Does One ‘Debut’ or ‘Make a Debut’?

I found a headline today on AOL a bit wordy and awkward. It said, “NYC Mayor Makes Debut on ‘The Daily Show’.”

So that had me scrambling to the dictionary to see if I have been erroneously using debut as a verb all these years.

Turns out, debut is both noun and verb, but I still prefer the verb version over “makes debut,” even though there’s nothing wrong with that usage.

As Kornheiser and Wilbon would say, “Big deal, small deal or no deal?”

Lunar Festival: Halloween in January?

Lunar-Festival-Riverside-2014
Fireworks above the Chinese Pavilion in Riverside during the 2014 Lunar Festival.

On Saturday, I stumbled on the Lunar Festival in downtown Riverside.

Probably what most of us traditionally equate with a lunar festival is Chinese New Year’s, but every Asian country has its own celebration. Really, it’s an expression of joy that spring — along with bountiful new food crops — is just around the corner.

So as I peered into the crowd, I kept wondering why the teens and 20somethings came as if it were Halloween. Here was Batman wondering out loud, “Where is the Green Arrow?” who then dutifully showed up with a bow and arrow with a green lighted tip. Batwoman wasn’t far behind, but Robin seemed mysteriously missing, given the context.

As I continued peering, I noticed countless Cinderellas, Alices in Wonderland, cats, indescribable comic book characters and one lone samurai.

At least the samurai would have some connection with the lunar festival in Japan, during which he might get drunk or enjoy some blood sport like toppling a shogun and his minions.

Anyway, the fireworks at night were nice, but I think the local populace somehow confused the coming of spring with the coming of goblins and heroes.

Okay, I know, this column has nothing to do with English grammar or composition, but it says spades about what American culture — the prime user and progenitor of the English culture — has morphed into, which is, well, a comic book.

So sad.

Edward Snowden Redux

I think I miffed a lot of people and probably lost a lot of readers when last year I praised NSA secrets-leaker Edward Snowden as a “patriot” (not sure if I actually used that word, but “hero” works too).

Now I’ve finally found an ally with the same take on what he did and on its value to all of us. Through a strange twist of “politics makes for strange bedfellows,” none other than that liberal bastion The New York Times has called for Snowden’s pardon.

As the paper’s editorial summarizes, Snowden “has done his country a great service.” This too has been my essential point. Who cares if the guy is a scumbag who broke the law? What he’s done to move America forward is almost inestimable.

Read “Edward Snowden, Whistle-Blower.”

What’s Wrong With This Sentence?

As I sit here at my desk reading today’s Los Angeles Times, I marvel at how easy it is to misuse a word or otherwise let a writing error slip by, even at multi-million-dollar operations. Check this out:

Angela Spaccia, the $564,000-a-year deputy to the disgraced former city manager of Bell, was found guilty Monday of 11 felony counts related to her role in the corruption scandal, becoming the seventh official convicted of enriching themselves at the expensive of the working-class residents.

Other than leaving a first-time reader wondering about which “corruption scandal” the writer is referencing, the sentence uses an adjective when it needs a noun.

An expensive mistake, no doubt.

Online Piracy: Does It Matter?

Before anyone gets ruffled, let it be said that I’m not advocating copyright infringement or piracy of copyrighted works online. After all, I’m a writer, and in the past year I’ve published four copyrighted e-books.

On each occasion, however, when Amazon asked if I wanted to turn on DRM (digital rights management), so these works couldn’t be shared, I declined. In addition, if I somehow learned that my e-books were being offered for free download on a file-sharing site, I’d frankly be honored.

My guess is that, of all the piracy that’s occurred since Napster began the file-sharing trend,  either zero percent of the alleged pirates, or as close to that percentage as possible, would ever have actually paid for their downloaded products had they not been available for “free.”

So piracy, to my way of thinking, is a zero-loss game for the copyright holders. In fact, if you game the piracy system as an author or entertainer, there are even ways to increase your reach and your revenue. (Which could bring up a discussion of “freenomics,” but I’ll spare you.)

At any rate, this long musing comes courtesy of the recent $80-million settlement by file-sharing service Hotfile over its alleged enabling of piracy of copyrighted works.

As TechDirt Editor Michael Masnick notes in his review of the settlement, however, it will first of all never be paid, and if any funds do transfer hands, no artist or movie-maker will see a penny.

