That’s what s/he said

A PRO’S VIEW: I’M PRO-GENDER-NEUTRAL PRONOUNS

pronounsAs a copy editor at USA TODAY, I was asked by our editor in chief last summer what I thought about the Pfc. Bradley/Chelsea Manning case.

Not so much what I thought about it, but whether I thought we should follow the lead of the Associated Press, which soon after Manning’s sentencing decided to start referring to Manning, a transgender who identifies as female but has not yet gone through any transitioning, as “she” and “her” instead of “he,” “his” and “him.”

This is what the USA TODAY style guide says about that:

transgender people

Transgender is an umbrella term that refers to people whose biological and gender identity or expression may not be the same. This can include preoperative, postoperative or non-operative transsexuals, female and male cross-dressers, drag queens or kings, female or male impersonators and intersex individuals.

If an individual prefers to be called transsexual, drag queen or king, intersex, etc., use that term.

When writing about a transgender person, use the name and personal pronouns that are consistent with the way the individual lives publicly.”

Widemodern_Manning_130822620x413

Chelsea, meet Bradley. Bradley, Chelsea.

Therein lies the catch for Manning: “… the way the individual lives publicly.” For the crimes of espionage, theft and fraud for leaking classified documents to WikiLeaks, Manning is serving 35 years at Fort Leavenworth in Kansas — an all-male prison. And the Army has denied Manning’s request for hormone therapy. As far as dressing male or female goes — aren’t prison jumpsuits fairly unisex (Orange Is the New Black)?

Laverne Cox

Laverne Cox plays a transgender on TV (well … Netflix’ … in”Orange Is the New Black”), a role close to home.

If Manning has no opportunity to live publicly as a woman, how can we, the media (includes you), honor the request or apply an institutionalized style?

At the time, and on deadline no less, I suggested avoiding pronouns and writing around things — introducing the situation on first reference: “Pfc. Bradley Manning, who prefers to be known as Chelsea” then using only Manning on second reference. But that seems wimpy. The point of setting style is to be bold, even dictatorial. Besides, the name “Manning” leans male — unfortunate surname for a transgender woman.

And “writing around things,” I realize now, is the equivalent of sweeping things under the rug — precisely what society has done with pegs who don’t fit into precise holes. We ought to address this issue here and now. As much as human brains construct language, language can help to shape minds.

When the story broke in August, the media was vigorous in debating the issue, and many outlets took an immediate stand in allowing Manning to declare her own gender. We follow similar styles on name treatment: We strictly don’t use Jr. … well, that is, unless it’s required for clarity or a source insists, so it’s not so strict — and same with middle initials.

But if the media went around allowing anyone to declare which gender they identify with on a given day, without requiring precedent or proof, doesn’t that invite capriciousness and — horrors — inaccuracy?

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An earlier photo of Bradley Manning. Could s/he have been given a more virile name?

The issue comes down to who is making the determination and whether this might be an extreme example of self-determination vs. predetermination. In other words, do we trust our eyes to recognize and make judgments about sexual dimorphism? Or do we trust the source to make a judgment for themselves? (Note the use of the singular “they.”)

Maybe — brilliant — remove the act of judging entirely. Introduce a new, non-judgmental word.

In Sweden, gender-equality activists are working to get ahead of the transgender curve by proposing a third, gender-neutral pronoun. (Although “hen” wouldn’t work in this country — leans female, and sexist, at that.)

In Nepal, the census recognizes a third gender, but doesn’t name it.

Another wordpress blog examines many options, attempts to consolidate all reasonable suggestions for epicene pronouns and explores how to make this linguistic transformation happen. But a related Facebook page has only 40 members as of this posting.

Carmen_Carrera

Carmen Carrera, from that RuPaul drag show.

Look — people have been discussing this not just since last summer, but since the mid-19th century. What’s the big hang-up? As more transgenders do the talk-show circuit or become household names, such as Carmen Carrera and Laverne Cox (Orange Is the New Black), we realize: People are getting used to the idea. Let’s simplify the process with language.

Adopting new words and changing old patterns can feel daunting. So I’m not proposing inventing any new, weird-sounding pronouns, which would serve only to alienate. Rather, we could repurpose ones we already use and understand, just as body parts get transfigured.

