Saturday, April 26, 2008

Time Out

The WORD is on the road. Back Thursday.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Today's Word—Twain on Editors

Letter to the Editor:

It’s no secret that Mark Twain had his own writing style and had little patience for editors. These excerpts from a 1890 letter to his editor is a useful reminder to overbearing editors today:
• “Amongst. Wasn’t ‘among’ good enough?”
• “Have you failed to perceive that by taking the word ‘both’ out of its proper place you have made foolishness of the sentence?”
• “And don’t you see that your smug ‘of which’ has turned that sentence into reporter’s English?”
• “‘Quite.’ Why do you intrude that shopworn favorite of yours where there is nothing useful for it to do? Can’t you rest easy in your literary grave without it?”
• “You have a singularly fine and aristocratic disrespect for homely and unpretending English. Every time I use ‘go back’ you get out your polisher and slick it up to ‘return.’”
• “You are really perfect in the great art of reducing simple and dignified speech to clumsy and vapid commonplace.”
• “I will remind you once more that clarity is a good thing in literature. An apprentice cannot do better than to keep this useful rule in mind.”
• “It is curious and interesting to notice what an attraction a fussy, mincing, nickel-plated word has for you.”
• “Have you no sense of the shade of meanings in words?”
• “It was English before you decayed it. Sell it to the museum.”
—Mark Twain (1835-1910), writer, 1890 (from Mark Twain’s Letters, edited by Albert Bigelow Paine, 1917)

On This Day . . .
. . . In 1507, German mapmaker Martin Waldseemueller named the huge New World land mass of the Western Hemisphere to honor Italian navigator Amerigo Vespucci.
. . . In 1792, Nicolas Jacques Pelletier, a highway bandit, became the first person executed by guillotine.
. . . In 1898, the United States declared war on Spain.
. . . In 1901, New York became the first state to require automobile license plates (and the dreaded DMV was born?).
. . . In 1945, American and Soviet troops reached each other on the Elbe, severing Nazi forces.
. . . In 1959, the St. Lawrence Seaway opened.
. . . In 2003, Georgia legislators voted to eliminate the Confederate cross from the state flag.

76 . . . Meadowlark Lemon, Harlem Globetrotter
68 . . . Al Pacino, actor
63 . . . Bjorn Ulvaeus, singer (ABBA)
62 . . . Talia Shire, actress
44 . . . Hank Azaria, actor
Edward R. Murrow (1908-1965), American radio and television broadcaster
Oliver Cromwell (1599-1658), Lord Protector of England, Scotland and Ireland
Peter Ilich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893), Russian composer
Guglielmo Marconi (1874-1937), Italian Nobel Prize-winning physicist and inventor
William Brennan (1906-1997), associate justice of the Supreme Court (1956-90)
Ella Fitzgerald (1917-1996), American jazz singer

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Today's Word—Journalistic Vigor

Wanted: Vigorous reporting...

“Good local reporting costs money and flourishes only in a newsroom with a climate of editorial vigor and independence, as well as a tradition of seeking significant news no matter whom it may displease. Often the better the local reporting, the more criticism it will attract; significant news is controversial.”
—Kenneth Macdonald (1908-2004), longtime editor, the Des Moines Register

On This Day . . .
. . . In 1898, Spain refused the U.S. demand to leave Cuba and declared war on the United States.
. . . In 1792, French Capt. Claude Joseph Rouget de Lisle composed “La Marseillaise.”
. . . In 1800, the Library of Congress was created.
. . . In 1968, protesting Columbia University students began a week-long occupation of campus buildings.
. . . In 1962, MIT scientists achieved the first satellite TV signal relay, between California and Massachusetts.
. . . In 1980, President Jimmy Carter ordered an attempted rescue of American hostages in Tehran; eight servicemen died.
. . . In 2005, Pope Benedict XVI was installed as leader of the Roman Catholic Church in cermonies at the Vatican.

