2/23/2008

Dessert lovers will get their just deserts

Readers who knew Mr. Rewrite before he became Mr. Rewrite might recognize this graphic. He's resurrecting it in honor of a lesson learned courtesy of the Dallas Morning News. The lead copy editor for the opinion section notes that readers who cry foul when they see "just deserts" -- it's "just desserts," they contend -- are incorrect.

This one somehow escaped Mr. Rewrite during his four-plus decades on the planet. He's clear that a desert has sand and a dessert has ice cream on it. "Just deserts" makes use of neither meaning. Deserts in this case comes from the word deserve. Here's The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language's explanation, with thanks to Triangle Grammar Guide for the citation.

Here's everything else that's accumulated in Mr. Rewrite's virtual mailbox this week:

1) From across the pond, poor grammar in a restraining order lets a man walk free. The man was charged with breaching the order, which stemmed from an incident in which he allegedly threw stones and eggs at a neighbor's house. As he drew up charges, a prosecutor noticed that the restraining order was worded incorrectly and contained a double negative that technically encouraged the man to pelt the neighbor's house with rocks and eggs. An edited version of the order is now in place. Rah.

2) The Atlanta Journal-Constitution's public editor notes that published corrections dropped from 2005 to 2006 to 2007. Here's her column. But she says it's likely the paper just didn't catch as many mistakes. One apparent mistake that readers wish would go away, she says, is the use of "went missing" or "go missing" or "gone missing." Readers contend it's grammatically incorrect, and the public editor seems to agree. However, Mr. Rewrite found that "went missing" has been used in British English for at least a century and has attained the status of idiom in the United States. Here's William Safire's take. In most cases, especially when it's used by journalists citing law enforcement sources, Mr. Rewrite considers "went missing" an annoying bit of bureaucratic vagueness. But he guesses he can't slap anyone's hand for it. Darn.

3) Mr. Rewrite is noticing quite a few misspellings of Andy Pettitte's name as the media cover the baseball steroids scandal. Dozens of articles by those paid to know better spell his last name Pettite. But it looks like that will peak before Pettitte reaches the 100 mistakes necessary to make Mr. Rewrite's list of the Most Misspelled Names in the News, due out Monday. He will say that things are looking good for Oscar nominee Philip (not Phillip) Seymour Hoffman.

4) A newspaper in Bhutan lists its most humorous gaffes, including yellow crap instead of carp and a black-naked crane instead of black-necked.

5) A Tulsa World writer offers this nice take on the link between spelling and credibility.

6) Mr. Rewrite couldn't be happier that Jennifer Lopez had twins. This likely prevented hundreds of articles proclaiming that she had given birth to a baby boy or baby girl. Instead, most articles said she gave birth to twins. Mr. Rewrite has nothing against baby boys and baby girls unless they are included in this phrase: "... gave birth to a baby boy / baby girl." For some reason, writers faced with this construction feel compelled to clarify that the product of the birthing process is a baby. Perhaps they don't want us to mistakenly think that someone birthed a 15 year old. Click here for dozens of examples of women giving birth to baby boys and baby girls.

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