Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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April 22, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

FOUR LAYERS OF EDITING....I sure hope no one I know was working on the copy desk last night when the LA Times slapped this subhead on a story about the big immigration raid:

An informant triggered the nationwide sweep. Investigators say a plant in New York flaunted the law and mistreated its illegal workers

Ahem.

Kevin Drum 12:17 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (57)

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Comments

Kevin - you know people who work at the LA Times copy desk?

Posted by: Paddy Whack on April 22, 2006 at 12:22 PM | PERMALINK

It must have been a non-native invasive plant species. They do wildly and widely flaunt themselves.

Posted by: loofestrife on April 22, 2006 at 12:25 PM | PERMALINK

Flaunted?

Finally, the plant has come out of the closet.

Posted by: frankly0 on April 22, 2006 at 12:37 PM | PERMALINK

Something must be done! I saw a marigold the other day that wasn't paying social security taxes for its bees!

Posted by: fishbane on April 22, 2006 at 12:41 PM | PERMALINK

They were warned not to feed the plants, but they just don't listen.

Posted by: witless chum on April 22, 2006 at 12:45 PM | PERMALINK


We've got to stop all these unauthorized leaks. I call for the appointment of an official Ombudsleaker to tell us which leaks have been authorized and to deny everything else on the record. That is the only way we are ever going to see through transparency in government.

Posted by: Ross Best on April 22, 2006 at 12:50 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin, I wonder how many of your readers will get the joke. It would be interesting, in fact, to run the following as a survey question:

Which of the following is edible:
a) flaunt
b) flauta
c) flout

If my university students are any indication, you'll get about 33% correct simply by guessing.

Posted by: Paul Harder on April 22, 2006 at 12:55 PM | PERMALINK

Kudzu!

Posted by: smiley on April 22, 2006 at 1:06 PM | PERMALINK


I got the joke but by accident posted a leaker comment in the wrong place.

Posted by: Ross Best on April 22, 2006 at 1:09 PM | PERMALINK

KEVIN DRUM: Ahem.
It would appear that you are above neither flaunting nor flouting.


Posted by: jayarbee on April 22, 2006 at 1:19 PM | PERMALINK

What about that "nationwide sweep"? Oh, that's right; it was part of the Earth Day cleanup.

Posted by: Hedley Lamarr on April 22, 2006 at 1:22 PM | PERMALINK

Meanwhile:

- The article describes the type of working conditions that those who support illegal immigration automatically support. You can support illegal immigration explicitly or by opposing enforcement of our immigration laws.

- Many of the alleged illegal aliens arrested were released on their OR, meaning that many of those will simply disappear.

- There was a protest in Chicago against the raids. The union Unite Here was involved, as was one of the organizers of the March 10 Chicago rally. He "serves on the Institute for Mexicans Abroad, an advisory council to Mexican President Vicente Fox" Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich, U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez, and Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley all appeared at the March 10 rally, and all are Democrats. More in Links between the Democratic Party and the Mexican government.

Posted by: TLB on April 22, 2006 at 1:38 PM | PERMALINK

Was the leaky plant located in The Little Shop of Horrors?

Posted by: Linkmeister on April 22, 2006 at 1:43 PM | PERMALINK

We hug a few trees and this is how they repay us?

Posted by: RepubAnon on April 22, 2006 at 2:02 PM | PERMALINK

Always be careful when correcting someone's grammar. The Iron Law of Nitpicking says you'll make an error yourself every time you do. But let's keep this just between you and I!

Posted by: Zeno on April 22, 2006 at 2:08 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin,

I don't get it!

Ahem???

Posted by: JC on April 22, 2006 at 2:24 PM | PERMALINK

Waiting on the inevitable asshole who will say the mistake is so common it's now considered an accepted usage. There's one in every crowd these days.

Posted by: Jim J on April 22, 2006 at 2:27 PM | PERMALINK

To be honest, I don't get it either.

The pun on "plant," sure -- but that's so obvious and the humor so weak that I can't see Kevin posting about it.

