or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Three-Wrong Circus

As I feel compelled to point out every now and then, I don't go looking for mistakes to carp about; that would be pathetic. But there are so many of them!

On HBO.com's website for Rome, the caption for a picture of a soldier's clothing reads "Centurian uniform". It isn't, because "centurian" isn't a proper word: the correct word is "centurion", from the Latin for "one hundred" (as in "century"), because the soldiers were grouped by the hundred. People seem to have a lot of trouble with "-ion" and "-ian"; "Dalmatian" gives a lot of people grief, too.

It seems clear that the online version of Time Magazine doesn't have any editors. From a story on the clothing retail The Gap:

Retailing is full of 360° turnarounds.

I've been over this before. It's 180°, not 360°. 360° brings you right back where you started. This should never have made it into professionally published writing.

And from an article about a new operating system:

Vista is secure, or at least it's securer. If that's a word.

That's a cheap, jokey rhetorical tactic: the writer should be embarrassed to be using it, and any editor worth his salt would have red-penciled it in a heartbeat. Of course "securer" is a word: a few second's research would have led the writer to Answers.com, where the comparative and superlative forms of "secure" are laid out: "securer, securest".

The rhetorical ploy, mind you, does have its uses; the above example just isn't a very good one. It's called "aporia", from the Greek for "impassable", and it's a figure of speech in which the writer (or his mouthpiece) pretends to be in doubt about something, often to comic effect. Here's a perfect example, from Oscar Wilde's "The Importance of Being Earnest":

Algernon: I hear her hair has turned quite gold from grief.
Lady Bracknell: It certainly has changed its colour. From what cause I, of course, cannot say.

"Aporia", by the way, might seem familiar, and it is: its root, "poros", is the same as English "pore" and "porous", because it means "passage".


Blogger Tony Pius said...

Nothing brightens one's day like a short burst of Oscar Wilde.

Did you see King Kaufman's Friday column? He's the entire sports desk at Salon, and although I always knew he was a right-thinking sort, I didn't realize he had a background in editing. All hail the King!

Sunday, January 28, 2007 12:20:00 PM  

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