April 26, 2009

Hooked on Mnemonics

Being a writer naturally leads to a fondness for words. And when you study enough etymologies, eventually you reach a point at which you can figure out what words mean by looking at their roots.

But this can backfire sometimes.

A word that has tripped me up for years is solecism. It looks like it has the same root as "sole" and therefore should mean something like "singularity." But it doesn't.

Barbara Walraff once observed, back when she was editor of the "Copy Editor" newsletter (before its name was changed to "Copyeditor"), that most folks can get by with the dictionary that's built into Microsoft Word. And she's mostly right, except that it only gives you definitions, not etymologies. So grammar geeks like her and me turn to something that does.

Figuring that knowing its etymology would help me remember what "solecism" really means, I looked it up at Merriam-Webster, my favorite online dictionary.

Here's what I learned about the origin of solecism: "from Greek soloikismos, from soloikos speaking incorrectly, literally, inhabitant of Soloi, from Soloi, city in ancient Cilicia where a substandard form of Attic was spoken."

That should do it. I don't think I'll ever again forget what solecism means.

April 17, 2009

Following too closely

Following up on a press release is not an unforgivable sin, just a minor annoyance.

Understand that the press release file is to a newspaper what the slush pile is to a book publisher: a big mass of unsolicited submissions that may or may not see the light of day.*

A follow-up phone call or message asking about the status of a press release usually requires the editor to dig through that big pile -- if she is so inclined -- to find it. Mind you, now that most releases are sent by e-mail, this is a lot easier than it was back in the day when we actually had to dig through real piles of dead tree matter.

If you believe your story is truly a perfect fit for the outlet, then yes, a follow-up call or message to point out that perfectness is allowable.

But following up Friday on a press release sent Thursday is following a little too closely. Give it 3 business days, at least. By then, it might actually have been read and slotted.

Helpful Hint: Your press release will stand out in the e-slush pile if you make the subject line as specific as possible. "Our Co. signs $3 million government contract" will get more attention than "Press release," even if the latter is about a $30 million deal.

* Sturgeon's Law applies in this matter, as in everything else: 90 percent of everything is crap. Including, I don't doubt, 90 percent of all blog posts.