Archive | September, 2020

Technical challenge

29 Sep

I was sure there’d be more and of my ground. And there is! Zeugma has returned to the Sidebar of Shame:

This one’s a bit trickier to parse because of the lure of low attachment, but the verb that all the phrases are hanging off, with positively Flanders-esque ambition, is “had”. (So she didn’t take LSD, an affair and a trip to an orgy etc). After you click on the link (and who’s not going to click on this?), it further emerges that what is meant by “Sex drugs…” is in fact “Sex, drugs …”, not a dangerous cocktail of Viagra and bicarbonate of soda.

The article headline has also attracted a slightly Gollum-esque double plural on “hallucinations”, but the most disappointing thing is that the really click-inducing part of the headline, “affair with her mum’s best friend’s husband”, is absolutely nowhere to be found in the text.

One might surmise that it was in there originally before, perhaps, a nervous lawyer asked for it to be removed? The article went live on 27 September, last Sunday, and reports being modified 24 hours later. If so, it’s slightly alarming that it was removed from the text while remaining in the headline. But, whatever the reason, it’s clear that Mail Online’s revise-desk repair crew hasn’t caught up with this one yet, and at this point, another day later, you wonder if they ever will. That, as we have said before, is the problem with a policy of publishing first and revising later. As colleague Ben in the office puts it, “never wrong for long” often ends up meaning “always wrong for ever”.


Stunning figure (of speech)

15 Sep

New on the Sidebar of Shame, amid the barely-there beachwear, implied-object verbs and discontinuous transitions: zeugma!

And while J-Lo is “teasing her hair and new music”, Lewis Burton almost gets there by “brazenly flaunting his second holiday”, although for the true effect, of course, he would need to have been brazenly flaunting his manly physique and second holiday.

But it’s early days, and  there’s every reason to think Mail Online will master this new classical figure of speech  – after all, look at its command of hyperbole and euphemism. So what’s next? Naomi Campbell covering her face and Vogue Australia? Kim Kardashian pouring herself into a swimsuit and her work?

Just a copy-desk man

1 Sep

© Vintage Classics, 2008

Leaving aside the works of Franz Kafka, there can’t be many novels with more downbeat openings than Richard Yates’s The Easter Parade:

Neither of the Grimes sisters would have a happy life, and looking back it always seemed that the trouble began with their parents’ divorce.

In its sober opening chapter, we discover that the girls’ mother, Pookie, is a woman with aspirations whose “eyes remain bewildered”, and that their father is – yes – a copy editor. And it is he we meet straight away, when they travel down to see him at work at the New York Sun.

They are excited by the prospect: “Anyone could be a flashy, irresponsible reporter or a steady drudge of a rewrite man; but the man who wrote the headlines!” However, although Mr Grimes may be a hero to his daughters, he isn’t one to himself.

As they walked out across City Hall Park in the spring sunshine he held them both by the hand …

“City Hall doesn’t look like much, does it?” Walter Grimes said. “But see that big building there, through the trees? The dark red one? That’s the World – was, I should say; it folded last year. Greatest daily newspaper in America.”

“Well, but the Sun’s the best now, right?” Sarah said.

“Oh no, honey; the Sun isn’t really much of a paper.”

“It isn’t? Why?” Sarah looked worried.

“Oh , it’s kind of reactionary.”

“What does that mean?”

“It means very, very conservative, very Republican.”

“Aren’t we Republicans?”

“I guess your mother is, baby. I’m not.”


He had two drinks before lunch, ordering ginger ale for the girls; then, when they were tucking in to their chicken à la king and mashed potatoes, Emily spoke for the first time since they’d left the office. “Daddy, if you don’t like the Sun, why do you work there?”

His long face, which both girls considered handsome, looked tired. “Because I need a job, little rabbit,” he said. “Jobs are getting hard to find. Oh, I suppose if I were very talented, I might move on, but I’m just – you know – I’m only a copy-desk man.”

This is what one might call the Andrew Marr view of sub-editors: people with a “sense of insecurity, an edgy defensiveness”, inclined to moroseness and bound to their desks. It’s hard to avoid thinking that Walter’s profession might have been chosen to fit the whole mood of the novel: out on the rim, unfulfilled, looking on at the successful. So near and yet so far: the story of two nearly girls with a nearly man for a father.

But we know that isn’t true, don’t we? We know that sub-editors are the kind of people who can’t help but write 11 off-colour headlines for one story about a burger-chain sex scandal. The kind of people who pursue front-page running jokes that haunt public figures long after they’ve retired. Or the kind of people who put inflammatory words in other people’s mouths (CRISIS? WHAT CRISIS?) without ever giving them the right of reply. However profound one’s concerns about the ethics of such behaviour, it’s hardly the work of the defeated or the marginalised. Sub-editors, especially tabloid ones, are instigators. Not infrequently, we’re the ones causing all the trouble.