Tuesday, August 24, 2010

What I Wear to Work

One hears mixed things about American Apparel. On one hand, the company employs American apparel-factory workers at good wages and is 100 percent "sweatshop-free." On the other hand, one can't help hearing all sorts of unsavory things about CEO Dov Charney and the general culture of sexual harassment that he allegedly promotes in stores and in corporate offices.

I try to block all that out. But recent news of the company's looming bankruptcy has definitely caught my attention—because American Apparel is what I wear to work.

Specifically, I'm talking about this shirt (worn here by a model): A long-sleeved jersey shirt with a collar and a three-button placket. It comes in a dozen colors (I have two in black, two in navy, two in olive, one in pink, and two in gray).

Figuring out what to wear is frequently difficult for me, and this shirt has been a go-to for several years now. It's cut for a slim person (many dress shirts hang like caftans on my narrow shoulders). It's suitable for almost any situation, including work (in the casual environments I work in, at least)—and you can dress it up if need be with a not-too-structured jacket or a sweater. It's good in all sorts of weather and it doesn't need to be ironed. I think of these shirts as my "uniform."

In short, it's the perfect shirt to wear to work. Last week, I went to the online store to stock up—it seems the company is in truly dire straits. They're running low on many colors. Navy is no longer an option. (And I can't wear "mint," not with my coloring!) It seems I may soon have to find something new to wear to work.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Sentence Edit of the Day

Here's a minor redundancy I correct several times a week:

"including ... and more": Growing sectors include technology, sales, human resources, and more.

The redundancy here is that "including" (or "such as" and similar terms) indicates that the list is not complete—so saying "and more" isn't necessary. You can say:

Growing sectors include technology, sales, and human resources.

It means the same thing.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Sentence Edit of the Day

I think that many people imagine an editor's job or a copy editor's job as primarily, I don't know, placing commas in the right places and removing apostrophes from plural nouns.

And there's a lot of that, true. But I find that most of the line-to-line editing I do is about making sure that things make sense—that a writer is truly saying what he or she means to say. Even if a sentence's context makes its meaning very clear, errors of sense or logic can harm the impression a piece makes (even if the reader doesn't know why).

Here's today's sentence as it came to me:

An undergraduate degree is expected to succeed in HR consulting.

And here's the rewrite:

An undergraduate degree is generally required for success in HR consulting.

This problem sentence points out a lesson I've included in the first day of any copyediting or grammar class I've taught: Make sure you know what your sentence's subject is, what the subject is doing, and what it's doing that thing to.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

The Perks of Business Travel and What I've Read Recently

I returned yesterday from a business trip to Boston; the business part of it went very well, though I didn't get to see much of Boston—aside from some office space (albeit lovely office space) and what I could see from a moving car (it looks like a gorgeous city, and I hope to visit again soon).

On my flight from San Francisco to Boston, I got upgraded to the first-class cabin—I love first-class flying. It's so civilized. And when I'm in the first-class cabin, I don't have that self-conscious feeling that the people in the first-class cabin are looking down at me: "Look at that poor slob, sitting in economy. Why do they let people like that even fly?"

I never think that way when I'm in first-class--but I do sit up just a little bit straighter.

The passenger next to me on this flight was a charming older woman with a heavy Boston accent and a lot of coral jewelry. She drank four G&Ts and ate a great number of M&Ms ("I only eat candy in airplanes," she said) in the first couple of hours of the flight. We chatted sporadically about her daughter's marriage (failed for complicated reasons), San Francisco real estate (expensive, but living in the City is probably worth it), and our mutual enjoyment of the TV show True Blood. Then she watched the in-flight film, Iron Man 2, which she deemed "garbage but OK for a plane."

I felt we were kindred spirits—not that I usually chit-chat on planes. In fact, I avoid talking to strangers. (Most strangers are, I'm sorry to say, not people I want to meet.)

But I do feel that being on a plane is an excuse to relax my life rules.

I love to travel, and I used to love flying. Being at an airport was exciting. But airport security has gotten so degrading and stupid, and air travel in general has gotten so crowded and humiliating, that airports now put me in a terrible mood. So I have two airplane rewards:

Reward 1: No matter what time it is, if I'm on an airplane, it's cocktail hour.

