Wednesday, January 28, 2009

A lyric little bandbox of a ballpark and Ted Williams' last home run

On the passing of John Updike, we offer this column

By John Ryan, Mercury News

John Updike, the celebrated author who died Tuesday at age 76, had an eye for sports. His "Rabbit, Run" featured the travails of a former high school basketball star.

And his essay in The New Yorker on Ted Williams' final game at Fenway Park remains a staple of sportswriting nearly 50 years later.

Appearing in October 1960 and titled "Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu," the article begins: "Fenway Park, in Boston, is a lyric little bandbox of a ballpark."

That description is repeated to this day. But Updike's more memorable writing involved the buildup to Williams' last at-bat, in the eighth inning.

"Have you ever heard applause in a ballpark? Just applause—no calling, no whistling, just an ocean of handclaps, minute after minute, burst after burst, crowding and running together in continuous succession like the pushes of surf at the edge of the sand. It was a sombre and considered tumult."

Williams hit a home run, of course. And Updike writes:

"Like a feather caught in a vortex, Williams ran around the square of bases at the center of our beseeching screaming. He ran as he always ran out home runs — hurriedly, unsmiling, head down, as if our praise were a storm of rain to get out of. He didn't tip his cap. Though we thumped, wept, and chanted 'We want Ted' for minutes after he hid in the dugout, he did not come back. Our noise for some seconds passed beyond excitement into a kind of immense open anguish, a wailing, a cry to be saved. But immortality is nontransferable. The papers said that the other players, and even the umpires on the field, begged him to come out and acknowledge us in some way, but he never had and did not now. Gods do not answer letters."

Wednesday, January 14, 2009





1. Having a mix of diverse elements.
2. Universal; general.
3. Pertaining to the whole Christian church; concerned with promoting unity among churches or religions.

From Latin oecumenicus (general, universal), from Greek oikoumenikos, from oikein (to inhabit), from oikos (house). Ultimately from the Indo-European root weik- (clan) that is also the forebear of vicinity, village, villa, and villain (originally, a villain was a farm servant, one who lived in a villa or a country house).

USAGE: "An ecumenical group of Cincinnati area leaders called for an end Wednesday to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on the Gaza Strip."Rebecca Goodman; Area Groups Call For End to Gaza Conflict; Cincinnati Enquirer; Dec 31, 2008.

Write with nouns and verbs

From Strunk & White's The Elements of Style,

Section V, An Approach to Style, item

4. Write with nouns and verbs.

Write with nouns and verbs, not with adjectives and adverbs. The adjective hasn't been built that can pull a weak or inaccurate noun out of a tight place. This is not to disparage adjectives and adverbs; they are indispensable parts of speech. Occasionally they surprise us with their power, as in

Up the airy mountain,
Down the rushy glen,
We adren't go a-hunting
For fear of little men . . .

The nouns mountain and glen are accurate enough, but had the mountain not become airy, the glen rushy, William Allingham might never have got off the ground with his poem. In general, however, it is nouns and verbs, not their assistants, that give good writing its toughness and color.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

The "like" debate continues

Today's SAT Question of the Day brings up a topic that has been bothering the GTOTD:

Digital technology, like every marketer knows, it is synonymous with speed, precision, and the future.

A. technology, like every marketer knows, it is
B. technology, similar to what every marketer knows as
C. technology, as every marketer knows, is
D. technology is what every marketer knows as
E. technology that every marketer knows is

On Sunday, one of the GTOTD's patron saints, Don K. Ferguson of the News Sentinel (above right), wrote the following in his Grammar Gremlins column:
Make 'actually' add to sentence
Are you one of those who use the word "actually" like it is used in the following sentence?
Several others were in the race, but no one actually knows how many.
Many use "actually" like this, where it adds little to the sentence. Although it often is unnecessary, it can be useful at times, as in pointing up a contrast.
Example: Those large dogs look ferocious, but actually they are quite gentle.
The most common use of "actually" is to add strength to a statement that might seem surprising. Example: She actually invited him to the party.
Handbooks say that, while "actually" can be omitted, including it often improves the rhythm of a sentence.
The GTOTD e-mailed Mr. Ferguson and asked about his use of "like" in the first sentence.
Gentleman that he is, Mr. Ferguson offered the following very nice reply:

Thanks for your note. Here is what one of my handbooks says on the point you raise: "Like ... meaning 'as, in the same way as' ... has been used for nearly 500 years and by many distinguished literary and intellectual figures. Since the mid-19th century there have been objections, often vehement, to these uses. Nevertheless, such uses are almost universal today" in informal speech and writing.
That said, however, I will say here that perhaps I should have been a bit more formal and used "as."

Monday, January 5, 2009

Madding crowd v. maddening crowd

From Garner's Usage Tip of the Day

madding crowd; maddening crowd

By historical convention, "madding crowd" is the idiom, dating from the late 16th century. Unlike "maddening," which describes the effect on the observer, "madding" (= frenzied) describes the crowd itself.
Thomas Gray's "Elegy in a Country Churchyard" (1749) and Thomas Hardy's novel Far From the Madding Crowd (1874) helped establish this idiom, especially Gray's "far from the madding crowd's ignoble strife."

In modern writing, "madding crowd" remains about seven times as common as its corrupted form.

But some writers get it wrong -- e.g.:

o "Far from the maddening crowd [read 'madding crowd'] of shoppers and away from the tinsel and mistletoe, Grinches, apparently, are everywhere." Mike Pellegrini, "Bah! Humbug!" Pitt. Post-Gaz., 22 Dec. 1996.
o "'Being typecast would bother me if my career weren't flourishing outside of the show,' the 47-year-old Williams says earnestly in a tiny office away from the maddening crowd [read 'madding crowd']." Joel Reese, "Here's the Story, of a Man Named Williams," Chicago Daily Herald, 13 Aug. 2002, Suburban Living.

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Friday, January 2, 2009

Professional values and competencies

The agency that accredits professionally focused journalism programs, the Accrediting Council on Education in Journalism and Mass Communications, has established a list of "professional values and competencies" that students who major in accredited programs are expected to master.

They are:
  • Understand and apply the principles and laws of freedom of speech and press, including the right to dissent, to monitor and criticize power, and to assemble and petition for redress of grievances;
  • Demonstrate an understanding of the history and role of professionals and institutions in shaping communications;
  • Demonstrate an understanding of the diversity of groups in a global society in relationship to communications;
  • Understand concepts and apply theories in the use and presentation of images and information;
  • Demonstrate an understanding of professional ethical principles and work ethically in pursuit of truth, accuracy, fairness and diversity;
  • Think critically, creatively and independently;
  • Conduct research and evaluate information by methods appropriate to the communications professions in which they work;
  • Write correctly and clearly in forms and styles appropriate for the communications professions, audiences and purposes they serve;
  • Critically evaluate their own work and that of others for accuracy and fairness, clarity, appropriate style and grammatical correctness;
  • Apply basic numerical and statistical concepts;
  • Apply tools and technologies appropriate for the communications professions in which they work.