Friday, February 29, 2008

Internet slang.

I was reading Le Monde online today, and I noticed in a sidebar for comments that a reader had been writing, "blah blah blah 2 blah blah blah 2" - and at first, I kept reading this '2' as I would an English '2,' i.e. as 'to'...but this was obviously wrong, so I stopped, sounded out "deux" in my head, and realized: 2 = de.

I know it's not rocket science but I felt a little proud of myself.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Make a list.

How many bad things can you say about our country based only on the title of a book I passed in B&N today: Cancer on $5 a Day.

(Note: I just looked the book up on Amazon and it appears that it falls into the category of humor rather than self help. Does that make it better or worse?)

Dear All You Novel Writers Out There,

Do not begin your novel by describing the weather. I don't know why so many of you seem to think that grandiose descriptions of seasonal environmental effects (new grass, falling leaves, snow, rain, etc.) make a compelling first line.

In case you haven't heard, the weather is boring. Although you may later have the opportunity to share your uniquely special wonderment at the beauty of nature, please save it for your saggy middle - I'm sure it needs some shoring up anyhow.

The first line of your novel should draw us into the story. It should set the tone, give us an idea of what's to come. Is your book about the weather? I didn't think so. When you start with something bland and irrelevant, the reader draws certain conclusions.

Thank you,
A Sad, Sad Reader of Unpublished Fiction.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

The Star Copy Style

I'm looking at the style sheet for the Kansas City Star where Hemingway earned his writing chops. To the surprise of no one, here's the first paragraph:
Use short sentences. Use short first paragraphs. Use vigorous English. Be positive, not negative.
But there are all kinds of other interesting instructions, like:
Never use old slang. Such words as stunt, cut out, got his goat, come across, sit up and take notice, put one over, have no place after their use becomes common. Slang to be enjoyable must be fresh.

"He was ill in February," not "He was ill during febraury." During February would mean every fraction of a second of the month's time. A body may deliberate during the day, but that means no recess was taken in the entire period.

"He suffered a broken leg in a fall," not "he broke his leg in a fall." He didn't break the leg, the fall did. Say a leg, not his leg, because presumably the man has two legs.

Bodies are not shipped or sent - say "The burial will be in Ottumwa, Ia."

"Several persons were in the room," not "several people." The people of Kansas City" is correct.

"The execution of the death sentence," not "the execution of the man."

"The building was partly insured," not "partially instured."

A long quotation without introducing the speaker is a poor lead especially and is bad at any time. Break into the quotation as soon as you can, thus: "I should prefer," the speaker said, "to let the reader know who I am as soon as possible."

"He was made unconscious," not "he was rendered unconscious."

A man marries a woman; she is married to him.

He died of heart disease, not heart failure - everybody dies of "heart failure."

The words donate and donation are barred from the columns of The Star. Use give or contribute. The use of raise, in the sense of obtaining money, has been forced into usage where no other word seems to do as well. But raise is not a noun.

In most cases, desire is preferable to want.

Each other applies to two, one another to three or more.

If is used to introduce a suppositional clause, as: I shall not go if it rains. It is incorrect to say: I do not know if I can go. The correct form is whether: I do not know whether I can go.

Both simplicity and good taste suggest house rather than residence, and lives rather than resides.

A Woman of the Name of Mary Jones - Disrespect is attached to the individual in such sentences. Avoid it. Never use it even in referring to street walkers.

Admittance and Admission - Admittance is better than admission in relation to admittance fees and admittance to places, lodges, etc.
Some of these instructions sound a little antiquated, but I've been reading The Nick Adams Stories and am continually struck by how fresh Hemingway's language remains. I bet in practice these rules would still work, without striking a false note.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008


A father said to his son, "You know, when Abraham Lincoln was your age he was studying books by the firelight." The son replied to his father, "When Abraham Lincoln was your age, he was president."