Many men use the personal pronouns “she” and “her” to describe random inanimate objects, like ships and car engines. And oogenesistically speaking, we all start out as female. So let’s use “her” for both possessive pronouns and personal pronouns to describe gender, including those in the objective case. Men shouldn’t complain — they have been objectifying females for eons, plus “her” has the word “he” built in. This streamlines things significantly, eliminating not only “his” but also “him.” “Her” works both ways. You can even spell it he/r, kinda poetically aloof to sexism.

The new movie “Her” serves as my PR campaign. That tangle of 0’s and 1’s isn’t even human, yet a
man projects a gender — and much more — onto it.

Likewise, “she” will be the new “he.” I’d be willing to spell it “s/he” until it caught on and we abandoned the slash. Punctuation does add punch somehow.

Having lived so long with an androgynous name like Terry, I have enjoyed knowing that few can tell what I am by my writing alone. It has made for some interesting instant-messaging exchanges — they go from good-ol’-boy crass to suddenly polite and tender when my gender dawns on men.

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Joanne “Jo” Kathleen (fake middle name, borrowed from her grandmother) Rowling

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Pamela Lyndon Travers

In the patriarchal publishing world, I think both P.L. Travers (Mary Poppins) and J.K. Rowling (Harry Potter) tried to circumvent some sort of sexism by initially masking their gender — as if being female creates some drag on the sails of success. Is that where the term “drag” comes from? What’s it called when a woman “dresses as a man”? Normal, right?

The worlds both authors created spun on transformational magic — poof! We can change things with a flick of our hands.

My one regret in naming my daughters is that I didn’t bestow unisex names on them. But maybe boys’ and girls’ baby-name lists are taking care of this naturally, as dual-purpose names like Morgan, Andy, Alex and Sidney grow more popular. People can spell them however they choose, adding clues or not, branding their child from Day One with arbitrary name baggage.

So this campaign is my new baby.

Presenting … h/ers and s/hes. Poof! There s/he is.

Hers and Hers towels

Hers and Hers towels

RELATED LINKS

Where is “Sandy?” on the list of popular baby names? (mommytongue.com)

I've got this language thing down pat.

I’ve got this language thing down pat.

Living in an age of telepathy

The age of communicating via telepathy is upon us, and its name is Twitter.

Journalism's good ol' days. Except it wasn't too good for women, or non-smokers.

Journalism’s good ol’ days. Except it wasn’t too good for women, or non-smokers.

Long ago and far away, news was dictated by “the public’s need to know.” Journalists had to sift through the facts surrounding an incident or figure, decide what was relevant or newsworthy while taking a step back to filter out (or let their editors filter out) biases so that the public could form its own opinions. In this one-way show ’n’ tell, people extracted news and views on a daily — maybe twice-daily — cycle, giving time for dust to settle and for story tellers to fit the right frame to the story. It was a way of telegraphing the news — send it out there, as if on the wires, to get a point across that hits close to one’s intended target.

The age of Twitter power: Use it wisely.

The age of Twitter power: Use it wisely.

A week ago, I experienced something entirely new. As the apprehension of the Boston Marathon suspects unfolded — and I mean “apprehension” in every sense of the word — I couldn’t sleep, feeling an untapped energy I couldn’t put my finger on. Part of that was no doubt the jangly communication device I keep in my pocket that I can’t keep my fingers from tapping. Images of those ordinary college kids on a video loop that had replayed on the airwaves were also coursing through my brain, so I checked my Twitter feed once more before bed, and discovered there was trouble afoot at MIT. Turned on CNN — not much to go on there, as the anchors somersaulted over themselves to make sure no one would infer that the chaos unfolding in Cambridge or Watertown had anything whatsoever to do with the story at the top of everyone’s minds. Our “need to know” was trumping everything else in our lives, it seemed. How? Why? Who? These questions haunt us each time something bad happens.

On display on Twitter, though, was more than a need to know. It seems fueled by “a need to tell.” Twitter empowers every single human on the planet who has a data plan and even the weakest signal to feed the need-to-know machine. It’s so instantaneous and so exponentially more than two-way communication — try a billion-way — that the news feed, a feeding frenzy, becomes a blur. You’re not even sure at times whether your thoughts are your own or someone else’s. Retweeting, favoriting, hat-tipping, direct-messaging, sending modified tweets, partial retweets, subtweets, little ehs, uhs and half-thoughts that spend little time churning in your brain before they’re out there, disseminating.

