or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Everybody's Wrong

Sometimes I feel like that kid in The Sixth Sense, only where he sees dead people and they scare him, I see millions and millions of typos and grammatical errors, and they piss me off.


I love Salon.com. I really do. But it's getting to the point that I figure I should start every posting by saying, "There were a bunch of mistakes on Salon today." Here's one from an article by Andrew Leonard called Rubber Match, about a lawsuit in the condom industry:

Or to put it more bluntly: Condoms, historically speaking, suck.

This is an opinion that men have likely always shared, whether binding themselves with linen sheaves, sheep gut or the latest in latex.

"Linen sheaves"? Sheaves of linen? Entire bundles of the stuff?

Honestly. One quick perusal by anyone other than the original author would have provided the correct word, "sheathes". It's easy for the writer to make this error, but difficult for a proofreader to miss it. There is no excuse for a mistake like this. None.


In Slate.com, in an article by Fred Kaplan called "Now They Tell Us", is the following:

During the question-and-answer period at the New America Foundation, he was asked where someone in his position should draw the line between loyalty and disclosure. He replied, "I feel like, as a citizen and as a person very concerned with the military … I need to speak out. … I think when you feel like what you might say has even a remote opportunity to affect some change for the good."

Sorry, colonel. You had far more than a merely "remote opportunity" to "affect some change" last November.

What the colonel actually had was an opportunity to "effect some change": the verb "affect" means "to cause to change", whereas the verb "effect" means "to cause to happen". People use them interchangeably all the time, though they are not interchangeable.

But wait a second: The colonel was speaking, and the two words do sound pretty similar in speech, unless your diction is unusually precise. The real problem here is the transcript of the exchange (it's here), which does in fact use the word "affect". Whoever made the transcript might well have spelled the word wrong; the original speech might have used "effect" correctly.

I doubt it, though, because the full sentence--which Slate abbreviates--reads as follows:

A less-than-glib answer is I think when you feel like what you might say has even a remote opportunity to affect some change for the good, that’s sort of my personal criteria.

As we know, "criteria" is a plural noun, and the preceding clause is clearly singular--the speaker himself marks it so by using the singular pronoun "that"--and therefore singular "criterion" is what he wants. Either the speechwriter or the speaker (perhaps they're the same person, though that seems to be rare these days) made a mistake.

To recap: Slate probably should have used "[sic]" to mark the erroneous use of "affect", the speechwriter ought to have written "effect" (assuming the transcriber used the printed speech as an aid to transcription), the speaker ought to have practised his speech and known to use "criterion", and the transcriber should have spelled "effect" correctly, however it was used in the original speech (since it was a transcription of the entire event including questions and not merely a photocopy). So let's just say that everybody's wrong. Except me.


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