Month: September 2008

Carina Chocano: Learn to Write to Audience or Quit

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Let’s see.  When I got my master’s degree in journalism, the standard was to write to a seventh-grade reader.  Unfortunately, some journalists are now writing to impress their former professors, or themselves, in some kind of college esteem deficit syndrome.

Case in point: Los Angeles Times film critic Carina Chocano.  Her reviews read like a college paper (I’ve been a university instructor since 1995) out to impress with convoluted sentences and words to impress academics and turn off the reader.

Just tell me if the movie is any good or not.  I don’t care about your college hang-ups, Carina.

Take this example:  Today, she wrote what was called "An Appreciation" for Paul Newman, who just died.  Check this sentence:

"What  is ‘Cool Hand Luke’ if not a polyamorous bromance writ large?"

Bromance is not a word to be found in the dictionary, so it’s either a typo or some kind of Hollyweird lingo that needs a parenthetical explanation.  Polyamarous, meaning sleeping with many, is fine, but seventh graders won’t understand it, though one’s former profeessors might be impressed.

In short, remember your audience, Carina, and quit trying to impress those who don’t count (though you may be thinking it impresses the people who pay your bills, but I hope not–are they sensible?).

Is there any wonder the Los Angeles Times and all newspapers are in trouble.

Remember your audience.  Write to communicate, not to impress.

Categories: Grammar Sucks

Sink, Sank, Sunk: Story of the L.A. Times


The first people to go at newspapers when shrinkage occurs (which is quite frequent these days) are the proofreaders and copyeditors, those who are charged with making sure that correct English appears in print.

Though the Los Angeles Times is usually pretty good on the correctness front, I came across a sentence Saturday (Sept. 20) that misused a form of the verb to sink, to wit:  "Meanwhile, shares of Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs sunk as investors bet they would collapse…."

I still remember from probably the third grade memorizing the base forms of this verb as "sink, sank, sunk," so without a modifying verb–and using just the simple past tense–the authors of this article could not have used sunk, though they did.

I chalk this one up to a) sloppiness and b) stupidity rather than hiring and firing policies, which, sadly, is worse than the latter.

Categories: Grammar Sucks

Jack Kerouac II: One Passage Gets It Right

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No one called me out for saying that Jack Kerouac was not a beatnik (capital b?), which he really wasn’t since he spent most of his 47 years living with a) his aunt, b) his mother and c) his briefly wed wives.  He did, however, hang out with people who could be called beatniks (B? again), but mostly he was a drunk who eventually died from wounds inflicted in a barroom beating that he endured.

Now, I don’t have the time or space to go into an exegesis of On the Road, which is at any rate a largely rambling and disconnected piece of literature (nor would I consider myself qualified to do so), but from my reading of the manuscript in the Penguin Classic edition, one passage seems to have answered Kerouac’s journeylong quest for God and truth, though it’s just buried on page 173 when he passes a fish-‘n’-chips joint and fraeks out the female owner:

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Categories: Grammar Sucks