In psychological terms, “telepathy” is defined as the communication between people of thoughts, feelings, desires, etc., involving mechanisms that cannot be understood in terms of known scientific laws — also called “thought transference.” OK, that’s definitely happening. Does anyone really KNOW how Twitter even works? How we are connected to other beings we’ve never encountered and maybe whose real names we don’t know? We are followed and followed-back at lightning speed. We blink, we process, we share.

All the news that was fit to know — during the three hours that it took the established (establishment) news organizations to verify a single fact — was out there for anyone to see on Twitter late last Thursday night into the wheeeeee Friday hours. We had raw video from folks holed up in Watertown, Mass., their laptops held up to windows framing the story as it unfolded. We had nearly live audio of gunbattles, play-by-plays from people peering out bathroom windows on the second floor. It was incredible, as if we had an aerial view of the universe, like God, if I may, honing in on this one distress signal. And yet I was safe in a spare bedroom of my house, curled up with pillows, gnawing on raw veggies. 

Sunil Tripathi, in his Brown University hoodie, gets a group hug in the family kitchen.

Sunil Tripathi, in his Brown University hoodie, gets a group hug in the family kitchen.

And that was about the time I saw a tweet that the young suspect seen in the video was almost surely a college student from Brown University who had been struggling with depression and missing since mid-March: Sunil Tripathi — one of those odd names that Americans have a hard time placing, pronouncing or spelling, thereby rousing instant suspicion. Even friends of his were tweeting and retweeting their theories and shock. “Oh, God, no, unbelievable, that’s Sunil.” And, without thinking, I shared it. Because it was “new” — thus, “news.”

Eventually, Tripathi’s name bubbled up to Twitter’s top-trending-hashtags list.

The need to show and tell and know. It was out of control, yet honing in like radar, connecting every synapse in our collective brains, with retweets revictimizing one young philosophy major caught in the cross hairs of supposition.

Today, of course, we know better. Today, Sunil’s body was identified after being pulled out of a river near his Rhode Island campus. Whether he was already dead at the time the innuendos swirled around the ether, I’m unsure.

But as if by telepathy, I feel connected now to his grieving family. On the Facebook page they used to reach out for tips and support while missing him (and, of course, they will  miss him eternally), they wrote:

“This last month has changed our lives forever, and we hope it will change yours too. Take care of one another. Be gentle, be compassionate. Be open to letting someone in when it is you who is faltering. Lend your hand. We need it. The world needs it.”

That’s 203 characters. Too long for a tweet. They wrote much more, all of it excellent context, but that was the part that resonated most with me. That’s the part I’m sharing on my slice of the social-media pie. Lending my hand, the only way I can, to type more words.

And now, when people say:  “My thoughts and prayers are with you” — I’m thinking, yeah. I believe that. Here’s hoping the Tripathi family can also sense mine.

We each carry the burden of sexual abuse calamities

Cassy outside the Free Library of Philadelphia, where the eBook containing her essay — and those of other contributors — were celebrated.

When we checked our daughter Cassy into a four-story hotel next to Philadelphia’s airport last night, the petite clerk asked whether she had a floor preference. Cassy shrugged. I shuddered. Beads of separation anxiety dribbled, as I recalled the high fence outside and the sketchy terrain, as if I were placing my daughter in the path of an oncoming train.

“Well, I don’t like putting a single woman on too low a floor …” the woman petered out.

We all knew what that meant. The hoteliers couldn’t guarantee her safety from random brutalities, but they’d do their best. As Cassy nodded in relief and appreciation for an unexpected kindness, we three women joined in solidarity, a coven, skipping in a circle of hair and howls, silhouetted against the moon, standing our ground. “Thank you,” in unison.

And that’s the way it is for a parent. We cannot protect our children from the world’s random brutalities, but we do our best.

It has been three months since Cassy “came out” to us and the world as a sexual abuse survivor. Somehow it seems longer. My husband and I escorted her to the Free Library of Philadelphia. There, we would celebrate, along with more than 100 other survivors, survivor advocates, survivor support systems, the release of The Survivors Project: Telling the Truth About Life After Sexual Abuse, a 360-degree anthology of more than 50 first-person essays compiled by the editors of Philadelphia Weekly. They’re tackling the biggest, most pervasive stories of our day that no one is talking about. (Purchase a copy at amazon.com here.)

