A Monthly Meditation on Branding and Language
From Your Favorite Copy Shop, Editorial Emergency

#40 (May 28, 2010): Moby Dictionary

In this issue we follow a certain White Whale into the wild waves of digital downloading; disambiguate some frequently conflated words in our never-ending struggle against the inadvertently nefarious Mrs. Malaprop; and bang the gavel in the court of Not Our Clients. Thar she blows!

How Melville Won the Content Wars

ImageA lifetime or so ago, I wrote a doctoral thesis on the novels of Herman Melville. I delved into fancy-pants theoretical methodologies, gathered up historical and critical context, employed assorted academic straw men and spun my own far-flung exegeses, but the vast majority of my time was spent — sometimes gloriously, sometimes miserably — in the thick of Melville's fictional work.

His career started with success. Typee (1846), a South Seas travelogue-adventure narrative, became a bestseller, as did its hastily published follow-up, Omoo (1847). But Melville's authorial celebrity took a nosedive thereafter. By the time he was wrapping up Moby Dick in 1851, he despaired of ever making money or reaching audiences again. "Dollars damn me," he wrote to friend and confidant Nathaniel Hawthorne, adding ...

Read the rest here.

Flashcard: Mrs. Malaprop Lives!

ImageI listen to a lot of NPR (station of choice: KPCC).

Unless the correspondent is doing a "man in the street"-type interview, the subjects generally appear intelligent, educated and literate. At least they used to. I've heard several malapropisms in recent weeks, some of which are so common that I figure it's time I spoke up. (Spoke up again, that is; our longer-term readers may remember this.)

Committing a malapropism in a spoken context is harder to avoid than in writing; when you're speaking, "prostate" can just pop out of your mouth when you mean "prostrate." But when you're writing, you've got a moment to think about the word you're using. If you've got even the slightest doubt that you're using it correctly, you have the luxury of googling it. So google it. Because, frankly, nothing makes you sound or look like more of an idjit than using a malapropism.

Read the rest here.

Not Our Clients: Endearingly Enduring Edition

Far be it for us to suggest that SCOTUS justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is anything but adorable. Still, we can't help wondering if the New York Times had a spell-check mishap before spitting out the following:

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Awww, that is sweet. But we still think they meant "enduring."

Then again, perhaps this is an instance of Mrs. Malaprop striking again — in which case somebody at the Gray Lady needs a vocabulary lesson.

For other supreme errors of writing judgment, visit Not Our Clients. Ready to pursue legal remedy over some textual injustice? This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it If we vote to give it a hearing, you could be hearing some free songs thanks to an iTunes gift card, with which you might download such ditties as "I Fought the Law (and the Law Won)," "I Stand Accused," "Murder in My Heart for the Judge" or "Court and Spark" (not to mention anything by the Supremes).


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