The annoying nature of your irritating behavior really aggravates me

An in-class exercise asked us the difference between "aggravating," "annoying" and "irritating." Feeling excessively responsible, I grabbed a dictionary to look them up.

The first word under the entry for "annoying"? Irritating.

How aggravating. How is that supposed to help me distinguish the subtle distinctions between these words? Fail, Webster. Not quite epic, but still a fail.

Then again... if Webster makes little distinction between these words and if most speakers confuse them or use them interchangeably, can we really say these fine degrees of distinction exist?

To precisely use words that express precise ideas is a great tool for great writing. But when the lines between words become so blurred that readers don't recognize the difference anymore, then who is going to appreciate all of our dictionary searching and stylebook scouring to find just the right word?

Choosing the right word is important -- but it's equally important not to cling onto fine-grained distinctions that may not really exist anymore.


lines, cut and head

I think writing cutlines is extremely difficult. You have to say so much in so few words. But you have to tell the reader everything: where, who, when, maybe why or how, and maintain concision and interesting language. I always seem to leave one of those elements out.

I prefer headlines. I have less space, but that makes it easier. I know I need to be brief, and hopefully snappy and clever... but it is okay to leave some elements out. It is easier for me to come up with a two-word quip to draw in interest than to summarize a complex event in thirty words.

Then again, maybe I just *like* headlines better. There is more room to play, and to have fun. I like playing with language.


On my pink soapbox, burnin' a bra. 'cept I hate pink.

This rant has nothing to do with editing. But:

I think part of feminism is recognizing women's failings. The standard of blameblameblamelamentlamentlament isn't very productive, because it allows us to avoid looking at the problems, and our own role in them -- and our own role is what we have most control over, and can most easily change. So best to start there before turning to criticizing society.

Now, this said, two disclaimers: I know many strong women feminists, and simply by living so independently and by being such badass women, they help change things and provide inspiration to less badass women like me. Secondly, I cannot and will not speak for my parents' or grandparents' generations.

But for my generation, I think we are largely holding ourselves back by clinging to traditional roles. Yes, these roles are hard to transcend, but that's what makes it worthwhile.

I read an article in Self magazine last night in which a woman was writing to an advice columnist about how now that she started working part time her husband was griping about the hassle of shifting household chores. Shifting, probably meaning he actually has to do some now. And she wants to know, what can I do to ease this transition and the columnist says, explain to him how this is good for both of you and blah blah blah. What?! A husband is upset that he now has to participate in household chores while his wife works (only part time)? Well, since the '50s are over, it seems this husband should be told to suck it up and that he had a nice free ride for a while, which is now over, and that ovaries are actually not a requirement for washing a dish or changing a diaper.

But I don't think that husband is 100% to blame here. The wife in question clearly expected to do the majority of the housework from the beginning, and thus enabled the husband to believe that he was entitled to a free pass. And when things change, she further enables him by carefully treading to complace his ridiculous objections. How would it been if she would have talked with said husband about dividing the housework fairly from the beginning of the marriage? At this point, it is up to us to set the standards and set these precedents.

I have another friend who views herself as a strong, independent woman. In many ways, she is. But she still refuses to transcend traditional roles -- she wants a man to woo her, to ask her on dates, to pay for them. She refuses initiate
a date, but waits for the man to come to her. What kind of message does this send to men who are trying to participate in a feminist world? Well, it confuses the shit out of them. Are we equal, can we do the same things as them -- or not? Do we want chairs pulled out for us, or will we be offended?

Looking at myself, I too like to feel wooed and like it when a man offers to pay for me on a date (though I often refuse). But why do I want this offer? I tell myself I think it is a nice gesture for both parties (women should offer too), and that I am a poor graduate student. But I think it really ties into supporting traditional gender roles.

Look, I can buy a guy a drink at a bar, or buy my boyfriend flowers. (I once dated a guy who wanted me to buy him flowers; I thought that was very kickass.)

I think many feminists at this point would tell me that I am not helping the cause by criticizing women. I agree that society is a problem, but we make up 51% of society. And many of our actions and attitudes serve only to reinforce traditional gender roles. How can we make progress when we are part of the problem?

I think we all need to examine our own beliefs and intentions and simply ask ourselves where they come from. Am I cooking dinner for my boyfriend because I enjoy cooking (and do so for my friends too), or is it because I just expect to cook dinner? Next time a female friend complains that men never ask her out, or tells how her boyfriend took her to a nice dinner, or talks about all the laundry she does, just ask her why.


Peer editing

This week in class we peer-edited each other's papers, or rather, "coached" each other.

