Saturday, February 25, 2012

It's an Epidemic

We are experiencing an epidemic in this country. You see the signs everywhere. Literally.

The typo virus infects one out of every one Americans—at least the semi-literate ones with access to a keyboard. Many would like to think it hasn't hopped the Atlantic and infected Europe—they're just too smart over there, you know—but I think we're kidding ourselves about that. We just don't speak their funny languages well enough to recognize the symptoms.

There are all sorts of pictures floating around the Internet of people holding hand-lettered signs that mangle words. Yes, they're funny, but at least they have the excuse of lacking a spellcheck feature in their Magic Markers.

What do you make of a national magazine's Web site's story on “Essential Gear for Smart Travel” that includes a recommendation for “Tumi Wheeled Garmet Bag”? Or a New York Times opinion piece that warned of “the usual gang of fearmongerers"? Actually, I'm giving the Times the benefit of the doubt, because I'd hate to conclude that they think "fearmongerer" is a word.

Another magazine's Web site included a list of movies appropriate for Valentine's Day and included the most recent version of Pride and Prejudice with this description: "Matthew Macfadyen woes the brilliant Keira Knightley." Well, he really does "woe" her until she comes to her senses.

Also on the list was 1945's I Know Where I'm Going, in which Wendy Hiller heads to Scotland but "on the way she meets dashing navel officer Robert Livesey." I don't want to think what a "navel officer" is.

It really matters what keys, and in which order, you press when creating a written communication. Pay attention, America!

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Laissez les bons pralines rouler

Mardi Gras is almost here. I can tell because purple, green, and gold masks and beads have come out of hiding to brighten cloudy February days. So it's a good time to tackle a New Orleans-style controversy—how to pronounce "praline."

I say "praw-leen." Always have; always will. I was in college before I heard the other pronunciation—"pray-leen." Now I rarely hear anything else. It's disturbing. My handy computer dictionary does not even list a second pronunciation, smugly assuring me that "pray-leen" is correct.

On the other hand, my trusty OED and Merriam-Webster at least offer the option of the traditional Southern pronunciation. The folks at say that outside the South, "pray-leen" rules, but "a praline is what we are providing here at and the pronunciation is PRAW-leen."

That's the spirit.

Here is a recipe for traditional pralines. They're so rich, you may want to stash a few in a safe-deposit box. You're on your own if you want to make pray-leens.

1-1/3 cups sugar
2/3 cup brown sugar
1-1/3 cups water
1/8 teaspoon salt
2-3 cups pecans

Dissolve all ingredients except pecans over low heat; bring to a boil. Cover and cook about 3 minutes. Uncover and cook to 234 degrees (soft-ball stage). Remove pan from heat and cool to 110 degrees. Beat until candy thickens and loses its gloss.

Drop large spoonfuls onto to wax paper. Work quickly as it gets too thick very quickly.

[This recipe is from the yellowed pages of the copy of Joy of Cooking I received as a wedding present. And, yes, in my thinner youth, I made these wonderful pralines. Those were the days.]

Friday, February 10, 2012

Who Will Edit the Editors?

Roman poet Juvenal asked "Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?" Who will guard the guardians? Here was a guy who understood human nature. In this time when we so often defer to experts, it's good to keep in mind that we are all caught in the snare of feeble humanity. Even those experts.

I've been reminded of this bit of wisdom lately while visiting blogs on writing. Sure, anybody can put their two cents out into the blogosphere ("Right you are, Word Crank!"), but if you're writing about writing, wouldn't you think you'd try to write right?

Don't misunderstand. I'm not pointing a shocked finger and saying "How dare you, sir?" In many cases I know how they dare—it was a mental blip that spellcheck was unable to detect. This happens to me, too. Yes. (I know you're stunned.)

That's what happened to a guy who has an excellent blog that calls the Writer's Digest Web site its home. You can't have a better platform than that, for credibility and traffic. Even so, he wrote: "Plus, remember this key tenant of marketing: …"

Is the key tenant the guy in the corner office? Don't all the tenants have keys?

Other mistakes are harder to explain. Actually they are easy to explain. They are just harder to forgive.

Here's a published author analyzing the appeal of cozy mysteries: "The heroes are real people, ordinary citizens like you or I…" Ick. I know we hear this horrendous misuse of the first person pronoun a lot these days, but come on, writers. We're better than that.

Now this one I have a harder time understanding: "I'm currently looking for anybody who is in the process of promoting their first novel, either through a mainstream publishing house or through the self-publishing route, who would be willing to share a little bit about themself…"

Themself? Spellcheck would definitely catch that. As I write it, it has put an angry dotted line beneath this pseudo-word.

Letting that ridiculous mistake make it onto the Information Superhighway is like walking out the front door with your shoes on the wrong feet and your dress on backwards. Sure, you're dressed, but you're not inspiring confidence.