or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Wednesday, December 21, 2005


From an article today in Slate.com about the impossibility of making computer chips any smaller using current technology:

Another technique, spearheaded by a Duke University chemist, involves placing nanotubes in a solution and basically gluing them to the microchip. A third, practiced by engineers from Cambridge University and Samsung, uses lithography to seed silicon wafers and create "nanoelectromechanical system switches." Finally, Nantero, a Massachusetts-based startup, has created a prototype consisting of carbon cylinders that lay on ridges "like planks on sawhorses."

Is it even possible that they no longer teach 1) that "lay" and "lie" are not synonymous, 2) that "lay" is the past tense of "lie", and 3) that mixing them up makes you sound like a boob? Is it even possible that a professional writer doesn't know this? (Yes, I considered the possibility that that clause was intended to be in the past tense, and I rejected this, because the entirety of the paragraph is in the present tense: it wouldn't make any sense to suddenly switch to the past tense. It's clearly a mistake.)

And from Salon.com's woman-oriented Broadsheet column/blog:

Of course, the trouble that Morris' lexicon skips over is the near impossibility of building concensus on when the transition from zygote to fetus occurs. Morris doesn't set a date, but implies that it's during or shortly after the first trimester. And he doesn't tackle situations in which the mother's health may be compromised by carrying her pregnancy to term.

Salon may not have any copy editors, but the writers should at least spellcheck, goddammit! Spellcheck!

"Concensus" is wrong. The word is "consensus", which is not related in any way etymologically to "census". "Census" comes from Latin "censere", "to assess", which is also the root of "censor", someone who assesses and finds to be objectionable, and from there "censure", to criticize or rebuke. "Consensus", on the other hand, is also Latin, but is composed of the prefix "con-", meaning "with", and "sentire", "to feel"; to reach consensus is to feel in the same way about something. (This is also an older meaning of the obviously related "consent", which later evolved into its current, related-but-different meaning. "Consent" now means "to assent to", and "assent" and "consent" have that same root, "sentire": the only difference is the prefix, which in the first word is "ad-", "towards", altered over time to make it more euphonious--exactly as Latin "com-" was altered to the "con-" in "consensus".)


Blogger Tony Pius said...

Salon may not have any copy editors, but the writers should at least spellcheck, goddammit!

I'm obscurely gratified to notice that you also use the two-m spelling of "goddammit."

Every so often I run across "goddamnit," a perfectly legitimate compression of the actual phrase that nevertheless gets up my nose because of the jarring "n." I always take a split second to spot the "n," process it, think "No, I don't need to prounounce it," and move along.

I suppose losing the visual cue of the space is what triggers it -- I certainly wouldn't write "god damm it" unless I were doing a piece in dialect.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005 3:29:00 PM  
Blogger pyramus said...

"Goddamnit" may by more, well, accurate, but as you say, it forces you to stop (it has exactly the effect on me), and so it drags you out of the writing, which is never a good thing. So "goddammit" it is for me. I have the same response to "crumby", which may be more etymologically supportable than the spelling I use, "crummy", but which is also confusing, because it makes you think, "'Crumby'? As in 'Gumby'? Or as in 'dummy'?" Sometimes literal correctness has to take a back seat to comprehensibility.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005 8:12:00 PM  

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