A group hug among Cassy, Joel and Nina Hoffmann — and the in-utero Hoffmann, benefiting by proxy.

Nina and Joel Hoffmann conceived of the idea shortly after Joel’s own revelation of the abuse he suffered as a child and his long-fought struggle to heal — a fight that nearly decimated their marriage. Their stories are at the heart of the book, and as much as you might imagine reading the entire work to be like slogging through the muck of jungle combat during monsoon season, this diverse and courageous chorus of voices promises to lift you up — as a languid swimmer remembers suddenly to surface for air or a newborn gasps hopefully at its first breath, in a waul declaring, “I’m here.” See me. Hear me. Keep me safe.

Cassy meets fellow contributor Ari Benjamin Bank

Listening to the essays read aloud — one in particular, by Ari Benjamin Bank, a survivor as well as that swimmer, whose story had each of us lapping up tears — strengthened the group conviction that these accounts, these truths, beg a wider audience. One in four women, one in six men, a sexual assault every two minutes … grim statistics that became flesh and blood, my own flesh and blood, when I first awoke to the full weight of my daughter’s experiences last August.

And yet, as each writer who dares to draw on firsthand experience must, she first had to weigh how breaking the silence would affect not only her personal safety, vulnerability and validity, but also the impact on those who know and love her. Would they be disappointed in her? Would they see her differently? Would she be stigmatized? Could WE survive her pain?

The fact that a survivor wrestles not only with the physical injury and emotional hollowing out but adopts the burden of managing others’ reactions to their injurious news is part of the injustice. The burden of proof gets placed on the one who has suffered the crime of sexual abuse, then a dispassionate, blinders-on society inflicts more misplaced punishment. A gag order by way of our gag reflex. We do not want to know. We don’t want to hear. We don’t listen. We don’t wanna talk. Well, maybe just the gory parts, and then we turn away.

Learning Elmo, the new Muppet monster, does not tickle my fancy.

Several of the event’s speakers invoked the Sandusky case. Sure, we were in Pennsylvania, but, as a Philly native, I realize Philadelphia is as safely removed from Penn State as it is from Pittsburgh (random sports rivalry reference). Still, that case resonated worldwide not because of its prurient interest, but because of personal, statistical investment. One in four, one in six … sexual abuse has no doubt touched your life in some personal way. (As I write this, my phone wiggled and jangled with the news that even Elmo is a pedophile. Sigh.)

My eyes were opened to what each of us can do to keep from revictimizing those who have experienced sexual abuse. It could be as simple as me, a headline writer, not buying into the label of “Victim 1” in describing the 19-year-old who brought down the monolithic Lions with his bravery. Despite how the court documents refer to him, he had protested the use of “Victim 1” — and yet the news media took the easy (or non-objective?) way out. As a copy editor, the burden is on me to do no harm with the language we choose, to eradicate bias, including the bias heaped upon so-called victims.

For better or worse, when the news broke in our family, a decision was made not to let my octogenarian father know what had happened to his beloved granddaughter at college. Possibly he couldn’t take the grief, his heart wouldn’t hold out. He is legally blind, so he doesn’t read my blog. Things must be read to him, so it’s easy to filter out the bad news. When I phone my parents, I am instantly put on speakerphone, so I, too, must filter out what is inadvisable — such as my pride over Cassy’s profound, surefooted steps toward recovery; how she has decided to commit her life to helping other survivors emerge from darkness and make the public see the light; how the inclusion of her 28,000-word essay in The Survivors Project was something even the editors felt needed to be digested wholly, not in digest form.

As a wider audience embraces her voice, my wonderful mother frets over how she’ll continue to maintain my father’s news blackout, protect him from it, if this explodes.

Cassy with her cockatiel, Baby

If there’s anything I’ve learned in the past few months, though, thanks to Cassy, is that hiding the truth can prove toxic. And we ought never pre-judge another’s capacity — whether that gauge is for pain, resilience or love.