74 . . . Shirley MacLaine, actress
66 . . . Richard M. Daley, Chicago mayor
66 . . . Barbra Streisand, singer
63 . . . Doug Clifford, rock musician (Creedence Clearwater Revival)
31 . . . Carlos Beltran, baseball player
26 . . . Kelly Clarkson, singer
Robert Penn Warren (1905-1989), writer and first U.S. poet laureate
St. Vincent De Paul (1581-1660), French clergyman
Robert Bailey Thomas (1766-1846), American publisher of "Old Farmer's Almanac"
Anthony Trollope (1815-1882), English novelist
Henri-Philippe Petain (1856-1951), general and head of French Vichy government
William Joyce (1906-1946), English propagandist for Germany during World War II (aka Lord Haw Haw)

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Today's Word—Capturing "Echoes of the Past”

“I’m sitting in a cozy little coffeehouse in Clarendon, listening for whispers of evil. It’s an important journalistic mission; I am trying to rescue an endangered literary cliche, the one about how places carry ‘echoes of their past.’ Every journalist depends on this cliche when we write our crappy stories about Civil War battlefields, or the razing of some venerable stadium, or some neighborhood that was once great and is now grim.”
Gene Weingarten, columnist, The Washington Post, 2008. (See Column.) (Thanks to alert WORDster Nancy Williams)

On This Day . . .
. . . In 2007, journalist and author David Halberstam died in a car crash in Menlo Park, Calif.
. . . In 1969, Sirhan Sirhan was sentenced to death for assassinating Robert F. Kennedy.
. . . In 1789, President-elect George Washington and his wife Martha moved into the first Executive Mansion, Franklin House in NYC.
. . . In 1954, Hank Aaron hit his first MLB homerun, for the Milwaukee Braves.
. . . In 1992, McDonald’s opened its first Beijing restaurant.
. . . In 1995, sportcaster Howard Cosell died, age 77.
. . . In 1998, James Earl Ray, who confessed to shooting Martin Luther King Jr. and later recanted, died at 70.

54 . . . Michael Moore, filmmaker
69 . . . Lee Majors, the “Six Million Dollar Man”
80 . . . Shirley Temple Black, child actress-turned-diplomat
59 . . . Joyce DeWitt, actress ("Three's Company")
47 . . . George Lopez, actor and comedian
25 . . . Daniela Hantuchova, tennis player
William Shakespeare (1564-1616), the bard
Max Planck (1858-1947), German Nobel Prize-winning physicist
James Buchanan (1791-1868), 15th U.S. president (1857-61)
Stephen Douglas (1813-1861), lost debate to Abraham Lincoln

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Today's Word—On Interviewing

Can we talk?

“The best talk is artless, the talk of people trying to reassure or comfort themselves, women in the sun, grouped around baby carriages, talking about their weeks in the hospital or the way meat has gone up, or men in saloons, talking to combat the loneliness everyone feels. The talk when you interview someone for a newspaper is usually premeditated and usually artificial.’
—Joseph Mitchell, from My Ears Are Bent, 1938. (Thanks to alert WORDster Doug Cummings)

Monday, April 21, 2008

Today's Word—Say What You Really Think. . .

Feedback on last week’s (4/16) Clinton-Obama Pennsylvania debate:

“Tom Shales of the Washington Post said [Charles] Gibson and [George] Stephanopoulos ‘turned in shoddy, despicable performances.’ The media critic Greg Mitchell said it was ‘perhaps the most embarrassing performance by the media in a major presidential debate in years.’ said, ‘I’m not sure if we’ve seen anything quite as train-wreck, cover-your-eyes bad as the spectacle on ABC last night.’ Will Bunch, a Philadelphia Daily News writer, posted an open letter to Gibson and Stephanopoulos on his blog telling them, ‘you disgraced the American voters, and in fact even disgraced democracy itself.’ And the group MoveOn said it would air an ad protesting ABC if 100,000 people signed their petition.”
—Amy Goodman, DemocracyNow (4/18/08) Click here for website.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Today's Word—Averting Mischief

What Newspapers Do

“Without newspapers, without someone telling us what is happening, all kinds of mischief can occur. It can be pretty serious, such as corporate and government corruption. Of course, unless newspapers really dig for stories, we won’t be able to root out shady goings-on. And today, many newspapers seem tame and timid, far from the old newspaperman’s challenge to ‘comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.’”
—Steve Cartwright, columnist, Bangor (Maine) Daily News, 2008 (Click here to see column.) (Thanks to alert Kiwi WORDster David Pease)

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Today's Word—Final Edits

B. Franklin, in revision

“The Body of
B. Franklin,
Like the Cover of an Old Book,
Its Contents torn out,
And stript of its Lettering and Gilding,
Lies here, Food for Worms.
But the Work shall not be wholly lost;
For it will, as he believ’d, appear once more,
In a new and more perfect Edition,
Corrected and amended, By the author.”
—Today marks the 218th anniversary of the death of Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790), the colonial printer, statesman, writer, kite-flyer and inventor who penned this epitaph for his own gravestone.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Today's Word—Absurdity

Caveat Elector

“He who can lead you to believe an absurdity, can lead you to commit an atrocity.”
—Voltaire (François-Marie Arouet, 1694-1778)
(Thanks to alert WORDster Barbara Reed)

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Today's Word—Tiny TV Minds

Who’s in charge, here?

