Category Archives: My Current Aggravation

Seattle Times Ads Could Use an Editor

On Oct. 17, the Seattle Times started running free political ads for state gubernatorial candidate Rob McKenna and for a Yes vote on Referendum 74 on gay marriage. Although the newspaper had previously editorially endorsed both campaigns,  in an Associated Press story, Alan Fisco, executive vice president for revenue and new products at the newspaper, said there is no connection between the ads and the news side of the business. However, more than 100 news workers at the paper protested the ads in a letter to publisher Frank Blethen, saying the free ads compromised the newspaper’s integrity and their ability to do their jobs. The ads have continued.

Commas needed in the last sentences of the third and fifth paragraphs.

Perhaps proving management’s claim that editorial personnel have absolutely no connection with the advertisements,  copy in each of the first two McKenna ads have grammatical errors.

The first ad states, “As Attorney General Rob McKenna demonstrated that the interests of all Washington citizens comes first.” A comma after “Attorney General” would be nice.

The second ad states, “Combined with better education and workforce training, this (McKenna’s jobs plan) will enable small business to thrive creating new jobs where they are most needed.” Again, a comma after “thrive” would provide  grammatically correct entry into the subordinate clause starting with “creating,” permitting  readers to catch their breath.

The last line of the body copy in this ad says, “When it comes to jobs and support for small business there’s a difference worth your vote.” Maybe we should just send the Seattle Times advertising department copywriters a box full of commas. They could use some. In the sentence above, one is would be helpful between “business” and “there’s.”

The Times claims both ad campaigns (allegedly worth $75,000 apiece in services and advertising space) are part of an effort to prove the effectiveness of newspapers for political advertising. If these heavy-handed, copy-heavy, grammatically incorrect ads show what the Times can do, good luck with that.

Running these ads is a bad idea for good journalism. But if the Seattle Times publisher insists, the least he can do is hire an editor.

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Filed under Commentary, Grammar, My Current Aggravation

Why “Adage” Stands Alone

The opening line of a newsletter caught my eye: “Failure to plan is planning to fail, the old adage goes.” 

Don’t burn bridges or mince words.

Not exactly. An adage is an old saying, a few words that express something considered to be a general truth or common observation. Since an expression must be around a long time in order to be considered an adage, labeling a phrase an “old adage” is redundundant.

 According to Wikipedia, an adage may be an interesting observation, practical or ethical guidelines, or a skeptical comment on life. As in the example cited above, they often involve a planning failure (as in don’t count your chickens before they hatch).

 But when is a phrase such as “don’t burn your bridges” something else? When an adage born of folk wisdom attempts to summarize a basic truth, it is known as a proverb or byword. An adage that describes a general rule of conduct is a maxim. A pithy expression that has not yet gained acceptance through long use, but is considered in particular good style is an aphorism, while one distinguished by wit or irony is an epigram.

 Don’t use a particular adage too often, however, because overuse can transform an adage into a cliché or truism. It’s sad to see an expression slide from “old saying” to “old saw.”

 In everything you write, it’s always important to find the right words, but it’s not always easy. A skilled editor can help get your points across effectively.


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Filed under Behind the Words, My Current Aggravation, Writing Tips

My Current Aggravation: Final Four Clichés

On the eve of the NCAA Men’s Division I Basketball Tournament Final Four, let me offer my own Final Four of phrases that are driving me into my own version of March Madness:

  • Ball screen: This is what we used to call a pick–a damn good, one-word description of the maneuver.
  • Matchup: As in a matchup between two teams.  In other words, a game.
  • Well coached: In a tournament that includes (at least theorectically) the top 68 teams in their division (out of 345), are any poorly coached? And exactly when does a team change from “well coached” to “extremely well coached?”
  • Score the ball: As in “this player can score the ball,” or what used to be just “score.” Do we really need to say “the ball?” What else is the player going to score?

Perhaps the best solution for Final Four watching might be to turn off the sound and listen to music instead. For those who prefer to listen to the commentary, remember to bring your red pencil as well as your beer–or just drag an editor along to watch with you.

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Filed under Behind the Words, Commentary, My Current Aggravation, Uncategorized, Writing Tips

My Current Aggravation: Well, Y’know

If I hear another  interview in which every answer starts, “Well, y’know…” I’ll scream.

C’mon, man!

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My Current Aggravation: “Well Coached”

Lee Corso (right) and Chris Myers on ESPN's College Game Day.

Just two weeks into the college football season, the TV commentators are already driving me crazy. My current  aggravation is describing a team as “well coached.” While some teams may play up to their potential more than others, virtually every team is “well coached,” according to Lee Corso, Kirk Herbstreit and the like. Except, of course, the teams that are “extremely well coached.”

It goes without saying that no team has ever been described as “poorly coached.” At the end of the season, some coaches will be 0-12 or 3-9.  Apparently it won’t be their fault.

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Filed under Commentary, My Current Aggravation