Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Sitting in the catbird seat

from www.wordsmith.org

catbird seat (KAT-burd seet) noun A position of power and advantage.
A catbird (named after its catlike call) is known to build a pile of rocks to attract a mate and sit on the highest point around. This expression was often used by Brooklyn Dodgers baseball commentator Red Barber (right) and further popularized by James Thurber in his 1942 New Yorker casual "The Catbird Seat," in which a character often utters trite phrases, including the expression "sitting in the catbird seat".

"So, Stillking Films seems perched in the catbird seat. 'Things are going very well for us at the moment,' David Minkowski says."
-- Steffen Silvis; Stillking is Still King; The Prague Post; (Czech Republic); Apr 5, 2007.

From "The Catbird Seat":
... In the halls, in the elevator, even in his own office, into which she romped now and then like a circus horse, she was constantly shouting these silly questions at him. "Are you lifting the oxcart out of the ditch? Are you tearing up the pea patch? Are you hollering down the rain barrel? Are you scraping around the bottom of the pickle barrel? Are you sitting in the catbird seat?" It was Joey Hart, one of Mr. Martin's two assistants, who had explained what the gibberish meant. "She must be a Dodger fan," he had said. "Red Barber announces the Dodger games over the radio and he uses those expressions--picked 'em up down South." Joey had gone on to explain one or two. "Tearing up the pea patch" meant going on a rampage; "sitting in the catbird seat" means sitting pretty, like a batter with three balls and no strikes on him. ... "

Monday, December 29, 2008

Loathsome -- not spelled as pronounced

From Garner's Usage Tip of the Day


"Loathsome" is so spelled, even though the first syllable sounds like the verb (rhymes with "clothe") rather than the adjective (rhymes with "oath"). Perhaps as a result of the sound association, many writers err by writing "loathsome" -- e.g.:

o "An array of loathesome [read 'loathsome'] characters drifts through this anthropology of the urban undead." Chris Kidler, "Tama Janowitz's 'A Certain Age,'" Baltimore Sun, 8 Aug. 1999.

o "Severed Fingers and Toes (Gasworks) are extremely loathesome [read 'loathsome']-looking gummy chews, available at party stores." Charles Perry, "Extreme Treats," L.A. Times, 27 Oct. 1999.

o "The characters we first meet in 'Nurse Betty' are terminally dim, risible or loathesome [read 'loathsome']." James Verniere, "Zellweger Is a Reason to Love 'Nurse Betty,'" Boston Herald, 8 Sept. 2000.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

loathe; loath; loth

From Garner's Usage Tip of the Day

loathe; loath; loth.
"Loathe" (rhymes with "clothe") is the verb meaning "to abhor, detest."
"Loath" (rhymes with "oath"), with its needless variant "loth," is an adjective meaning "reluctant." The verb spelling is often wrongly used for the adjective -- e.g.:
o "If you are at a dinner, sitting at the head table, you may be loathe [read 'loath'] to stand up and walk away because you are on display up there." Charles Osgood, Osgood on Speaking 80-81 (1988).
o "Even young fans, usually loathe [read 'loath'] to adopt the musical tastes of their parents, are bewildered." Edna Gundersen, "Pink Floyd's Retrogressive Progression," USA Today, 25 Apr. 1994.
o "And, although the would-be cheerleader from San Antonio is loathe [read 'loath'] to brag about it, she has created her own case for being selected." Amy Hettenhausen, "3 Cheers for Sance," Austin Am.-Statesman, 16 Nov. 1995.

How not to get in to college

WSJ.com - How Not to Get Into College: Submit a Robotic Application Click above for Sue Shellenbarger's column in today's Wall Street Journal about common mistakes made by college applicants. Gaffes include --

  • Letting your mom sign her own name to your application.
  • Plugging in the wrong college name when answering, "Why are you applying here?"
  • Emailing the admissions dean 15 times to show your interest.
  • Expounding on your sexual experiences in your personal essay.

For more examples, go to TheJuggle.com.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Parallelism -- another example

From yesterday's News Sentinel:

"Center Kelley Cain's 6-foot-6 stature affords her high-percentage shots. But she's still overcoming the effects of reconstructive knee surgery last year as well as colliding with a practice player earlier this month."

In The Elements of Style, Elementary Principle of Composition No. 15 is

Express coordinate ideas in parallel form.

We could fix the sentence above by changing "colliding" to "a collision."

Load v. lode

from Garner's Usage Tip of the Day:

load, n.; lode.

Although they have similar etymologies, their meanings have fully diverged.