It’s what drew me to journalism: Present the facts. We know objectivity is a lie — we are humans, after all. Still, our directive is to not sugarcoat it, not demonize it, be thorough, be accurate and let the readers/listeners discover their own truths.

We certainly can’t protect those we love from random brutalities. But armed with knowledge — and a full capacitor for feeling — we can surely do our best.

Or, at least, better than we’re doing.

50 Shades of Rage and Gray: The messy aftermath of a mother’s discovery

No power? More power to ‘The New York Times’

Some good news to come out of Superstorm Sandy’s rampage on New York City: Newspapers are selling again. Selling out.

According to USA TODAY breaking news reporter and colleague Melanie Eversley:

… The mood was not so festive at the Pinaz newspaper-magazine shop on Sixth Avenue, where lights remained out and the atmosphere inside was dark and claustrophobic.

Cashier Shakeel Khan, 38, said Wednesday afternoon [Oct. 31] that the owner asked him to open up in the late morning, but so far, he’d had only eight customers. He said he planned to close early.

Newspapers were delivered that day, though, and he did sell out, he said.”

With no cell service, TV or Internet, people can’t get enough of the news that’s fit to print — even in the dark. In a post-apocalyptic world, we’ll be scratching out messages on papyrus leaves and burning them for heat. Usher in a modern media Dark Age.

GET ME REWRITE.

What’s wrong with this picture? … Yep, no distaff journos on staff.

Sandy and the Dangling Crane

We create our own disasters sometimes. Whose bright idea was it to leave a crane erected like the gallows over NYC yesterday, for instance? Did they not get the memo about the worst storm of the century bearing down?

I admit I did little myself to prepare for superstorm Sandy. Murphy’s Law might thus have sealed my fate — sparing those who were ready and doing in those who were not — but instead I snugly checked into a king room at the Embassy Suites after my shift, on the company’s dime, and kinda kept working, watching the horrific drama play out on an HD TV. Make that TWO HD TVs, one per room. Drat. I couldn’t quite watch from the bathtub.

“Crane expert” from “Goose Creek”?  I had assumed he was an ornithologist.

I deserved that bath, though, because I managed to turn what was little more than a heavy rainstorm in metro D.C. into an unforeseen (and untold, ’til now) disaster all my own.

Friend and colleague Sharyn checks out the damage to our headquarters.

If you saw my blog yesterday, you’d know that a giant “A” descended from the heavens at US TOD Y headquarters. As an investigative copy editor, I made it my mission to trace the source. I’d already examined two intact USA TODAY signs on the building and three GANNETT signs. I figured there was one I couldn’t see from indoors, so after my shift I meandered onto the median strip between the building and the Dulles Access Toll Road.

Turns out that at that time, about 8:15, our region was being hit the hardest, with gale-force winds and buckets of rain. I nearly fell down or was picked up, unsure which, and as I breached the treeline, I was startled by a CRRRAACCKKKK and blinding flash of light. I figured I’d met my doom. Still, I managed this photo:

Another “A” accounted for.

I also completely peed my pants.

One of these letters is not like the others. Can you tell which one?

By the time I made it to the hotel, drenched to the bone and smelling vaguely of urine, I figured I deserved that bath. Because I’d learned from the security guard upon exiting work that my mad search was for naught: The “A” on the ground was but a protective sheath of the letter on the building that had blown off.

My initial photo clearly shows the “A” in “USA” is receded. No great mystery. The “D” sheath also fell, about two hours afterward. A dropped “AD.” Happens all the time in the newspaper biz.

I’ve doffed my own protective journalistic sheath as I remain glued to the sad news elsewhere. My warmest, driest thoughts go out to those truly suffering in this storm — people who didn’t create their own suffering.

And, with my free oatmeal, grapefruit and piping coffee, I’ll have a side of rainwater as I watch the hotel’s atrium leak  — safe from any further embarrassing leaks.

Then … it’s back to the office and being on the lookout for dangling modifiers, not building scraps.

The leaky atrium at the Embassy Suites Tysons Corner in Northern Virginia.

Big news at USA TODAY: Sandy swiped our ‘A’

ImageAt about 3:52 p.m. ET, we in the newsroom heard a loud crash, and ran to the window. That’s the dropped ‘A’ there, in the flower bed below. Collective “gsp.”

It appears we could be reduced to: US TODAY. Or USA TOD Y. Not sure which.