“Television is a triumph of equipment over people, and the minds that control it are so small that you could put them in the navel of a flea and still have enough room for a network president’s heart.”
—Fred Allen (1894-1956), comedian

Monday, April 14, 2008

Today's Word—Torches of Truth

Truth & Facial Hair:

“It is almost impossible to carry the torch of truth through a crowd without singeing somebody’s beard.”
—George Christopher Lichtenberg, scientist and philosopher (1742-1799) (Thanks to alert WORDster Alexandra Halsey)

Friday, April 11, 2008

Today's Word—RIP Bob Greene

More from the Do-Gooder File

“For much of his career, he could outthink, out-hustle, out-report, outeat, outdrink and outwork any other journalist in the country. But if his excesses were occasionally unbridled, they were driven by his passion to get a good story and root out the bad guys. ... He could get excited about an investigation of public corruption or a bizarre animal story. We once spent weeks following a story about a dog on ‘death row’ that Bob believed was ‘innocent.’”
—Howard Schneider, former Newsday editor, on the death yesterday of Bob Greene, larger-than-life investigative reporter, editor and Pulitzer winner, April 10, 2008 (see Newsday obit.)

Today's Word—Do-Gooders

The Good Life

“I will tell you flat out that I am a very lucky guy. I have had many moments of satisfaction as a reporter. I have helped to save people’s homes, put a vicious slumlord in prison, aided migrant workers to get the elementary benefit of just having potable drinking water in the fields. I hope I have educated people about civil liberties and a myriad of problems in the criminal justice system.”
—Henry Weinstein, award-winning reporter, Los Angeles Times, 2006

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Today's Word—First Draft of History

Overcooking the News

“Over and over again I would take out the five most important books on X subject, and then I’d go back to The New York Times, and by God, the story that was written the day after was by far the best source. Those reporters were writing with everything in the right perspective. Sometimes I think historians are a little like sauté chefs: they cook everything up and soften the edges.”
Nicholson Baker, novelist/historian, on researching his new book Human Smoke: The Beginning of World War II, 2008. (Thanks to alert WORDster Andrew Merton) (Click here to see NYTimes story.)

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Today's Word—Cuba

On Liberty:

“Even while condemning the blockade against Cuba and the constant attempts to overthrow its government, I stand firmly on the side of all Cuban journalists, who have every right to inform and criticize without fear of persecution. Liberty is indivisible.”
—Ariel Dorfman, Chilean novelist, and human rights activist, on some 20 journalists imprisoned in Cuba, 2008 (See Committee to Protect Journalists)

On This Day . . .
. . . In 1513, explorer Ponce de Leon claimed Florida for Spain
. . . In 1952, President Harry S. Truman seized the steel industry to avert a nationwide strike
. . . In 1974, Hank Aaron broke Babe Ruth's home-run record with his 715th .
. . . In 1990, teenager Ryan White died of AIDS at 18.
. . . In 1994, rocker Kurt Cobain, 27, of Nirvana was found dead of a self-inflicted gunshot..
. . . In 2002, Suzan-Lori Parks became the first black woman to win a Pulitzer for her play “Topdog/Underdog.”

