© 2008 -- 2011 the Grandpa at The Word Mechanic. All rights reserved.

Monday, August 31, 2009


It's time to share some of my own writing bloopers. Here's two I made -- among several-- in an article I wrote today. The first one I caught before I sent the article to the editor. The second one I just saw.

1) I was writing about using plug-in timers that turn your lights on and off when you're away on vacation and I wrote:

"Look for timers that have battery backup so they'll still work if there's a power failure."

(I meant so the time would still be accurate.)

2) I just now saw this one:

"Always park your car in the garage with the garage door closed when you are there."

(That sounds dangerous no matter how you read it. I think I meant "Always leave your car in the garage with the garage door closed when you are home.")

Sunday, August 30, 2009

10 years ago in Boston

This is well worth the 10 minutes it takes to watch.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Thinking about the reader

Here’s the “lead” paragraph from an article for the web I edited the other day:
For some expectant moms, even the slightest ache or pain can trigger a five-star alarm and trip to the doctor, but other pregnant women may well ignore a potentially serious warning sign because they think it is a normal part of pregnancy or they fear of being the girl who cried wolf.
This is from a professional writer with an impressive list of credits, including Woman’s World magazine, Arthritis Today, and the Wall Street Journal. The writer has a graduate degree in journalism, and has won awards for online reporting. I can only assume the writer was having a bad day. (Actually, what I really assumed is that the writer is used to having her work very heavily edited and simply doesn't care.)

That one-sentence paragraph has 52 words and a Flesch-Kincaid grade level of 21.7. And can someone please tell me what a five-star alarm is? I know there is a product called a FiveStar Alarm that can be used to detect levels of dangerous gasses. So the writer may have been trying to use a metaphor, but I don’t think it works. I didn’t know there was such a product until I googled it, and I doubt many readers would know either. But what I really wonder is why a writer for whom English is not a second language would turn in an article with the phrase “they fear of being the girl who cried wolf." All that tells me is the writer didn’t bother to read any of the text before turning it in.

S and I were having dinner a few weeks ago with some close friends who are professional communicators like us, and at one point in the discussion the issue was raised about whether or not every assignment was equally important. J, an editor whose work I especially admire, said, “No, some assignments don’t matter. The job is just to get them out there.” Her point was that if an editor or a reporter treated every piece he or she is working on as if it needed to be perfect, the pieces that did truly matter might never get done.

I tend to agree with J. But that’s because I understand she wasn’t saying that there was any excuse for shoddy craftsmanship from a professional. And it doesn’t excuse a professional communicator for not considering the audience. You put out the best you can in the time you have with the attention it deserves. But if it isn’t clear, if it isn’t accurate, if the language isn’t at least used properly, you don’t present it.

If the writer of the one-sentence paragraph had any concern at all for the readers or for the subject matter, the paragraph might have looked like this:

For some expectant moms, the slightest ache or pain triggers a major alarm and a trip to the doctor’s office. But other pregnant women sometimes ignore a potentially serious warning sign. They may think it’s a normal part of pregnancy. Or they may simply not want to be seen as the girl who cried wolf.

Saturday, August 22, 2009


There was a moment when he heard his lover’s voice
And thought he heard a language, that was more language
Than he had ever heard before. Like black granite
Dropping straight to the sea. Like wind on which gulls glide.

Her words were more varied than roses in sunlight,
Than the mottled maple outside his window when
The sky’s light lay parallel to the earth. And why,
He asked, had he not heard it before? Heard only

Filtered expressions of common speech? The next day
In a boat on the lake he listened to the lap
Of waves from a dying wake. Heard a cicada’s
Hum winding in the August air. Watched schooling bass

Churn the water no more than a pole’s reach away.
He lay down, his face to the sun, and tried staring
At it through the mesh in his hat. That night he walked
The concession area past where swimmers splashed

In the afternoon. At the end of the pier, two
Men sat in an anchored boat, their light a halo
On the silent water, and he heard it again.
In their talk, their words like ice on the quiet lake.

Originally published in A Matter of Mind, Foothills Publishing, 2004.
© copyright 2004, 2009 the Grandpa at The Word Mechanic Blog.All rights reserved.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Help Me I'm Reading and I Can't Get Up

I got a letter yesterday from a credit card company telling me of the changes in my "Credit Card Agreement." First, the letter provided a summary of the three changes. I assumed the intent was to use simpler language than the legalese used in the actual agreement. That way they could help me understand what the changes are. Very nice of them I thought. I do a lot of that same sort of thing for health consumers. That is I assumed it until I read the first summary. It felt like I was swimming in a tub of molasses:
Annual Percentage Rate for Variable Rate Accounts
The index for your account is changing from the Prime Rate. The new index will be the highest three month LIBOR (London Interbank Offer Rate) published in the northeastern edition of The Wall Street Journal in its Money Rates table at any time within the immediately preceding three months, including the month in which the index was determined, rounded up to the nearest one-quarter of a percentage point. As of July 1, 2009, your Margin would be the number of percentage points plus the index which would give you the same APR you now have on Purchases and Balance Transfers. This change is effective on the first day of your billing cycle that begins in April 2010.

They don't really want me to understand what they're doing, do they?

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Another sign of the times

Saw this at the gas station up the road from the house:
Guaranteed Gasoline

As opposed to what? Milk and honey? Everyone knows cars won't run on milk and honey.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

My latest publication is now on line

"Captain Lee" [click here] is now live on line at The Chimera, Issue 6. It's a sonnet sequence and was included as part of their "Feature Theme: poems in well-wrought form." It's the only sonnet sequence in the group.

I hope you spend some time with the e-zine reading the other poetry there as well as mine and then come back and let me know what you think. And I'll be happy to answer any questions about "Captain Lee," that you leave in the comments. It may take a couple of days, though. Our phones aren't working and neither is the DSL, and God Bless AT&T who can't tell me what's wrong or when they'll be fixed -- or even let me talk to a real person instead of their computer.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Sound Can Find No Home

Still, body stripped & blanket draped, you lie
where your final cries rise to mix with sounds
in undulant trees & descend disguised
as August noise. The waning day dies loud
with voice as evening winds laced with smells
of charcoal fires convey laughter from crowds
gathered about a store-front clown, and swells
from a calliope mount toward clouds
drifting in the silent advent of dark.
Sonant waves wash across your heaveless breasts,
but sound can find no home within the stark
confines of your lifeless form. Pulsing crests
pass unheeded, & grief’s urgent sobs die
at your ears. Life’s flood ebbs, returns, flows by.

Originally published in Red Jacket, 1993.
© copyright 2004, 2009 the Grandpa at The Word Mechanic Blog.
All rights reserved.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Another Signs of the Times

Name on a bakery in South San Francisco

Galli's Sanitary Bakery
I don't even want to guess what that means.

Had no Internet access for the past two days, but had a very close encounter with nature and with my most severe phobia. Will catch up next week.