Below, buildings crew worker Carlos recovers the ‘A’ from the 2nd-floor balcony garden. He tells me: “Miss, it is not safe to be out here right now.” Yes, but I am COVERING THE STORY. Maybe only a copy editor could understand.

Photo and 2012 copyright by Terry Byrne, USA TODAY

Update at 4:45 p.m. ET: Thinking now it must be the “A” in GANNETT. All the As in USA TODAY are accounted for. I even went to the rooftop to photograph the second photo, and it’s pretty gusty up there, which makes me pretty GUTSY.

All right. The puzzle deepens. I have photographed three sides of our headquarters. All three GANNETTs look fine. What we need is a traffic helicopter, or maybe some iReports from citizen journalists on the toll road to find the missing vowel.

‘Women and children first’ is so 1912

A nice guy holds the door for me at work … for the sake of the picture. This generation is big into taking pictures.

A stunning event at work today: Outside the elevator, a young man stepped aside and motioned for me to go first.

I could scarcely move. I strained to recall the last time I’d witnessed an under-28-something cisgender male behave thusly.

Since our media megalopolis declared itself “digital first,” bands of coding whipper-snappers who run laps with laptops tucked into the crook of their arms somehow decoded that guiding principle as: They get to go first.

I’d grown used to yielding to packs of geeks in every corridor. They depress me because they utter things like: “Print is dead” (no lie, I heard this in the elevator yesterday from a pair of them, and they were chortling about it). I’ve come to expect that sort of thing from them.

But this? Deference to me, a vestige of the green-visor age? Totally out of character.

Simply put: Chivalry is dead to this generation.

The flip side: Do women even want this kind of treatment?

How many of you have had a door held open by an older gentleman … except the door proves 30 yards away and you feel obligated to scamper in heels, heart-racing, everything jostling, while he holds, watches, just to accept his lame help despite being perfectly capable and strong enough to open a freaking door, for goodness sake … then wonder whether your frazzled display was how he regularly gets his jollies?

Happens to me a lot.

Some women take offense to door-holdings and after-yous. What about that double-door set-up at malls and office buildings? You murmur, “Thank you” once … then a beat later, “Thank you, again” giggle-giggle, gaze at floor.

Or, you take turns: I’ll hold once for you, you hold once for me.

It’s not just older men doing this for hot young women, it’s women doing this for men, women doing it for women … unsure I’ve ever seen men-on-men door-holding. Come to think of it, what IS the proper distance to hold a door for someone? Is it when they’re 10 feet away? 15? I hate making them run. Why run? Doesn’t that defeat the purpose of easing things for the other person? Here, I’ll hold the door and spare you the 2-pound pull, if you’ll just run sprint drills for my amusement.

Are these spaces sponsored by businesses, like highway cleanup signs? Is it just another form of cheap advertising? So many things in modern life confuse me.

One thing that does shock me in this day and age are parking spaces reserved for “expectant mothers” or those with young children. Shocks me because NO ONE EVER USES THEM.

They remind me of those vintage “Baby on Board” rear window suction signs announcing the presence of an innocent in tow, ss if someone would ram the rear-end of your vehicle so long as no one under 5 were inside. After the wreck, the driver whimpers, “B-b-b-but I had a yellow diamond sign on there, din’tcha see? You were supposed to steer clear of me!”

Here in Northern Virginia, almost everyone violates traditional handicapped spots, despite hefty fines attached. Entire crime rings get built around fake handicapped placards you can pull out of your glove box to hang from your rear-view mirror when convenient. Yet I never see anyone violating these “expectant mother” spaces … let alone using them.

Would an actual pregnant woman feel obligated to prove she’s pregnant, especially if she weren’t showing, if she parked there … is that why they don’t bother? I wonder about fat women. Could they get away with parking there, in a pinch? Who would dare challenge a fattie or even someone post-menopausal? Beware the hot flashes.

I watched this prime piece of real estate at Pan Am Shopping Center in Fairfax, Va., for about two hours one day. No one ever parked there. Does the mere having to read a sign scare people off?

Maybe no one violates these spaces because they circumscribe law.  Where would be the fun in crossing a blurred line?

Or maybe … just maybe … these spaces indicate a resurgence in societal values regarding “women and children first,” hearkening back to the noble men on the Titanic who gave their lives so that the delicate innocents might flourish.

