I love Twitter, but I hate this book

December 15, 2009

I put off writing this review of “140 Characters” for far too long. The problem is, I love Twitter but I hate this book.

I think part of my problem with “140 Characters: A Style Guide for the Short Form” is due to its subtitle. The truth is, it’s not much of a style guide.

‘140 Characters’ isn’t about how-to help

140 Characters: A style guide for the short form

140 Characters: A style guide for the short form

In the 12 years I worked in newspapers, I turned to the Associated Press Stylebook for advice on everything from the difference between Baptists and Lutherans to the correct way to note the caliber of pistol ammunition. I still keep the stylebook close at hand. But the AP Stylebook is a practical, no-nonsense guide to how to construct discrete elements of whatever it is you happen to be writing, regardless of whether it’s a serious analysis of international monetary systems or a column about a new cartoon show on TV. It spends little space trying to inspire writers to write, encouraging them to be creative or gushing about the joy of being a journalist. Even the AP’s Guide to News Writing is more “how to” than “how marvelous.” “140 Characters,” on the other hand, seems mostly concerned with convincing the reader of the unbearable wonderfulness of using Twitter.

I love Twitter. It’s interesting and informative — dare I say wonderful? — and I use it every day. I really wanted to like this book, but I don’t have any time for 179 pages of syrupy evangelism for Twitter. If “140 Characters” had been subtitled something such as “Find your voice on Twitter” and presented as an inspirational tome, the book might have been easier to swallow and might have been more clearly targeted toward the kind of people who go to writers’ groups to talk about how great it is to be a writer.

Read the rest of this entry »


Sarah Palin goes ‘nucular’

October 3, 2008

Many observers of the vice-presidential debate between Democratic Sen. Joseph Biden and Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin noticed that Palin shares President George W. Bush’s mispronunciation of “nuclear” as “new-kyoo-lurr.” Why would an otherwise intelligent person mistake the correct way to say a word that isn’t any more difficult than “likelier”?

In a radio commentary from 2002, language expert Prof. Geoffrey Nunberg explained that in Bush’s case, the mispronunciation may be deliberate, a sort of modern shibboleth — a way to distinguish “us” from “them.” And in such cases, it’s used only for nuclear weapons. Could Sarah Palin be using “nucular” the same way?

In the mouths of those people, “nucular” is a choice, not an inadvertent mistake — a thinko, not a typo. I’m not sure exactly what they have in mind by it. Maybe it appeals to them to refer to the weapons in what seems like a folksy and familiar way, or maybe it’s a question of asserting their authority — as if to say, “We’re the ones with our fingers on the button, and we’ll pronounce the word however we damn well please.”

Bookmark and Share

via Geoffrey Nunberg – Going Nucular.

The ‘best’ in ‘pet’ ‘care’

April 6, 2008

Oh, dear. Where do I even start? I saw this sign outside a shop on Geary Boulevard in San Francisco the other day.


It’s perplexing on so many levels.

First, of course, is the simple misspelling.

But there are more important matters. I don’t think I’d take my dog somewhere where they used “anesthesia” instead of anesthesia. I mean, what do they do, give the dog some sort of homemade medication? Hit it over the head? Slip it a placebo? Get it drunk?

And “free” obviously means something new to me, since it still costs $105.

Or maybe I’m reading it wrong altogether. Maybe what they mean is that the procedure is simply free of anesthesia, and Fido is going to have to just tough it out.

Two tips for getting along with editors

October 25, 2007

One of the biggest early-career challenges for many professional writers is learning how to get along with editors. It doesn’t have to be hard — just keep in mind what editors need.

Read the rest of this entry »

Five tips for every writer

October 8, 2007

As a journalist and opinion writer, my experience is with expository and persuasive writing. But most writing shares common issues and processes. Here are five tips that should save beginning writers some headaches and serve as reminders for those with more experience. I’ll explore some of these tips in more detail another time, but for now I hope you’ll find the ideas helpful. Please tell me what you think, and comment to share tips of your own.

Read the rest of this entry »