"Load" (in its basic senses) means "a quantity that can be carried at one time" or, by extension, "a burden" {a load of work} {a load off my mind}.

"Lode" carries the narrow meaning "a deposit of ore," as well as the figurative sense "a rich source or supply."The correct phrase, then, is "mother lode" (= an abundant supply), not "mother load."

Although dozens of headline writers have used "mother load" as a pun (usually in reference to pregnant women), some have fallen into true error -- e.g.:
  • "She worked as a computer programmer, but kept plugging away at the music. And finally, she hit the mother load [read 'mother lode']." Tony Kiss, "Messina Never Gave Up Dream of Music Career," Asheville Citizen-Times, 3 Nov. 1996.
  • "This site is a mother load [read 'mother lode'] of investing and financial planning information." Ted Sickinger, "Web Review," Kansas City Star, 6 Apr. 1997.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Trying to trick us with the "ped" root

Here is a recent SAT Question of the Day:
Bolstered by his unflagging determination and ------- physical preparation, Tom Whittaker became the first amputee to successfully climb to the summit of Mount Everest.

A. fortuitous
B. assiduous
C. heedless
D. expeditious
E. pedantic

The Latin "ped" refers to the foot (as in a centipede or a pedestrian), so an SAT guesser with a little Latin might be lured into making a bad choice.

A "pedant" is a scholarly bore -- that is a: one who parades his learning b: one who is unimaginative or who unduly emphasizes minutiae in the presentation or use of knowledge It comes from the Italian word pedante, for male schoolteacher.

So how did feet get associated with teachers?

It was back when a paedagogus (Latin) or paidagogos [from the Greek paid, foot + agogos, leader, same root as agent] was the slave who escorted children to school.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Use "from" with "graduated"

From Don K. Ferguson's Grammar Gremlins column (5/22/05):

When using the verb "graduate," it's important to remember that the student is the one who moves on, not the school, according to Wilson Follett's Modern American Usage.

Therefore, the student graduates from the school. He or she does not graduate the school. The student, not the school, is the one affected.

In the mid-1900s, expressions like "she graduated Harvard" (omitting the "from" after "graduated") became somewhat popular and continue to be used today, but handbooks label this form as poor usage.

The expression "was graduated from" is also seen today, but it's a bit old-fashioned and is used mainly "in wedding announcements and obituaries," according to Bryan Garner's Modern American Usage.

Monday, December 15, 2008

"Greetings, Friends!" by Roger Angell returns

As we prepare to jingle jangle,
let's raise a glass to Roger Angell,
stepson of uber-idol E.B. White,
whose "Little Book" taught us all to write,
reclaiming wit extraordinaire
and getting nods from Remnick's chair.

"Greetings, Friends!," an annual poem in The New Yorker, vanished after its 1998 iteration and has not been seen again until now.

Click here for Angell's holiday poem.

Friday, December 12, 2008

"Like" as a Conjunction

Excellent explanation from Garner's Usage Tip of the Day:
In traditional usage, "like" is a preposition that governs nouns and noun phrases, not a conjunction that governs verbs or clauses.
Its function is adjectival, not adverbial.
Hence one does not write, properly, "The story ended like it began," but "The story ended as it began."
If we change the verbs to nouns, "like" is correct: "The story's ending was like its beginning."
Frequently, then, "like" needs to be replaced by the proper conjunction "as" (or "as if") -- e.g.: "Star-crossed lovers, they are -- like [read 'as'] in the play -- sprung from two households, both alike in dignity." -- Alisa Valdes, "Romeo & Juliet," Boston Globe, 17 Oct. 1995, at 59.
Prime offender: the old ad jingle, "Winston tastes good like a cigarette should."
Subprime offender: headline in the Knoxville News Sentinel 11/21/08: Just like Pearl planned on road

Thursday, December 11, 2008

A word we never tire of

The SAT Question of the Day below revisits one of our favorite words (see the link at the bottom of the message).

There has been little ------- criticism written about de la Mare; indeed, that which has been written is at the two extremes, either appallingly ------- or bitterly antagonistic.

A. hostile . . . ambiguous
B. recent . . . illogical
C. fervent . . . complimentary
D. objective . . . sycophantic
E. temperate . . . censorious

To revisit the most fun word in the list above, click here.

Links for JEM 475 (Sports Writing) students

For April 1, we'll read and talk about The Curious Case of Sidd Finch by George Plimpton. Please look very closely at the subhed.
The incredible Sidd Finch is pictured at right.