Anyway. I just wanted to thank that elevator guy. It was nice.

Fashioning AP style: You read it here first

AP Stylebook editor Darrell Christian outlines this year’s edition’s additions.

I feel like Steve Martin in The Jerk: “The new phone books are here!” Except for me it’s the new Associated Press Stylebook, aka “the journalist’s bible” — note the lowercase “b” — soon to be hot off the presses (targeted for May 21). Today, I got a sneak peek.

The 2012 edition contains 270 updates and new entries, covering such gems as “underwater” in reference to drowning mortgage holders; “hydraulic fracturing,” the scientific form of the offensive “fracking”; “illegitimate” in reference to offspring, distantly related to the newly inserted “OB-GYN,” as well as STDs vs. VD; plus expanded guidelines for treatment (not in the medical sense) of age and race.

While attending a conference for copy editors this week in New Orleans, I considered the style-guru Q&A a highlight. Would we challenge them about the sexism inherent in not endorsing usage of the singular “they”? Would crash carts be needed after we dissected their decisions?

Hundreds of fellow style mavens and masters — some Ph.D.’s, perhaps, but no “Drs.” – yelped and tweeted when two of AP’s editing triumvirate – David Minthorn and Darrell Christian – announced it had caved to a hopeful appeal from The Baltimore Sun’s John McIntyre to anoint the modern usage of “hopefully.”

McIntyre reacts to the news. Hopefully, he’s happy.

Long a bugaboo of linguists who subscribe only to its relevance as an adverb, “hopefully” is now acceptable to mean “we hope” or “it is hoped.” As in: “Hopefully, this session will break in time for me to get some étouffée.”

Other news:

  • In keeping with the times, the social media compendium has grown from seven to 28 pages.
  •  The new robo-style-cop plug-in StyleGuard does not herald the hemorrhaging of copy editors’ jobs because we remain highly valued for our “human judgment” and those irreplaceable, inimitable fine-tuning-combing skills. Could we get that in writing?
  • An entire section is devoted to fashion, and David Minthorn finally gets what “A-line” means.
  •  Guidelines are included on Olympic sports and broadcast journalism.
  • Minthorn is the one answering your “Ask the Editor” queries.
  • “U.S.S.R.,” which used to be an entry, simply disappeared, unbeknownst to the top editors, “to make new room for new trees, I mean, ‘entries,’ ” Christian teases.
  •  These fellas are not appointed for life like Supreme Court justices, and there is always room for change and new blood at the some-might-say-stodgy AP.

And I’m just playin’ with all those hyphens. Christian, who told me point-blank he is not anywhere near retirement age but does enjoy his golf, said: “If you can avoid a hyphen, I’d advise it.” Not such a thorn in Minthorn’s side. “Common sense” is his guide on hyphenation, and he likely never would hyphenate class action lawsuit.

Too bad the AP female voice was not represented, as Sally Jacobsen could not attend.

Fisher Saller added her fresh, active voice to the discussion.

Instead, chipper Carol Fisher Saller of CMOS (pronounced “seamoss”) – the unwieldy Chicago Manual of Style – rounded out the panel.

I found the most commonality in her common sense summary: “No reason to cleave to a set style. You can tailor your project to your needs” because, in writing, “flexibility is the byword.”

Hopefully, that sticks.

Not your father’s Search Engine Optimization

The train has left the station.

Today’s ABCs of journalism require a Ph.D. in SEO: the science of applying tags or keywords onto digitally delivered stories so that readers get their Googly eyes on them.

I’ve been polishing my skills for a few years now, but still marvel at the algorithmic mysteries.

Here is an assortment of the bizarre search phrases people have used to stumble upon my blog the past few days.

Did I say stumbling? Trippin’.

  • les beatles lsd

  • when did weed become illegal

  • eunice esteves big brother isn’t watching you

  • a glass of juice not gas the jews

  • beer wench stag

  • spider mouse

  • jai rodriguez girlfriend

  • is a toungue a living thing

  • writing wall of terror

  • plump deviant

  • legend that is terry byrne

Those last two are about the same.

(I am not making this up. I live only to teach people how to spell “tongue.” Couldn’t quite replicate the hits; ‘course now that I’ve listed them, I should get a lot more readers.)

