Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Open Letter to the Buffalo News Grammar Czars

I'm going to reprint here a letter I faxed to the Buffalo News grammar czars. I assume they have them, even though no one ever wins an award for overseeing mistake-free copy. It's like everything in life, people only notice if you get something wrong. Well I noticed in the Sunday Buffalo News that one of their syndicated columnists had mangled a common colloquial phrase. So I had to write to the News about it, although I went on at such length that they really couldn't print the letter since it would use up all the valuable space needed for people to complain about high taxes, lack of services and the new design of the Skyway. And because such a letter complaining about errors practically DEMANDS that the author make a mistake, I've managed to include one in my letter. I've left it intact, see if you can find it! See, I don't use a spellchecker myself since my teachers pounded one into my brain so I carry it with me wherever I go. And a spellchecker wouldn't have caught it anyway. But I think this means someone needs to award me a syndicated column! Dear Buffalo News Grammar Czars: I brush up against typos each day as I bustle through various newspapers. I see “grammos,” too, which are worse, because that usually means the brain has made a mistake rather than the fingers. Worst of all are the colloquial phrases waltzing around the paper dressed by careless writers who didn’t first browse through the grammar closet to see if anything matched. In Sunday’s paper Lisa Earle McLeod’s column features the phrase “shoe-in,” which appears in the same sentence as “gifted and talented.” Hmmm. There are two phrases which should never go on a date in public. The writer wasn’t referring to horses in a barn, and no blacksmith was summoned. Nor were hordes of bridesmaids descending on a bridal shop demanding to get their shoes dyed to match. So it appears the writer was reaching for the term “shoo-in” and came away with something in the wrong size. Now the theme of Ms. McLeod’s columns is that “nobody’s perfect” so it seems almost useless to kvetch about this. On the other hand, writing a column about imperfections does not give her license to commit identity theft on a perfectly respectable phrase. I’m not perfect, either, but if I butchered a phase into a rump roast when it was supposed to be a sirloin tip, I think my very next column would be about civil rights for homophones. I realize pointing this out puts me in the ranks of being a Crank. But someone has to fill our rapidly-depleting Grammar Crank Ranks, and after a hotly contested primary I nominated myself. I see it every day in newspapers and on those crawls on the cable news stations. “Jury-rigged” when the writer clearly meant “jerry-rigged!” “Bold-faced lie” when they meant “bald-faced lie.” “Grizzly murders” committed by non-bears! I could go on, but I’m about to “blow a casket.” So I beg you to set free your copy editors. Allow them to indulge their inner grammarian! Let them read ALL the copy, even the syndicated stuff, and when they spot those errors, either fix them, or toss me a big SIC so I don’t drown in despair. Otherwise I’m left wondering if anyone else at the paper reads these articles and notices these things. True, it will not affect gas prices or end social security as we know it, but if the newspaper is perfectly willing to let these things appear in its pages, it helps solidify the faux phrases as being correct. We will all soon be eating “shoe-fly pie,” hold the laces! Hopefully I will have made a spelling or grammar mistake myself, thus completely negating my point. Wait, there it is! “Hopefully” was not my mood as I started that sentence. Oh, wait, yes it was. I guess, then, it’s okay even if that isn’t what I meant. Cheers! Patricia Reilly Panara Homophonic Grammar Crank


Anonymous Joe Buff said...

I share your horror at the grammatical sloppiness that has become all too common in the press. It is not just the Buffalo News that suffers from this malady. Even the lofty New York Times is not what it once was: spelling, grammar, and style have all deteriorated seriously.

Editors are only as good as their knowledge and training. The problem, I would suggest, lies in the sloppy education being delivered in most of our schools today. Teachers can't talk English. Grammar and punctuation have become a matter of personal preference. "Let the children express themselves." "Don't stifle them with artificial rules." All of which adds up to "Let's make the whole nation illiterate."

Thanks for doing your little part in trying to address the situation. Keep it up! Meanwhile, I'll try to do what I can in the same direction.

10/08/2005 10:21:00 AM  
Anonymous Patti said...

Thanks, Joe Buff, I feel like I have a Comrade With Arms! It's easy for any single writer to make a mistake (Lord knows I make enough of them myself), but to think these things slip past EVERY attending editor in the newspaper's food chain before it hits the newsprint is downright depressing. It's a TAPESTRY!

10/11/2005 11:33:00 AM  
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