I find peer editing can range from extremely helpful to incredibly worthless, and it doesn't seem to depend on the person editing, but on the environment. I think it is crucial to develop a collaborative environment in which reporters, students or colleagues recognize that they can all work together to produce a better product.

I rarely find myself disagreeing with suggestions that others make about my writing, so any time I get a paper back covered in ink, I find it extremely helpful; this has happened a few times and my editors have pointed out things and suggested ideas I never would have thought about.

On the other hand, it is far more common that I receive a paper back with just a couple hesitating marks here and there; this is the only type of editing I find unhelpful. Unless we have that understanding and supportive environment, it is extremely difficult to feel comfortable marking up someone else's paper.

I find the same with my students. They have a workshop before each major paper in which they spend the whole class period working with various "compaƱeros" to improve their papers. I find it interesting that since we are working in a foreign language environment, students zealously mark grammatical errors with almost no hesitation. It seems less intrusive to correct second-language grammar than first-langauge grammar.

What is difficult is to get them to make meaningful comments about content. It isn't that they don't have meaningful comments to make, but just that critiquing content in this way is a very foreign experience. Many of the lesson plans I work from suggest very specific ways to elicit this feedback (How interesting is the title, on a scale of 1 to 5?), and this seems to be the best way to create meaningful critiques, as it gives direction rather than overwhelming students by giving them a free-for-all to critique any and everything.

Peer editing is a tricky thing.


street cred

Do typos really hurt someone's credibility?

I used to think not. Even brilliant academics make typos that sometimes go unchecked.

Last week in my reporting class, we received a handout about interviewing techniques by an apparently prestigious interviewer (whose name now escapes me), and I found three typos in about three pages. I wasn't even reading carefully at that point, so it's possible there were quite a few more.

And I thought, "Why should I read this? This guy probably knows what he's talking about, but he can't even take the time to clean up his typos." And it did hurt his credibility. And I did wonder if there were other errors, perhaps more important ones.

This is in part because I know how seriously journalists take these minor errors and how meticulously they normally try to avoid them. So either this guy was eschewing the standards of his profession, or he simply didn't care/edit carefully when writing this article.

So I wonder if it is just because I expect journalists to so carefully avoid any minor typo/misspelling/misplaced hyphen that I am immediately suspicious when they do. If the standards were a bit more lax -- not free-for-all, anything goes, but just less hyper-sensitivity to errors not affecting meaning -- would I (and readers) not take such errors to heart and not treat them as such serious damage to credibility?


Roman, Arabic, even, odd, manipulated...


I become very frustrated when numbers are misused, because as a former math major, I sort of love them like I love language. (Except differential equations, I could never stomach those nasty little things.)

I become more frustrated when people whose job it is to understand the numbers attempt to avoid them like I avoid phone calls from Blockbuster when my two-week-old movie is still in my DVD player. Hey, guess what... it's a journalist's job to deal with numbers.

That said, many journalists do not like numbers and would prefer not to spend their time crunching numbers. The number of numerical errors that slip into newspapers has been stated and restated ad nauseum.

Instead of pounding numbers into the heads of people who do not like them and who tend to be more word-inclined, it seems a solution might be to have a dedicated numbers editor. I know the last thing newspapers want is to hire more staff, but this would increase efficiency -- the numbers person, who knows what they are doing, could crunch all figures and stats, and edit any part of a story with any number whatsoever. Knowing what they were doing and unhindered by a dislike for the work, they would work efficiently and leave the reporters free to report and write and continue the rest of their one-man band. But maybe we could take at least this one man out of the band and give him his own instrument.


check this out!

Where this = everything.

This is what I now do, check every single little thing out to make sure it is correct.

Last year when I bought my AP Stylebook, I sort of thought the whole thing was silly. After all, the Stylebook is composed of arbitrary conventions that AP has decided its writers should use.

I started looking up words and phrases (Is it Capital Hill or Capitol Hill?) when I had to for my editing class on quizzes. But I quickly developed an editor's eye and began looking up suspicious words at all times. I found myself pulling out the Stylebook for research papers, memos, and even activities I design for my Spanish students.

It's not just the Stylebook; whereas before I found minor conventions to be, well, minor, I have begun to realize their importance. I find myself having the need to check things out where I would have passed over small details before.

In the letter of interest I just e-mailed to a prospective employer, I found myself googling the company name to find out if it is Proworld, ProWorld, or Pro World (the second is correct). It's not that I would have refused to do this before, but it probably wouldn't have even occurred to me. Look, I just looked up how to spell occurred in the dictionary. And this is my personal blog, and I never would have cared before.

My desire to know (not just the big stuff, but the devil of the details too now) is growing exponentially. This class is good for me.