90 . . . Betty Ford, former first lady
71. . . Seymour Hersh, investigative reporter
70 . . . Kofi Annan, former U.N. secretary-general
68 . . . John Havlicek, basketball Hall of Famer
67. . . Peggy Lennon, singer (The Lennon Sisters)
45 . . . Julian Lennon, rock musician
Sonja Henie (1912-1969), Olympic gold medal skateer and entertainer
Albert I (1875-1934), King of the Belgiams
Mary Pickford (1892-1979), Canadian-born motion-picture actress

Monday, April 7, 2008

Today's Word—Remembering Dith Pran

Covering the Killing Fields

“To all of us who have worked as foreign reporters in frightening places, Pran reminds us of a special category of journalistic heroism — the local partner, the stringer, the interpreter, the driver, the fixer, who knows the ropes, who makes your work possible, who often becomes your friend, who may save your life, who shares little of the glory, and who risks so much more than you do.”
—Bill Keller, executive editor, The New York Times, on last week’s death of Dith Pran (1942-2008), Cambodian photojournalist whose story inspired the 1984 film “The Killing Fields,” 2008 (See Dith Pran obit.)

On This Day . . .
. . . In 1940, Booker T. Washington became the first black man featured on a U.S. postage stamp
. . . In 1814, Napoleon was exiled to Elba.
. . . In 1980, President Jimmy Carter cut off diplomatic relations with Iran over hostages held in the U.S. embassy in Tehran.
. . . In 1949, “South Pacific” opened on Brodway, and won a Pulitizer a year later.
. . . In 1992, tennis player Arthur Ashe announced that he had contracted AIDS.
. . . In 1994, the Rwandan genocide erupted, ultimately killing between 500,000 and 1 million people..

69 . . . Francis Ford Coppola, film director
88 . . . Ravi Shankar, musician
80 . . . James Garner, actor
70 . . . Jerry Brown, California attorney general, former presidential candidate and California governor
69 . . . David Frost, TV journalist
54 . . . Tony Dorsett, football Hall of Famer
44 . . . Russell Crowe, actor
Billie Holiday (1915-1959), jazz singer
William Wordsworth (1770-1850), English Romantic poet
W. K. Kellogg (1860-1951), founder of the W.K. Kellogg Company
Walter Winchell (1897-1972), American journalist and broadcaster

Friday, April 4, 2008

Today's Word—Truth

Associate Press photo

The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated 40 years ago today. (See Ted Pease columns on Martin Luther King Jr.)

Dream On

“Oh, our government, and the press generally, won’t tell us these things, but God told me to tell you this morning. The truth must be told.”
Martin Luther King Jr. (1929-1968), civil rights leader, from his 1967 “Where Do We Go From Here?” speech to the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Atlanta, Georgia (Thanks to alert WORDster Tom Hodges)

On This Day . . .
. . . In 1968, Martin Luther King Jr. was shot and killed by a sniper at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis (see video clip from the History Channel)
. . . In 1818, Congress approved a new national flag, with 13 red and white stripes and 20 stars.
. . . In 1841, President William Henry Harrison was the first president to die in office, of pneumonia, which he caught giving his inauguration speech.
. . . In 1850, the city of Los Angeles was incorporated.
. . . In 1945, U.S. forces liberated the Nazi death camp Ohrdruf in Germany.
. . . In 1974, Hank Aaron of the Atlanta Braves tied Babe Ruth’s career home run record by hitting his 714th, in Cincinnati.

80 . . . Maya Angelou, poet
64 . . . Craig T. Nelson, actor
Muddy Waters (1915-1983), blues musician
Dorothea Dix (1802-1887), social reformer and humanitarian
Arthur Murray (1895-1991), ballroom-dancing instructor and entrepreneur

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Today's Word—Gin and Journalism

Gin, Wet Socks and Journalism

“Young poets are advised by their elders to avoid the practice of journalism as they would wet socks and gin before breakfast.”
—Archibald MacLeish (1892-1992), American poet, writer and Librarian of Congress, from “The Poet and the Press,” Atlantic Monthly, 1941

On This Day . . .
. . . In 1860, the Pony Express between St. Joseph, Mo., and Sacramento, Calif., was born.
. . . In 1882, outlaw Robert Ford shot Jesse James in the back for the reward, in St. Joseph, Mo.
. . . In 1936, Bruno Hauptmann was electrocuted for the kidnap-murder of the Lindbergh baby, in Trenton, NJ.
. . . In 1968, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. gave his "Mountain" speech in Memphis.
. . . In 1991, the United Nations Security Council voted to end the Persian Gulf War.
. . . In 1996, Unabomber Ted Kaczynski was arrested.

