Archive | December, 2020

The most wonderful rhyme of the year

22 Dec

I know it’s the season of goodwill, but seriously, what’s going on with the scansion here?

The queue at the Post Office was so long that there was plenty of time to critique the Christmas cards in the display. This one begins crisply, with a line of iambic tetrameter followed by a line of iambic trimeter: dee-DUM dee-DUM dee-DUM dee-DUM/dee-DUM dee-DUM dee-DUM. The pattern then repeats, to create one of poetry’s classic forms: the ballad stanza. Four lines of alternating tetrameter and trimeter, with the second and the fourth lines rhyming (an ABCB rhyme scheme, as we English students like to say). That’s the way the Rime of the Ancient Mariner was written. A strong start.

But no sooner have we got going than the form is subverted in the second verse: we switch to trochaic tetrameter and trimeter (DEE-dum DEE-dum DEE-dum DEE-dum/DEE-dum DEE-dum DEE-dum.) Or at least we do for two lines, before, disconcertingly, slamming back into ballad meter for the next two in a way that really throws you if you’re reading aloud.

Inside the card, the next two stanzas hold the rhythm, give or take the odd syllable. But then you get to the conclusion:

“Amongst” should be on the first line, not the second, to make the tetrameter (you could then insert “of” before “men” to make the trimeter). The third line is fine, but the last line … I mean, it’s great to see a bracchius (dum-DEE-DEE) in the wild, but how would you deliver this in performance? Perhaps it would be best to just break the fourth wall, catch your beloved’s eye and speak it as prose.

This card costs a solid £4.59 and is very high-end – heavily embossed, pretend gold leaf, two appliqué hearts floating on the front. There’s attractive decoration on the inside faces and an illuminated four-page insert. But, alas, the prosody doesn’t come up to the standard of the printing. Even given the amount that foil blocking costs, you’d think there would have been enough margin to bring in an editor for 10 minutes.

But anyway, no matter. Enough of the textualist Scrooging: it’s the thought at the end that counts. To everyone, wife or no, the blog wishes you a very happy Christmas.


Never wrong for … oh

8 Dec

It’s easy to forget things about people – that actor you liked, what year she died, what show she was in, what character she played. Or, as here in the Mail, what her name was.

That surname is given consistently throughout the text (although, interestingly, not in one caption). But the Mail’s readers were immediately on the case: it should be Chambers, not Chalmers.*

Previously, we have observed the Mail’s revise desk hastening to intervene after a faulty story has gone up, but they couldn’t save the day this time. Not that they didn’t stop by: the article was published at 16.08, then updated at 16.29, then again at 17.50, then again at 21.18. But each time the largest error went uncorrected, to the increasing dismay of the commenters below:

This is not to rejoice at the presence of an error in a rival publication. In fact, something similar happened to a newspaper very close to this blog years ago, when a notable media executive’s name was got wrong, with total consistency, all the way through a story about his career. But in the era of the internet, there is an extra pair of eyes scouring for this kind of error – the readership’s. And now they can let let you know when something’s amiss. Or they can if you’re listening to them.

At the Tribune, there is an industrious Office of the Readers’ Editor, charged with representing the newspaper’s audience back to it in matters of complaint and error. They discharge this duty with impressive assertiveness and what sometimes feels like, but surely cannot be, glee. The heart sinks as an email arrives beginning “CCing subs: I think the reader might have a point here …” above a brusque message skewering another howler that got through the newsdesk and two layers of editing.

The same is true of comments. As the tide of vituperation rolls on, we are less enthused about this kind of interaction than we used to be, but we still allow comments on many pieces, and when we do, they are moderated after posting. The Mail takes a different approach – according to its FAQs, comments are either premoderated (that is, checked before being allowed on the site), or, more frequently, not moderated at all.

Even unmoderated comments can be policed to some extent by other users by using the Mail’s “upvote/downvote” function. Unfortunately, the posts pointing out the Chalmers/Chambers error don’t appear in either the worst or the best top 10 as voted. Lost in the middle of 100-plus contributions, many readers may not see them – and, in this case at least, no one from the Mail is looking at all.

*Also, of course, the “late actress” did not play a “much loved actress”: Alice was a verger. You may also feel that there are some commas missing in that sentence, and perhaps one too few in the first part of the standfirst.