The book excerpt from Odd Man Out -- about a young pitcher's year in the minors

330 Strong by Steve Wulf, about the Virginia Tech marching band

One of three sections from King of the World by David Remnick
- Prologue: In Michigan -- Muhammad Ali, then and now
- pages 147 to 157 -- about Cassius Clay and the changing world of columnists in 1964
- pages 157 to 159 -- about Clay, the Beatles, and coumnist Robert Lipsyte

Frank Deford's profile of Max Schmeling, who fought Joe Louis in the 30s


Clich here for Chris Cilizza's words about the SI story "The Audacity of Hoops" by Alexander Wolff (1/19/09). Click here for the story itself.

Click here for a New Yorker piece by Malcolm Gladwell that is a great example of sportswriting for a non-sports-page audience that also informs and intrigues the sports page audience at the same time. It's called "Most Likely to Succeed: How do we hire when we can’t tell who’s right for the job?"

Here's a funny column by Gary Shelton of the St. Petersburg Times about SEC football. It's true what he says -- you always need a Bear Bryant story.

Click here for the first of two interesting pieces in the Knoxville News Sentinel about Maryville College football. Click here for the second piece.

Click here for a list of Professional Values and Competencies that we will talk about in class.

Clich here for the UT Athletic Departments' 2007-2008 Annual Report (released Dec. 12). It's the kind of document that you can look at and come up with story ideas. It's a rare piece in that it talks about all the sports and both men's and women's sports in the same place.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

10 Things Science Says Will Make You Happy

Other than the use of "like" in item 8, a great article.
Click here to link to the story on Alternet.

By Jen Angel, YES! Magazine

In the last few years, psychologists and researchers have been digging up hard data on a question previously left to philosophers: What makes us happy? Researchers like the father-son team Ed Diener and Robert Biswas-Diener, Stanford psychologist Sonja Lyubomirsky, and ethicist Stephen Post have studied people all over the world to find out how things like money, attitude, culture, memory, health, altruism, and our day-to-day habits affect our well-being.

The emerging field of positive psychology is bursting with new findings that suggest your actions can have a significant effect on your happiness and satisfaction with life. Here are 10 scientifically proven strategies for getting happy.

1. Savor Everyday Moments
Pause now and then to smell a rose or watch children at play. Study participants who took time to “savor” ordinary events that they normally hurried through, or to think back on pleasant moments from their day, “showed significant=2 0increases in happiness and reductions in depression,” says psychologist Sonja Lyubomirsky.

2. Avoid Comparisons
While keeping up with the Joneses is part of American culture, comparing ourselves with others can be damaging to happiness and self-esteem. Instead of comparing ourselves to others, focusing on our own personal achievement leads to greater satisfaction, according to Lyubomirsky.

3. Put Money Low on the List
People who put money high on their priority list are more at risk for depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem, according to researchers Tim Kasser and Richard Ryan. Their findings hold true across nations and cultures. “The more we seek satisfactions in material goods, the less we find them there,” Ryan says. “The satisfaction has a short half-life -- it’s very fleeting.” Money-seekers also score lower on tests of vitality and self-actualization.

4. Have Meaningful Goals
“People who strive for something significant, whether it’s learning a new craft or raising moral children, are far happier than those who don’t have strong dreams or aspirations,” say Ed Diener and Robert Biswas-Diener. “As humans, we actually require a sense of meaning to thrive.” Harvard’s resident happiness professor, Tal Ben-Shahar, agrees, “Happiness lies at the intersection between pleasure and meaning. Whether at work or at home, the goal is to engage in activities that are both personally significant and enjoyable.”

5. Take Initiative at Work
How happy you are at work depends in part on how much initiative you take. Researcher Amy Wrzesniewski says that when we express creativity, help others, suggest improvements, or do additional tasks on the job, we make our work more rewarding and feel more in control.

6. Make Friends, Treasure Family
Happier people tend to have good families, friends, and supportive relationships, say Diener and Biswas-Diener. But it’s not enough to be the life of the party if you’re surrounded by shallow acquaintances. “We don’t just need relationships, we need close ones” that involve understanding and caring.

7. Smile Even When You Don’t Feel Like It
It sounds simple, but it works. “Happy people…see possibilities, opportunities, and success. When they think of the future, they are optimistic, and when they review the past, they tend to savor the high points,” say Diener and Biswas-Diener. Even if you weren’t born looking at the glass as half-full, with practice, a positive outlook can become a habit.

8. Say Thank You Like [As If ] You Mean It
People who keep gratitude journals on a weekly basis are healthier, more optimistic, and more likely to make progress toward achieving personal goals, according to author Robert Emmons. Research by Martin Seligman, founder of positive psychology, revealed that people who write “gratitude letters” to someone who made a difference in their lives score higher on happiness, and lower on depression -- and the effect lasts for weeks.

