The immersive, ultra-hooey, gibberish-forward experience

Lucy Kellaway is my hero.

Kellaway recently wrote a column for the Financial Times that is the best thing I’ve read in a long time.

Before I stumbled over this piece via Twitter, I had never heard of Lucy Kellaway. Nor, I’m sure, has she ever heard of me. Sadly, it’s a valedictory column of a sort, in which she sums up her long and futile campaign against corporate codswallop.

“For nearly a quarter of a century,” she writes,* “I have been writing columns telling business people to stop talking rot. For the same amount of time they have been taking no notice.”

When she began, she believed corporate jargon had become so ridiculous that people would soon come to their senses and begin using plain English again. No such luck.

“Over the past two decades, two things have happened. Business bullshit has got a million per cent more bullshitty, and I’ve stopped predicting a correction in the marketplace.”

Continue reading

A word I just learned

… reading the Strong Language blog. (Warning: the Strong Language blog is all about very rude words. You may be offended.)

Chanty-wrastler

n. (a term of abuse for) an insignificant, unscrupulous, or contemptible person (cf. wrastler, variant of wrestler n.).

1954   R. Jenkins Thistle & Grail (1994) iv. 61   Am I Carnegie, that I can throw away fourpence on that shower of chanty-wrastlers?
1988   G. M. Fraser Sheikh & Dustbin (1989) 41   A chanty-wrastler is a poseur, and unreliable.
2016   R. Gavin 3 of Kind 76   If ah get mah hands on that chanty wrassler.

From a new update to the Oxford English Dictionary.

(A “chanty” is a chamber pot.)

 

 

The Writing Life

James Ralph was an 18th-century content creator, scratching out a living in England’s New Economy. In an age of political, social and technological upheaval, life could be precarious for those who kept the printing presses stoked with words.

Writing in 1758, Ralph said “there is no Difference between the Writer in his Garret, and the Slave in the Mines; but that the former has his Situation in the Air, and the latter in the Bowels of the Earth: Both have their Tasks assigned them alike: Both must drudge and starve; and neither can hope for Deliverance.”

The quote comes from The Age of Authors: An Anthology of Eighteenth-Century Print Culture, a remarkable collection of writing about writing and the plight of writers. Editor Paul Keen writes that Ralph was “often dismissed as a Grub Street hack writer,” but managed to produce some important work, including the essay quoted above.

The Distrest Poet, by William Hogarth.
[Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
The essay, The Case of Authors By Profession or Trade, Stated, marks the decline of the era when writers relied on patrons. The new commercial model of publishing was generating profits that were being denied to those slaves in the garrets, Ralph argued.

In the new world of letters, anyone, it seemed, could be an author – even women. (Anyone, that is, who belonged to the educated classes. It wasn’t until the mid-1800s that the literacy rate in Great Britain rose above 60 per cent.)

Continue reading

Cause for hope

Thomas Vinciguerra has written a hopeful piece for the Columbia Journalism Review that looks at the unlikely Internet stardom of copy editors.

The piece features the always-sensible John McIntyre of the Baltimore Sun, who got more than a million views for a video outlining his practical and progressive views on the singular “they.”

Says Mark Allen, of the American Copy Editors Society:

People are getting more information than they ever have, whether it’s in ink or electronically. People want to read, and they want to read without stumbling. And that’s where the copy editor comes in. The copy editor is the bridge who keeps the writer from tripping up.

You can find most anything online, including a million reasons to believe that most folks these days think clear writing went out with the Lindy Hop. But here – on the Internet! – is proof you don’t have to leave your readers stumbling around like a pub full of drunks in a three-legged race.

Shitgibbon: the saga continues

My campaign to have “shitgibbon” declared the Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year 2017 is gaining momentum with a ground-breaking revelation in the search for the term’s origin.

Ben Zimmer reports that this delightful word was coined by the British writer David Quantick.

“I’m surprised and delighted that a word I made up in the 1980s to insult British indie rock stars has resurfaced in the context of 21st century US politics and the shitgibbon in the White House,” Quantick told Zimmer. “It’s bizarre and a very odd journey for a very silly word.”

From the irksome Mark E. Smith to a strange-haired delusionist strongman is indeed an odd journey. Let’s hope the Oxford folks are listening.

(By the way, I’m following Zimmer’s practice and dropping the hyphen from “shitgibbon.” As the Canadian Press Stylebook notes, “in North America, the tendency is to drop the hyphen as soon as a new compound becomes familiar.” I say it’s time we all got familiar with this exemplary bit of invective.)

A word I just learned…

… reading Roy Peter Clark’s The Art of X-Ray Reading: How the Secrets of 25 Great Works of Literature Will Improve Your Writing:

ludic

On more than one level the act of writing is, to use a fancy word, ludic. It’s a game. A game of language, connection, and meaning. Have some fun, for goodness’ sake.

And may I add that any book that references the Swingin’ Medallions and T.S. Eliot on the same page (p. 5, in this case) is all right by me.

Double Shot (of My Baby’s Love): The Love Song of J. Alfred Fratrock?

A word I just learned…

… reading a review by Christian Wiman in the New York Times Book Review:

ovine

Nietzsche believed that if only a Dostoyevsky had been among the apostles who followed Jesus, someone who understood the environment in which “the scum of society, nervous maladies and ‘childish’ idiocy keep a tryst,” we might have been spared centuries of ovine idiocy.

Shaun the Sheep: Not one to follow the ovine crowd.