now these words are often interpreted as meaning unimpressed and uninterested. While some purists would lament the loss of any traditional meaning, Yagoda takes a scientific approach and creates a metric for determining whether these old meanings are worth holding onto.

LOL in the OED: When "LOL" was added to the Oxford English Dictionary last month, many took it as a sign of the impending apocalypse -- or at a minimum a bad joke. But BBC News, indicating this was no laughing matter, conducted an in-depth examination of why this polarizing acronymn has gained so much traction. Their conclusion: Whether used ironically (lol...) or to convey actual laughter (lol!), LOL-ing is here to stay.

Fiction is stronger than truth: Just when the conventional wisdom was ready to write off print publications, it seems that literary magazines are telling a different story. This week the New York Times points out the success of several San Francisco-based literary journals, while Fishbowl NY says that New York mags are thriving too. Some of these success stories have moved online and others have stuck to traditional print. Either way, literary magazines have low overhead and a loyal audience, making them much safer bets in an increasingly turbulent publishing world.

Words worth reading: If you're looking for some classical insights on how to smarten up your speeches, Ragan's writing guru Russell Working puts in a persuasive plug for a new book from esteemed BU Law professor Ward Farnsworth, Farnsworth's Classical English Rhetoric. On the flip side, in the misery loves company department, Ragan offers a sympathy-inducing catalogue of typo horror stories from their readers.

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