Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Hi-ho, Soho!

I recently visited England in the company of my spouse—and the Bard of Buffalo Bayou, who tagged along mostly for the food and drink, of which he consumed copious quantities virtually around the clock. Among the places at which we dined sumptuously was the Côte Brasserie, an establishment on Wardour Street in the section of London known as Soho.

The origin of the name Soho is, like so much in England, rather foggy.  It’s an area roughly bounded by Shaftesbury Avenue, Charing Cross Road, Oxford Street, and Regent Street.  It’s noted for its restaurants and racy night life—from the latter of which the Bard had to be firmly diverted.  The site was farmland until 1536, when King Henry VIII converted it into a royal park.  The name Soho first appears in the 17th century.

Some authorities believe the word derives from an Anglo-French exclamatory cry by hare-hunters (like the fox-hunters’ “Yoicks” and “Tally-ho”) meaning “There goes the hare!”  Its use, says the Oxford English Dictionary, dates to 1307. Soho was also a rallying cry in 1685 for the army of the Duke of  Monmouth at the Battle of Sedgmoor, in which the rebel duke tried to seize the throne from King James II.  (He didn’t.)

Others think the ultimate derivation of the name is a shortening of “South Holborn.” Holborn, which comes from Old English holbourne (“holly bourne” or “deep brook”), referred to a stream that ran through the area.

New York has a similarly derived SoHo (the “H” is usually capitalized in the Big Apple), which is the area South of Houston Street.  Other catchy New York areas are abbreviated NoHo (which, of course, is North of Houston Street), TriBeCa (the Triangle Below Canal Street), and the Bard’s favorite—Dumbo, the area “Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass.”

In the few moments when he was not noshing on pork pies, steak-and-kidney pudding, toads-in-the-hole, bangers and mash, or pigs-in-a-blanket, washed down with pints of London Pride, the Bard doodled the following barely decipherable notes on the back of a serviette:

            “Now, sir, what will you have to start?”
            Inquired the waiter down in Soho.
            “I’d like to have a little tart,”
            The diner winked and chuckled, “Ho, ho!”
            The waiter brought a pastry cart,
            And the diner found the tart was no ho.

Monday, June 13, 2011

‘cq’ This!

Newspaper copyeditors traditionally work at a horseshoe-shaped desk, sitting around the outside, on what is called the “rim.”  Inside the U is the news editor, known as the “slot,” who doles out assignments to the editors around the rim.

In the days when copy was edited with a pencil instead of electronically, copyeditors developed a style of notation that typically involves unorthodox spellings.

When they wrote on a piece of copy "HTK," it meant "hed to kum”—or, in regular orthography, “headline to come” (later). A "dek" was the deck or sub-headline, and the "lede" (lead) the first "graf" (paragraph) of a news story. An update of a continuing story was called a “nu lede.”

These usages supposedly originated as purposeful misspellings of the editors' comments, so that linotype operators would know they were not part of the copy that was to be set in type.

One term of mysterious origin is "cq," a notation by a word or name with unusual spelling. It means essentially "this is correct—it has been double-checked, so don’t question it, even though it looks odd.” Some say it is from the Latin cadit quaestio meaning "the question is to be dropped." Others say it is a phonetic spelling of sic or "thus"—a notation used after a printed word or passage to mean “that is what is intended.”

Among radio operators "CQ" (ostensibly from the French pronunciation of the first syllables of "sécurité") indicates a general call for help, which was also interpreted to be a phonetic rendering of “seek you.”  But it's hard to make a connection between that usage and the editor's "cq."

At the paper where I worked, we also had to deal with the dreaded “B.O.M.”—initials for “business office must,” meaning a story that treated an advertiser in a favorable light and which the advertising department insisted on placing in the newspaper.

The Bard of Buffalo Bayou has done time on the rim, and has the slot man’s scars to prove it.

            The Copyeditor’s Dream

            Let me sit on the rim,
            My cup filled to the brim
            With coffee that’s pungent and hot.
            For a story I’ve red,
            I will write a nu hed
            And pass it right back to the slot.

            When he sees what I’ve done,           
            He’ll make over Page One
            With my ninety-point, eight-column banner,
            And when it hits the street,
            I’ll have the crowd at my feet
            And I’ll be the lord of the manor.

Note: Both the Bard and I will be taking next two weeks off. And I’m taking the names of those of you who are muttering that we should make our vacation permanent.  We hope to return, unscathed, to this space on July 4 with rousing Independence Day blog. Or not.

Monday, June 6, 2011

All Greek to Me

Do you have trouble remembering the nine Muses?  For that matter, do you have trouble recalling the difference between the Muses and the Graces?  And what about the Fates—and the Furies? 

A previous blog dealt with mnemonics—phrases like Every Good Boy Does Fine to help you remember musical notes, or HOMES for the five Great Lakes. Well, I’m here to provide you with similar memory-jogging devices for those mythological Greek personages.

There are nine Muses, daughters of Zeus and Mnemosyne, who represent the arts and sciences.  They are: Calliope (epic poetry), Clio (history), Erato (lyric poetry), Euterpe (music), Melpomene (tragedy), Polyhymnia (sacred poetry), Terpsichore (dance), Thalia (comedy), and Urania (astronomy)

Now for a mnemonic (named for their mother, Mnemosyne) to help remember them: how about Caterpillars Capture Every Elephant Made Perfect Through Trade Unions?

