Friday, July 22, 2011

Knucklerap Corner (July Edition)

By Lauren Weiner

(Maybe) The Last Word on Vampire Words. . .

When Gotham President Dan Gerstein polled GG habitués about “vampire words” that suck the life out of your prose, everybody sat up in their ergonomic desk chairs. All of a sudden it was a rush of e-mails – a veritable pet-peeve party that we at Knucklerap Corner found inspiring.

Bob Yeager gets annoyed when policymakers cap their thoughts with the phrase, “going forward.” So do we, Bob.

Other irritations we were glad to see singled out: “leverage” (Tracy Ivie) and “optics” (D.Z. Stone).

Sue Treiman subjected “impactful” to the ridicule it so richly deserves.

Zachary Janowski brought up “palpable,” as in, obvious or noticeable. We have a palpable sense that we hadn’t stopped to consider this. He may be right. Unless it’s needed for rhythm, strike it out.

Bruce Tallerman put his finger on corporate-style fakeness: “Can you please reach out to Bill?”

And finally, when Margaret Camp added her two cents to the discussion, they consisted of two syllables: “involved.” That one knocked us over. We will be sensitive to its use forever more. It encompasses huge, simply huge, swaths of mediocrity. “We thank our audience for getting so involved in this effort.” “Parents are too involved in their children’s lives.” “The involved procedure for getting a business license.” (What’s wrong with lengthy?) “ICC Prosecutor Willing to Get Involved in Case.” The less touchy-feely headline writers of old would have gone with: Willing to Join Case.

Stumbles of the “Gray Lady” Continue. . . .

New York Times, July 15, 2011. Jackie Calmes: “What makes a bipartisan ‘grand bargain’ so elusive are less the budget numbers, on which compromise could be in reach, than each side’s principles, which do not lend themselves to splitting the difference.”

The first verb, “makes,” is singular, properly matching the singular noun “bargain.” But then we get a noun-verb agreement error. “Are” should have been “is.” In other words, what makes it so elusive is less the numbers than the principles. This mess-up was on the newspaper’s front page above the fold.

New York Times, July 12, 2011. Mark Landler and David E. Sanger: “The turning point in the administration’s public posture came after angry crowds attacked and vandalized the United States Embassy in Damascus.”

A posture can turn, but why say that it has a turning point? Mixed metaphor. The authors could have pared it down: “The turning point came” when the crowds attacked the embassy. We would have known from the context what this referred to (the administration’s stance toward Syria).

New York Times Book Review, June 26, 2011. Jessica Bruder: “The microscope of adolescence also inflicts perceptual distortions.”

She meant that the microscope of adolescence distorts perceptions. “Inflicts” should be for a knife or something like that.

New York Times Book Review, June 26, 2011. Maria Russo: “Neither Dorothy nor Ros comes across as an exceptional personality, yet they were clearly ready for something more than the staid milieu upstate New York had on offer.”

The place had a milieu – of that we can be fairly sure. Saying it had a milieu on offer is jazzy while not actually making very much sense.

New York Times, November 21, 2010. Jon Caramanica: “That patchwork gnaws away at this album’s emotional impact.”

Since when does a patchwork have teeth? Mixed metaphor. And here is a dangling modifier from Mr. Caramanica: “By not allowing for responses to his work other than awe, the value of the work itself is diminished; it becomes an object of admiration, not of study.”

Kanye West, the one who does not allow responses to his work other than awe, has disappeared from the sentence. He needs to come after its opening clause.

Miscellaneous Mess-Ups. . . ., June 26, 2011. Gerald V. Casale: “So, in the end our battles with the record label over our image, message, and the way business should be conducted, or our pronouncements in the press criticizing religious belief systems and duplicitous political policies were not the conflicts of our undoing.”

These things were not our undoing. That’s what he meant. Can skip “the conflicts of.” In fact it’s a corruption of an existing idiom (the cause of our undoing).

Washington Times, February 25, 2011. Lauren Weiner: “Anyone who reads it will no longer feel surprised that the health care overhaul, the conduct of the Iraq war, or many other hot-button issues are argued about in terms of its compatibility or incompatibility with a document that went into effect in 1789.”

The singular pronoun “its” has a plural antecedent noun (“issues”) and you can’t do that. To make the sentence consistent, change to: “many another hot-button issue is.” Knucklerap’s editor has it on good authority that that was what the writer originally submitted.

Weiner, a Gotham team member, was a speechwriter for U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates

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