July 25, 2010

Let's Talk D-Bags and Cereal, Killer

Those of you following crAAKKer for our D-Bag O' the Day feature will be pleased to learn that there is, in fact, an official spelling for the long-form version of "D-Bag":

The word is douche bag.  Douche space bag.  People will insist that it’s one closed-up word—douchebag—but they are wrong.  When you cite the dictionary as proof of the division, they will tell you that the entry refers to a product women use to clean themselves and not the guy who thinks it’s impressive to drop $300 on a bottle of vodka.  You will calmly point out that, actually, the definition in Merriam-Webster is “an unattractive or offensive person” and not a reference to Summer’s Eve.  They will then choose to ignore you and write it as one word anyway.

That's the definitive word from Lori Fradkin, writing at The Awl about her former copy editing days.  The former law review editor and grammar cop in me can relate to how being a language nit has its drawbacks:

The job has its perks—an accumulation of random knowledge, for instance—but it also has its side effects when you unintentionally drink the copy Kool-Aid.  Once you train yourself to spot errors, you can’t not spot them.  You can’t simply shut off the careful reading when you leave the office.  You notice typos in novels, missing words in other magazines, incorrect punctuation on billboards.  You have nightmares that your oversight turned Mayor Bloomberg into a "pubic" figure.  You walk by a beauty salon the morning after you had sex for the first time with a guy you’ve been seeing and point out that there’s no such thing as “lazer” hair removal, realizing that this may not be the best way to get to have sex with him again.

Now, I've been blessed with a natural talent for spotting errors in writing, which is quite useful in my line of work. The downside—other than being the unofficial editor for many in my firm—is being constantly jolted by errors while reading.  It can be tough to read a brief or online article when basic grammatical errors keep jumping off the page.  Typos happen, people can be in a rush, but some errors are just so basic I can't help but assume the writer is lazy or stupid.  If I ever start a grammar Taserlist, the first entries will be those who can't figure out your / you're or there / their / they're.  You've been warned.

Fradkin's article also made reference to serial commas, which have been discussed this week on the Volokh Conspiracy (a libertarian-leaning law blog).  David Post uses this example from the Robert Frost poem "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Night", to illustrate the change that can occur with the mere addition or subtraction of a comma:

(a) “The woods are lovely, dark and deep”

versus

(b) “The woods are lovely, dark, and deep”

I also enjoyed this example reported by Brendan Kiley at Slog:

This description, published in The Times, of a documentary by Peter Ustinov:

"... highlights of his global tour include encounters with Nelson Mandela, an 800-year-old demigod and a dildo collector."

Now, I know that most journalism style books eschew the serial comma, in large part because historically it saved time when typesetting printing presses.  Other writing manuals mandate use of the serial comma.  As for me, I use the serial comma because it helps avoid ambiguity, and frankly, in the age of computers and laser printers, how tough is it to add a comma?  Of course, I also use the serial comma because I'm a compulsive punctuater, in large part because I did a lot of public speaking in high school, and I punctuate as if I were orating.  So, the serial comma just feels natural when I write.

Now, I'm not saying that those of you who omit the serial comma are D-Bags.  After all, it's entirely possible you're merely dildo collectors.

11 comments:

  1. In my view, anyone who claims to have the definitive version of a slang term that has emerged in multiple variants in the wild, is in fact a douchebag.

    Sorry, couldn't resist.

    Furthermore, if current trends hold "douchebag" will fade away in favor of the shorter, punchier, and more fun to say "douche."

    Say it with me.... Doooooooooooouche.

    See?

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  2. This post amuses me because I also notice the smallest of errors in other people's writing and itch to correct them.

    Yet at the same time, when I write myself, I generally go so fast that I generate far more than my fair share of typos, mis-spellings, and punctuation errors. Because of the peculiar way the human brain works, reviewing my own writing rarely catches them all.

    So I know what you mean, but for informal material, give 'em a break.

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  3. @NT: It's "douche bag". "Douche [SPACE] bag". Two words. TWO! Is anybody paying attention to what I write?!? Mon Dieu!

    @MisterFred: I completely agree. No need to sweat the small stuff. When it comes to things like blog comments, I cut folks a lot of slack in the grammar department.

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  4. I agree with you 100 per cent.

    QL

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  5. During a poker game I was once called the name...douche bunt, which I was told was a combination of the "douche bag" and "c*nt". Yes, I won.

    (notice the commas?)

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  6. Back in the olden times of BBS and text Internet, there were similar folks. They were referred to as the Language Cops and it wasn't a compliment.

    Going back to the revolutionary area, language and spelling was more inventive. F's even worked for S's. Then folks structured their lives more and created openings for spinsters to instruct the youth in proper spelling and grammar.

    Lighten up; you aren't French with a rule book and unbending resolve that implies its deity.

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  7. I did read back over my comment and notice a couple of Gross Illiteracy that my old college instructor who would scatter GI in a red circle commentary across my submissions. I always thought it a bit of overkill. While many may say it works as gainful employment of liberal arts majors and such, it is actually a drain on the economy where they might benefit the nation more digging ditches.

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  8. on my taserlist:
    Restaurants that put "MENS" on the restroom door. It happens quite frequently and for the life of me I can't understand why the "s" is necessary or why there wouldn't at least be an apostrophe beforehand. And usually, the female counterpart door only says "WOMEN." Why not be consistently stupid?? I don't get it.

    Yes, I am an English teacher.

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  9. I was trained using AP style and spent about a decade as a working newspaper journalist. Serial commas make me want to smash someone over the head with a pica pole. Now, who wants to go through the trouble of finding me a pica pole?

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  10. @ Bob: "The Pica Pole Murders" sounds like a great TNT movie special event. Wonder what C-List stars and washed up actors we could recruit for that ...

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  11. I expect nothing less than Ian McShane as the hardened newspaper editor, Timothy Hutton as the recently laid-off beat reporter and William Fichtner as the detective desperate to solve the grisly murders.

    Wow, I'd see the shit out of that movie.

    [Please note the lack of a serial comma in this comment. Suck on that, Grange!]

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