50, Alec Baldwin, actor
84, Doris Day, actress, singer
66, Wayne Newton, singer
64, Tony Orlando, singer
52, Mick Mars, rock musician (Motley Crue)
47, Eddie Murphy, actor, comedian
Henry R. Luce (1898-1967), American publisher of Time, Fortune and Life magazines.
Washington Irving (1783-1859), American author of “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.”
“Boss” William Marcy Tweed (1823-1878), American politician and leader of NYC’s corrupt Tammany Hall.
Bud Fisher (1885-1954), American cartoonist; created “Mutt and Jeff.”

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Today's Word—Bad News

Turn It Off!

Everybody Tells Me Everything

“I find it very difficult to enthuse
Over the current news.
Just when you think that at least the outlook is
so black that it can grow no blacker, it worsens.
And that is why I do not like the news,
because there has never been an era
when so many things were going so right
for so many of the wrong persons.”
—Ogden Nash (1902-1971), poet, 1941
(Thanks to alert WORDster Tom Hodges)

On This Day . . .
. . . In 1917, President Woodrow Wilson asked Congress to declare war against Germany, saying, “The world must be made safe for democracy.”
. . . In 1513, Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de Leon landed in Florida.
. . . In 1865, Confederate President Jefferson Davis and most of his Cabinet fled the Confederate capital of Richmond, Va.
. . . In 1932, aviator Charles Lindbergh, through an intermediary, paid $50,000 ransom in a New York cemetery to a man who promised to return his kidnapped son. (The child was found dead the following month. The ransom money was eventually traced to Bruno Hauptmann, who was executed for the crime.)
. . . In 1968, “2001: A Space Odyssey” premiered in Washington, D.C.
. . . In 1982, Argentina seized the disputed Falkland Islands from Britain.
. . . In 2005, Pope John Paul II died at 84 after 26 years leading the Roman Catholic Church.
. . . In 2007, in its first case on climate change, the Supreme Court declared in a 5-4 ruling that carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases are air pollutants under the Clean Air Act.

66 . . . singer Leon Russell
63 . . . Baseball Hall of Famer Don Sutton
61 . . . country singer Emmylou Harris
84 . . . German artist Max Ernst (1891-1976)
71. . . conquerer and ruler Charlemagne (742-814)
73. . . Italian writer, soldier and adventurer Giovanni Casanova (1725-1798)
70. . . Frederic Auguste Bartholdi (1834-1904), French sculptor of Statue of Liberty

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Today's Word—Foolishness


Man’s Best Friend:

“Outside of a dog, a book is a man’s best friend. Inside of a dog it’s too dark to read.”
—Groucho Marx (1895-1977), comedian-philosopher

On This Day . . . . . . In 1700, April Fools’ Day was formalized in England, but pranksters had been observing the tradition for more than 100 years. Says the History Channel: “These included having paper fish placed on their backs and being referred to as ‘poisson d’avril” (April fish), said to symbolize a young, easily caught fish and a gullible person.
“Historians have also linked April Fools’ Day to ancient festivals such as
Hilaria, which was celebrated in Rome at the end of March and involved people dressing up in disguises. There’s also speculation that April Fools’ Day was tied to the vernal equinox, or first day of spring in the Northern Hemisphere, when Mother Nature fooled people with changing, unpredictable weather.
“April Fools’ Day spread throughout Britain during the 18th century. In Scotland, the tradition became a two-day event, starting with ‘hunting the gowk,’ in which people were sent on phony errands (
gowk is a word for cuckoo bird, a symbol for fool) and followed by Tailie Day, which involved pranks played on people’s derrieres, such as pinning fake tails or ‘kick me’ signs on them.” See History Channel link and video.
. . . In 1945, American forces invaded Okinawa during World War II.
. . . In 2003, American troops "rescued" Army Pfc. Jessica Lynch from a hospital in Nasiriyah, Iraq, where she had been held prisoner since her unit was ambushed nine days earlier.

Birthdays: 58: Samuel Alito, Supreme Court Justice
79: Jane Powell, actress
76: Debbie Reynolds, actress
70: Ali MacGraw, actress
69: Phil Niekro, baseball hall of famer
60: Jimmy Cliff, reggae singer
83: Otto von Bismarck, German statesman (1815-1898)
47: Lon Chaney, "Igor," silent film actor (1883-1930)
60: Whittaker Chambers, journalist and accuser in the Alger Hiss case (1901-1961)

SPEAKING OF “Hilaria” . . . . .

This was sent to me by a well-meaning friend, perfect for the day.