I suggest reading Masnick’s “MPAA ‘Settles’ Another ‘Victory’ Against Hotfile.” His conclusion is particularly cogent and spot on:

I don’t see how it’s a victory for anyone. It won’t decrease the amount of infringement. It won’t stop cyberlockers. It won’t help consumers. It won’t help movie makers. It won’t do anything, other than letting the MPAA [Motion Picture Association of America] declare victory.

Origins of the Word ‘Filibuster’

When Senate Democrats acted last week to end filibusters as we know them (at least for certain appointments), cries and sighs were heard on both sides of the Congressional aisle.

Sighs came from the Dems, who now could put in a federal post any person living or dead, criminal or upright.

Cries of injustice rang from the GOPers. Had the Republicans pulled the trigger on the so-called “nuclear option” back in the mid-2000s when they controlled the Senate, however, roles would’ve been reversed with Dems crying affront to democracy and Repubs cheering, at least under their breaths.

Republican Gov. Rick Perry of Texas was livid earlier this year when State Senator Wendy Davis filibustered the legislature in Austin over an abortion bill. The good guv called it “nothing more than the hijacking of the democratic process.”

Which brings up the origins of the word filibuster, and for this I rely on the research and writings of Merrill Perlman in the Columbia Journalism Review:

Of “filibuster,” The Oxford English Dictionary says, “the ultimate source is certainly the Dutch vrijbuiter,” or “freebooter,” “a privateer … a piratical adventurer, a pirate; any person who goes about in search of plunder.” From the 18th century to the middle of the 19th, the OED says, the preferred term in English was the French “fibustier.” But about “1850-54,” the OED says, the form “filibuster,” from the Spanish filibustero, “began to be employed as the designation of certain adventurers who at that time were active in the W. Indies and Central America.”

The word filibuster began taking on a legislative slant about mid-century (1850s or later) when “someone in the Congressional Globe wrote: ‘I saw my friend … filibustering, as I thought, against the United States.'” (Note the verb usage.)

In 1889, the noun version of  filibuster appeared, referring to the person blocking the action, not to the act itself. Within a few years, the noun filibuster was being applied to “an act of obstruction in a legislative assembly,” the OED says.

In other words, as Perlman notes in his article, equating a filibuster with a hijacking is not without historical and linguistic justification, regardless of which side of the aisle you or your senator sits.

As Simple as 12345

dear-santaThe United States Postal Service (USPS), that darling of Benjamin Franklin and his vision for America now gone virtually bust in the face of the digital revolution, created the ZIP code in 1963.

The Zone Improvement Plan (ZIP) was introduced in 1944 by Robert Moon, but it took nearly 20 seasons of moons for the USPS to finally got around to implementing the system.

ZIP codes were designed to speed delivery, as we all know. When the service assigned the ZIP numbers, it awarded 12345 — the simplest to remember — to General Electric in Schenectady, N.Y.

As a result, GE gets thousands of “Dear Santa” letters each year from kids who think “12345” is Santa’s personal ZIP Code.

The good news is that employees at the plant volunteer to answer the letters.

The bad news is, well, that USPS is going bust despite its Zone Improvement Plan.

But I’d better shut up. I’m beginning to sound too much like Scrooge.

The End of Reading?

Tina-BrownLetter writing has definitely gone bye-bye in favor of 140-character Tweets, misspelled and garbled emails and text messages, and shout outs in all their various forms, but now a noted editor and journalist has driven the last nail in literacy’s coffin by declaring the end of reading.

Tina Brown (pictured),  recently departed from both Newsweek and The Daily Beast, has come out against the printed word by observing that we’re “going back to oral culture where the written word will be less relevant.”

Blame it on the digital revolution, of course. And personally, Ms. Brown doesn’t even read magazines anymore.

“The habit has gone,” the one time editor of Vanity Fair, The New YorkerTalk and Newsweek told reporters in Goa, where she was speaking at the THiNK festival. “I think you can have more satisfaction from live conversations.”

Ms. Brown, coincidentally, is leaving print publishing for a new career in live conferencing, so she’ll no doubt be involved in lots of oral conversations here on out.

Meanwhile, I’ll keep writing. No one wants to listen to me blab anyway. Unfortunately, they probably don’t want to read my writing either, but one must always have hope in life.