‘Improper borrowing’? Call it what it is: Plagiarism

An illustrative example of plagiarism. Modifie...

Ol' Will could have used not only a copy editor but a fact-checker. How'd he ever amount to anything? Image via Wikipedia

Why are writers so protective of their ideas and the way they string words like beaded rocks of crack? Beats me, given the biblical observation:

      What has been will be again,
   what has been done will be done again;
   there is nothing new under the sun.

 (Ecclesiastes 1:9)

… an idea Shakespeare borrowed, without attribution, for his 59th sonnet, “Nothing New.” If it was true way back whenever, it must be glaringly true today. Yet those classic writers couldn’t foresee our modern, tangled Web.

When I ventured two months ago into e-writing, I worried a bit about people stealing my stuff: How does one copyright the Internet?

Not to worry. Thanks to powerful search engines, it’s easier than ever to discover people ripping you off. Take the latest story about Politico reporter Kendra Marr “improperly borrowing” material from The New York Times, the Associated Press and NJ.com. Yet another lazy, sloppy journalist making us all look bad. Excuse me, a “go-go” journalist, as The Washington Post’s media blogger Erik Wemple deftly defines the phenom.

Having worked among journalists all my adulthood, especially in the role of correcting others’ errors, I recognize the character trait of being unable to accept blame. Scoop-addicted Politico did a decent job owning up to it after the fact, in its verbose editor’s note, here. Still, why all the political correctness and warm-fuzzies over this ertswhile staffer, Politico? These are SEVEN examples of plagiarism. She doesn’t belong in the business, bah-bye. I’m thinking Politico‘s “journalistic standards” need to grow a pair.

And I credit Betty White for the observation: “Why do people say, ‘Grow some balls!’? Balls are weak and sensitive. If you wanna really get tough, grow a vagina. Those things take a pounding!”

Something else I wish I’d written

5 Things Newspapers Are Still Good For

The word is out that newspapers are dying. Is there time to appeal that sentence? As I see it, websites can never fulfill these vital newspaper roles:

1. Silly Putty® medium.

This doesn’t work on the iPad®. Besides, AppleCare won’t cover your gumming things up. What? Silly Putty isn’t popular with kids anymore? Those smart-alecks must see the bloody writing on the wall.

2. Ransom note material.

Sure, other media make great terror tools — the TV’s an evil portal in “Poltergeist” (1982), computers prove threatening in thrillers from “War Games” (1983) to “Copycat” (1995) — even a fax machine masks the villain taunting Tim Robbins in Robert Altman’s “The Player” (1992).  But nothing says derangement and premeditation like cutting out letters over weeks’ time to send a clear message. (And what would the Zodiac Killer have done without the San Francisco Chronicle, or the Unabomber, without The Washington Post and The New York Times?)

This online ransom-note tool just doesn’t have the same feel:

http://www.thek9sblx.co.uk/Ransom/index.asp

Cover of The Economist, Aug 24, 2006

3. Pet care and training. (Dailies as pooping doilies)

This broad category goes beyond wrapping fish and lining bird cages. Anyone who has house-broken a puppy can tell you newspapers are indispensable in their disposability. Also, training a dog to fetch the newspaper is far more serviceable than the stick trick. What are you gonna do with a stick but immediately throw it away again?

Check out this pooch’s time-saving talent!

4. Cost-effective alarm system.

A neighbor’s driveway has not yet reached critical mass.

With crime invading suburban areas, most people these days are careful to curb newspaper delivery when on vacation. (Don’t forget to resume it upon your return home, people!!!) Naturally, papers piling up outside the dwelling may be the only sure sign you are trapped or dead inside and someone ought to call the police.

5. Handy pest control.

Fly-swatter, spider-squisher, ladybug flying carpet (you don’t kill a ladybug, you gently show her the door) … newspapers manage all this and more.

During a storied mouse infestation (not the USB-compatible kind) in our newsroom, glue traps were placed in strategic spots underfoot, bait-enhanced with sprinklings of crumbs from us eating at our desks. Problem was: When a mouse was caught in the Photo Department, it was STILL ALIVE. Page designer Michael B. Smith loves to tell the tale of how he finished it off with a paper stack.

Try doing THAT with a website.