Wednesday, August 06, 2008


Trolling for typos, grammatical errors and bad writing in the NYT is a big part of my morning newspaper ritual. You would think after Judith Miller and Jayson Blair, the soft-core stylings of the sports columnists, William Kristol and whatever-happened-to-Maureen Dowd, the Grey Lady’s gold standard-esque authority would be in tatters. But I still expect the Grey Lady to be, if not perfect, at least staid, decorous, conservative (only grammatically, of course). Instead, the Grey Lady inclines toward the loopy and you have to wonder who’s minding the prose.

Take this sentence from an article about Mayor Bloomberg’s Spanish tutor in Aug. 5th’s Metro section: “The tutor, Luis Cardozo, wore a suit — thin white stripes slicing light gray fabric that matched his yellow tie.”

Say what?

More in sadness than in anger, I must point out that gray fabric cannot match a yellow tie. Maybe it could comlement it, but that would depend on the particular gray and yellow in question.

Catching infelicities like that is a whole lot less disturbing than detecting new NYT tics and trends of language which tend to make me feel that the center is not holding, which is exactly how I felt when I noticed that the Times had used the word three times this week already, and it’s only Wednesday.

1. On August 4th, a front page article about a senate race in New Hampshire: “The maverick voters of New Hampshire love to keep politicians guessing. But this state, famous for its libertarian mojo, has shifted so hard toward the Democrats...” – Whoa, maverick and mojo in one paragraph. Talk about an embarrassment of vernacular vitality.

2. Elsewhere in section A was this: “Mr. Obama awoke in St. Petersburg, Fla., ready to talk about an ailing economy and saw this newspaper headline: ‘IT’S A RECESSION.’ The mojo should feel good.” – Hmmm, sounds like Barack's mojo is working, in case anyone was wondering.

3. The third mention was in Tuesday’s business section: “Dish appears to have lost its mojo when it comes to attracting new customers.” This happens to be a Reuters piece, so if the image of a satellite television provider even having a mojo, let alone losing it, makes your fillings ache, blame does not rest entirely with the NYT, but still.

Maverick is a word we’re all used to hearing more than we'd ever though possible or advisable, and we will until McCain, aka Senator “I-hate-to-talk-about-my-wartime-experiences” McMaverick, leaves the national stage. But mojo? When did “mojo” enter the national conversation? The NYT archive lists about twenty uses of mojo in its pages in just the last week. And what are they using it to mean? Not what Muddy Waters meant, I’d hazard.

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