Wednesday, February 14, 2007

The Best Things in Life are Pink

The clothes, the hair, the music, the locations, the editing. One of the few movies I saw before age 10, ridiculously memorable in sound and image, and almost as good as I remembered it. Happy Valentine's Day, everybody.

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Blogger Patrick said...

Regarding Susan Orlean's piece on the extraordinary American paper folder, I had the following thoughts. First, I became curious about The New Yorker's hyphenization conventions because I thought I detected inconsistencies. I began recording instances of it and found that, actually, there is some sort of convention. When the two (or more) words together form, collectively, a single adjective, then they are hyphenated:


And that rule seems to hold throughout, so with adjectives they're consistent. With nouns and adverbs we do find inconsistency:

best-seller (n.)
finite-seeming (n., unexpectedly enough) versus
lamb chop (n.)

door-to-door (adv.) versus
back and forth (adv.)

Maybe it does operate by a rule, and we simply don't have enough entries in our data to capture the editors' rules. Looking at the adverbs, though, I see some motivation for hyphenating door-to-door but not back and forth: to say I went back and forth is grammatically correct without having to regard back and forth as a single unit, while *I went door to door is ill-formed in English.

If the hyphenated form would be, collectively, a noun, it is almost never hyphenated; however, best-seller is an exception to this. Interestingly, I saw that they hyphenated the adjectival paper-folding but not the nominal paper folding.

One area of sloppy inconsistency is with forms that seem to have been invented on the fly:



And mouse-ish reflects laziness on the part of the writer because English does have a word that's parallel to feline, bovine, equine, canine, etc., but for mice. It's kind of rare, however, and it took me a while to find it on Google: murine. We'll have to excuse them on the grounds that Orlean actually doesn't have a comprehensive vocabulary; had she, such rampant word invention wouldn't have been necessary.

Here is my next criticism of the article. We have established since the very first paragraph that the article's subject, Robert J. Lang, has left his job as a physicist to become an origami artist. In the following paragraphs Orlean explains the extensiveness of Lang's education and background--Caltech, JPL, papers and patents like crazy. Then she makes the point again, emphasizing it by pointing out that it's, ahem, 'chancier' than becoming a jazz musician, say. And in case we hadn't yet fully understood her point, she offers us this:

'What he did, after all, is analogous to, perhaps, quitting a job as a neurosurgeon to take a shot at becoming a professional knitter.'

Thanks, Orlean; your point had been lost on me until you drew this weak analogy.

Anyway, those are my thoughts. I like your blog!


1:48 AM  
Blogger zp said...

Yowza. That's some careful reading Patrick.

You should check out any and all comments made here by one Juniper Pearl. She was there for me during the whole Wikipedia "graduate-student lounge" incident. And at her blog, when she posts on TNY (I'm so inconsistent about writing it this way!) she often posts on the punctuation and grammar errors.

She just commented on my "Vampire Bats" post and her comment contains, well, more than one hyphenated modifier.

You might also like the recent post at Emdashes on recurring odd words in a given issue of TNY.

I'm more likely to notice something like the gratuitous analogy you found. The way you put it, it sounds SO familiar that I suspect that TNY has a habit of sort of punctuating paragraphs with an analogy for analogies sake.

8:48 AM  
Blogger zp said...

ps. Thanks to Andy Horbal for the PowerDVD tip, which made these new stills (I haven't done this since college!) possible.

9:25 AM  
Blogger JJB said...

I love the kind of reading Patrick is doing here.

I think with the hypenated adjectives there is some flexibility. The editors drop the hyphen, I believe, when the adjective succeeds the noun, as in These socks aren't knee length!(something I've never uttered, by the way), and also if there in no risk of misattribution.

E. B. White has written somewhere that if you are looking for a coherent house style, don't look at the New Yorker.

The one I had a question about recently was in Goldberger's Feb. 5 comment that "Jane Jacobs's views were on the ascendant."

Does that strike you as odd? Ascendant, perhaps, or on the ascent, although I guess you could be on the offensive or defensive, so the adjective may be usable.

12:16 PM  
Blogger JJB said...

Happy Valentine's Day, ZP.

12:18 PM  
Blogger zp said...

On the ascendant. I don't love it.

1:35 PM  
Blogger juniper pearl said...

i am there for any and all in need of grammatical aid, zp. it's my lone superpower. sure, i'd have loved telekinesis, and there's still every chance i'd trade, but for now i'm making do with what i've got. i do tend to pick on the new yorker's typos with extra zeal, but that's just because they're typically so few and far between, and because i'm so jealous of the people who get to proof the magazine's copy.

I think with the hypenated adjectives there is some flexibility. The editors drop the hyphen, I believe, when the adjective succeeds the noun, as in These socks aren't knee length!

this is, very simply, the rule. phrasal or compound modifiers are hyphenated preceding a noun or adjective and open following one, with a few exceptions. the new yorker is generally consistent in applying this rule, but nobody's perfect. they also employ some outdated hyphenation, such as in descriptions of colors (e.g., sky-blue sweater). i don't know how "door to door" was used when you spotted it, patrick, but it would be appropriate to hyphenate it or "back and forth" when the phrase preceded a noun, and unnecessary, though not truly incorrect, in a sentence like "i went door to door," which i think is fine english.

"mouse-ish": uncalled for. i assume they thought it conveyed a cutesyness that "mouselike" or "mousy," and almost certainly "murine," would not. some of these unconventional words are written as they are for sentimental, stylistic purposes.

i don't love "on the ascendant," either, but "ascendant," while more commonly used as an adjective, is a legitimate noun.

10:50 AM  
Blogger zp said...

Telekinesis rocks. jp, You have read "The Girl with the Silver Eyes" haven't you? I think you'd love it. Just a hunch.

2:29 PM  
Blogger juniper pearl said...

you know, i haven't read it, because when i first heard of it it struck me as such a shameless x-men ripoff, and being the marvel addict that i am i was endlessly offended by that. but i'm loving heroes, and i'm all atwitter about the final harry potter . . . perhaps i've grown more forgiving in my old age. there are only so many ideas to go around, after all, and if you're going to borrow from one, stan lee's are pretty good. besides, "thalidomide" is such an alluring word . . .

9:54 AM  
Blogger JJB said...

JP -- very crisp. I like.

In compound adjectives preceding the noun, doesn't it come down to the writer's judgement of whether dropping the hyphen will create confusion?

"I ate three pickled onion pancakes" should take a hyphen, but, as you mentioned, "sky blue sweater" doesn't need one.

By the way, in your view, is "the writer" a he or a she?

12:09 PM  
Blogger juniper pearl said...

it is ultimately a matter of smoothing out the reading, jjb. the context of the material and assumptions about what sort of language the reader will be familiar with should both come into play. for example, the new yorker might hyphenate something like "mental health," just to be on the strict and safe side, whereas an academic publication, or probably even a newspaper, would leave it open, assuming (i'd say correctly) that most people would figure it out without too much effort. the general rule about compound modifiers exists as a guideline, and like all guidelines it is open to tweaking and disregard.

i'm not sure i understand your question about the writer's gender. are you asking if i prefer "he" or "she" when referring to an anonymous or indefinite party? if so, i tend to go with "he or she." it's sometimes cumbersome, but it's always fair.

10:07 AM  
Blogger rock_ninja said...

I knew I wasn't the only eighth-grader with an imaginary boyfriend named Tom Mozart.

10:44 AM  

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