9. Get Out and Exercise
A Duke University study shows that exercise may be just as effective as drugs in treating depression, without all the side effects and expense. Other research shows that in addition to health benefits, regular exercise offers a sense of accomplishment and opportunity for social interaction, releases feel-good endorphins, and boosts self-esteem.

10. Give It Away, Give It Away Now!
Make altruism and giving part of your life, and be purposeful about it. Researcher Stephen Post says helping a neighbor, volunteering, or donating goods and services results in a “helper’s high,” and you get more health benefits than you would from exercise or quitting smoking. Listening to a friend, passing on your skills, celebrating others’ successes, and forgiveness also contribute to happiness, he says. Researcher Elizabeth Dunn found that those who spend money on others reported much greater happiness than those who spend it on themselves.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

The early history of the comma

From the Dec. 1 Message from the Rev. Martha N. Macgill, rector of Baltimore's Memorial Episcopal Church:

In Sunday's sermon, I took a page from English Grammar class---in particular, the comma.

It seems that the comma was first invented in 200 B.C. by Aristophanes of Bysantium, who was a librarian in Alexandria, Egypt. Aristophanes concocted a three-part system of dramatic notation advising actors when to breathe in preparation for their lines.

Indeed, the use of the comma down through the ages was to guide actors, chanters and readers through stretches of manuscript--indicating where to pause and accentuating matters of sense and sound.

The best quote about commas comes from Richard Mulcaster in 1582. Mulcaster wrote The First Part of the Elementarie, and in it he called the comma that "small crooked point, which in writing followeth some small branch of sentence, and in reading, warneth us to rest there and help our breath a little."

It seems to me that Advent is really the comma of the liturgical year. If we allow Advent to enter our hearts and minds this time of year, perhaps we can pause for a moment and catch our breath---in this one of the busiest seasons of the year.

Our readings in Advent encourage us to watch, to wait, to pause, to breathe.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Crenellated -- notch one up for indentations


adj 1: having repeated square indentations like those in a
battlement; "a crenelated molding" [syn: embattled,
crenelated, crenelate, crenellate, indented]

2: (of a building) having turrets and battlements in the style
of a castle [syn: battlemented, castellated, castled,

The Ruge Rule: Do not use a pronomial expression without an expressed and clearly recognizable antecedent.

Click here for the full Ruge Rules explanation of pronomial expressions and clearly recognizable antecedents.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Nail those pesky pronomial-expression-antecedent SAT questions

Unlike her sister Heather, who would always put spiders safely outside if she found them in the house, Joanne’s fear kept her from going anywhere near the creatures.

A. Joanne’s fear kept her from going anywhere near the creatures
B. Joanne’s fear is what kept her from going anywhere near the creatures
C. fear is why Joanne had not gone anywhere near them
D. Joanne was too afraid to go anywhere near the creatures
E. they scared Joanne too much to go anywhere near them

The SAT Writing Section seems to have lots of pesky pronomial expressions without expressed and clearly recognizable antecedents.

In the "error sentence" above, "Heather" is compared to "Joanne's fear."
In the first sentence below, "pianist" is20used as an introductory appositive to "Arthur Rubenstein's performance."
In the second sentence, the booths are being attracted by the banners.

1) An extraordinary pianist, Arthur Rubenstein's performance was enthusiastically applauded by his audiences, who always demanded encores.
N.B., Those crafty College Board people put one red herring answer that eliminates the initial problem but creates another pronoun without an antecedent (and also a missing comma and a little passive voice thrown in). Arthur Rubernstein's audience enthusiastically applauded his performance with encores always being demanded.
Corrected: Arthur Rubenstein was enthusiastically applauded by his audiences, who always demanded encores.

2) Attracted by the colorful banners, booths featuring various ethnic foods tempted the fair-goers.
Corrected: Attracted by the colorful banners, the fair-goers found the various ethnic foods featured in the booths tempting.

Once we are onto the "pesky pronomial expressions" game, these questions become fairly easy.
Ted Williams often said that, to get the good pitches he needed to hit .400, he had to have the discipline to leave the lousy pitches alone, earning many bases on balls when he'd rather have been swinging away. When pitchers realized the Splendid Splinter wouldn't swing at the bad balls, they gave him good balls to hit.
It's not an exact analogy, but when students sit down for the SAT, it's important for them to be disciplined about nailing the easy questions so it matters when they get the hard ones.

Tips on Freelancing

Click here to access a section from the Idiot's Guide to Getting Published.