Now, of course, if I have work to do, I'll just sip a glass of wine. Or if it's morning, I'll see about a mimosa (curse United, which now serves champagne only on international flights). But if I'm on a plane, I get a grownup beverage. That's that.

Reward 2: I get to read books and magazines that will not make me a better person in any way.

Trashy pulp novels. Tabloid magazines. Celebrity biographies. I have so little time to read these days, that I feel guilty if what I'm reading isn't serious literature, somehow educational, or somehow good for my professional development. On planes, I read to escape (unless there's a good movie to escape with).

So here's what I read on my last three flights:

"Lips Unsealed," the new memoir by Belinda Carlisle: The Go-Go's lead singer had a serious drug problem, which this book documents in shocking detail; however, the book is also full of fun celebrity gossip (especially from the 1980s music scene) and lots of interesting stuff about the development of a major pop star. I recommend it as an excellent example of the genre.

"The Night Watch," a novel by Sarah Waters: OK, this might actually qualify as serious literature. But I love Waters so much that she must be bad for me. This was an amazing novel set in London during the Second World War, told backwards chronologically. It took my breath away.

"Eating the Dinosaur," a collection of essays by Chuck Klosterman: This qualifies as a guilty pleasure because I know what I'm going to get from Klosterman (he's preaching to the choir, with me)—these very funny essays raise mind-boggling questions about the nature of self, the nature of reality, and how technology and the media warp both (and perceptions of both). Did I mention they were funny?

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Those People

I don't know why so many writers pick this tic up, but it's woefully widespread: using those in place of people.

In most cases, it sounds at least a little stilted (and it can be rather confusing).

Here are some examples taken from the Web:

"U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham said those who turned over more than 90,000 classified war documents to the WikiLeaks website 'have blood on their hands' and must be found and prosecuted." Why not "people who"?

"Touched by childhood tragedy, Betty Chinn brings hope to those who have fallen on hard times." "People"?

"There are those who launch businesses, and then there are those who do it again and again." Why not "There are people" or "There are entrepreneurs," to be more specific?

I'm OK with the determiner those referring back to an antecedent noun if it has already been mentioned. It's when the noun hasn't been mentioned yet that things run the risk of getting confusing.

I understand that using those this way echoes an archaic way of speaking common in lofty quotations: "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it," for instance (thanks, George Santayana).

To my ears, this sounds too mannered for modern writing.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

What to End a Sentence With

HotJobs recently made it to the Yahoo! homepage with the story "7 Jobs to Skip College For." And we got many concerned letters about the title. This is an example:

The title of this article is "7 Jobs to Skip College For" and contains two grammatical errors. Never start a sentence with a number. Spell it out, like "Seven Jobs." Also, the title ends with a preposition, which is another mistake. It makes more sense to write the title this way: "Seven Jobs that Don't Need College Degrees." If you are going to skip college, at least take an English class!Melissa

I don't normally answer comments, but the uninformed nature of this one makes it irresistible.

1. This is not a "sentence." It is a headline. Headlines often begin with numbers. I don't know how Melissa has made it through a grocery-store checkout line without noticing that numerals in headlines are rather the norm.

2. You can, in fact, end a sentence with a preposition (I'll note again, though, that we are not discussing a sentence). Anyone who says you can't has never, I assure you, opened a grammar or usage book (or any reputable book on writing or editing) and is, instead, relying on a "rule" passed down by an ill-informed sixth-grade teacher. The ban on sentence-ending prepositions is a centuries-old myth that has been thoroughly debunked.

(Further, I suspect that a person who believes this myth doesn't closely read much of anything. How could a person possibly read the printed page's countless sentence-ending prepositions—which appear daily in the finest periodicals and are used by the world's most highly esteemed writers and editors—and not begin to doubt it?)

3. Melissa's suggested title makes far less sense, in fact. Jobs don't "need college degrees." People need college degrees to get jobs. Also, in a title-case headline, the word that should be capitalized. I would love to ask Melissa if she knows why.

If you're going to correct someone's grammar, please make sure you know what you're talking about.