But wouldn’t be more helpful if each word in the mnemonic not only had the initial letter, but maybe the first three letters, to jog your memory?  Okay, try this:

California’s Clinton Eradicates Euthanasia, Melting Political Terrors, Thawing Uranium.

There are three Graces, goddesses of joy, charm, and beauty. They are the daughters of the nymph Eurynome and Zeus—who apparently really got around. Their names are Aglaia (splendor, glory), Euphrosyne (merriment), and Thalia (feast).  And they should be easy to remember as Aglow, Euphoric, Thanks!

There are also three Fates, or Moirae (“apportioners”): Clotho (spinner of the thread of life), Lachesis (drawer of lots), Atropos (cutter of the thread of life). They were believed to appear after the birth of a child to determine the newborn’s destiny in life.  An easy mnemonic: Clothes Lachrymose, Atrocious!

Finally the Furies (Erinyes), sometimes known euphemistically as the Eumenides, or “kindly ones.”  Their origin was rather bloody: the Titan Cronus castrated his father Uranus and threw his genitals into the sea (naughty boy). The Furies arose from the drops of blood, and the goddess of love, Aphrodite, from the sea foam. Well, maybe so.   You know the Furies as Alecto (relentless pursuit), Megaera (jealousy), Tsiphone (blood vengeance) You can easily remember them as Alexander’s Megahit T-shirts.

On second thought, it might be easier to memorize the names of the goddesses than to remember these mnemonics.

The Bard of Buffalo Bayou has never been inspired by any Muse, but despite all odds, he keeps plugging away:

                        Hickory, dickory,
                        Remember Terpsichore,
                        The Muse of the song and the dance.
                        And make this your motto:
                        It’s always Erato
                        Whose poetry speaks of romance.
                        Boil, bake, or fry a pea
                        To rhyme with Calliope,
                        Whose poems are noisy and epic.
                        And don’t forget Thalia,
                        Whose works never fail ya
                        With comedy Johnny Depp-ic.
                        And as for Melpomene,
                        She is my nominee
                        For tragical fear and pity,                       
                        And pitch-perfect Euterpe
                        Makes me chipper and chirpy
                        When she cranks out a musical ditty.           

                        Up on the chimney a
                        Grave Polyhymnia
                        Spouts poems both sacred and pious.
                        And it’s clear that Urania
                        Has some sort of mania
                        With an astronomical bias.

                        But my favorite Muse
                        From whom I take my cues
                        On the banks of Buffalo Bayou
                        Should be no special mystery,
                        She’s the great Muse of history,
                        Omniscient, omnipotent Clio.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

It’s 30 for 30

A recent New York Times story about a shooting ended by stating that the case would be tried by “February 30.”  A few days later, the Times published this explanation:

“An article on Thursday…misstated the schedule set by a judge for a trial in the case. The trial is expected to begin ‘by February’, not ‘by February 30.’ The error occurred when an editor saw the symbol ‘-30-’ typed at the bottom of the reporter’s article and combined it with the last word, ‘February’. It is actually a notation that journalists have used through the years to denote the end of an article.”

A further explanation pointed out that the 30 symbol is no longer much used and many journalists have never even heard of it.  It’s a victim of the computer age, in which reporters transmit their entire stories intact, not “take by take,” on 8-1/2x11 sheets of copy paper, carried one at a time to the composing room, as in typewriter days.

No one seems sure how the use of 30 began.  The most common theory is that it was a sign-off code developed by telegraph operators, perhaps from the use of the symbol XXX, which would be 30 in Roman numerals. One version suggests that the first news story sent by telegraph consisted of 30 words. Another story, whose apocryphal nature seems self-evident, is that reporters signed 30 to demand an increase in pay to $30 a week.

It has also been suggested that 30 was a British mis-reading of 80, which resembles the Bengali symbol for “farewell” and was used on correspondence in India.  Yet another theory is about a telegraph operator who remained at his post during a breaking news story, until he keeled over dead—30 hours later.

The earliest citation of 30 is in Funk’s Standard Dictionary of 1895 (pre-Wagnall, apparently), which simply states that it is the printer or telegrapher’s symbol for the end of a dispatch.  No explanation is provided.

Other theories, of greater and lesser believability, include:
            - The hash mark (#) was the typical symbol of the end of a story, and to save time, many typists didn’t hit the shift bar, so 3 was printed instead, and a zero added just for looks.
            - When the Associated Press was founded, each member was entitled to receive 30 wire stories per day.  The 30 indicated that it was the last one.
            - Wire services customarily stopped transmitting at 30 minutes past the hour.
            - It refers to the 30 pieces of silver received by Judas Iscariot for the betrayal of Christ.

The Bard of Buffalo Bayou is not yet ready to sign 30 to his dispatches, although many readers hope that he is at least up to 29. 

            A news reporter named Bertie
            Wed a copyeditor called Gertie.
                        When the stork paid a call,
                        They decided “That’s all,”
            And that’s why they named the kid Thirty.