My American Heritage, Second Addition has the second definition of "flaunt" (as in to parade ostantatiously) to mean "flout" (as in to show contempt for -- the sense in the quote), but a non-standard meaning.

So you were technically correct, but only by the proverbial cunthair :)

Not really enough to post about, truthfully.

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on April 22, 2006 at 3:08 PM | PERMALINK

ostantatiously = ostentatiously

Posted by: rmck1 on April 22, 2006 at 3:10 PM | PERMALINK

Wow! Either Jim J is psychic or Bob (rmck1) was biding his time until he saw a post like Jim J's.

It had to happen.

Posted by: Zeno on April 22, 2006 at 3:15 PM | PERMALINK

Zeno:

No, I'm not being an ideological descriptivist. The quote's sense *is* in the dictionary.

Although I *am* more descriptivist than a prescriptivist fer sher.

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on April 22, 2006 at 3:28 PM | PERMALINK

I say, the post stands. The post has merit. Someone at the LAT was asleep at the switch. Presumably, four someones were asleep at the switch.

Where Kevin 'begging the question' Drum gets off posting it, on the other hand, is an open question.

dan

Posted by: dan on April 22, 2006 at 3:44 PM | PERMALINK

"Flaunt the law" would be an acceptable use as a transative verb if they were breaking the law openly.

Clearly, they were hoping to keep this a secret.

My question is why now and why this company? We all know it's been going on all over the place since god knows when.

Posted by: notthere on April 22, 2006 at 3:49 PM | PERMALINK

Kudzu!

Gesundheit!

Posted by: tom on April 22, 2006 at 3:55 PM | PERMALINK

How do you know they weren't waving immigration law around to cow the immigrants into not reporting the mistreatment?

Posted by: Bernard Yomtov on April 22, 2006 at 4:08 PM | PERMALINK

I'm sure that descriptivists win in the long run, but I'm a prescriptivist at heart. I mourn the gradual loss of the useful distinction between reticent and reluctant, for example, and confusing flout and flaunt seems just sloppy (although it's even occurred in a Supreme Court decision, of all places!). Language is one area where I'm quite conservative, fighting a rear-guard action in a losing battle. Language change is inevitable. I'm just sorry that so much of the change comes from careless usage. Anyone here remember when the verb graduate used to be intransitive? Today's kids "graduate high school" (unless the exit exams get them), while years ago I definitely "graduated from high school".

Sigh.

Posted by: Zeno on April 22, 2006 at 4:36 PM | PERMALINK

Bob, it's by allowing such "nonstandard usage" out of a place that should be a better guardian of our language that our language decays. (I'm a newspaper editor myself.)

One I deplore is "gauntlet" being used for "gantlet," as in "The Indians made him run the gantlet." I caught National Geographic in that one once and wrote them.

Posted by: SocraticGadfly on April 22, 2006 at 5:04 PM | PERMALINK

Zeno:

I like the writer David Foster Wallace's essays on the subject. I don't mourn this, because language is only the form of meaning. New senses of words are as likely to enhance effective communication as they are to confuse. Sure, I have my faithful ol' Strunk 'n' White -- but it amazes me how much of the specific advice in it has become unmoded -- although I think the principles of composition in it remain pretty timeless.

Remember 25 or so years ago when the first word processors were coming out? There were a bunch of established writers who were *certain* that there was something seductively pernicious about being able to edit on the fly, or to write so quickly that the more arduous aspects of proofreading would go by the wayside. And some of these predictions have come true -- for instance, email-speak (no caps, bad punctuation, character shorthand of common expressions), which appears to have corrupted the writing of all college students ...

But today, who would trade their keyboard for a typewriter, let alone pen and paper?

What we've lost is important ... but so has what we've gained. At the end of the day, content will always trump form.

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on April 22, 2006 at 5:11 PM | PERMALINK

So you were technically correct
The best kind of correct!

Posted by: sc on April 22, 2006 at 5:13 PM | PERMALINK

Oh, lamps, you prescriptivists! What's the farm in a bite of eruption of our brother tongue? Everyone will still vet what I'm walking about, even if I strange some of the turds.

Manglage is insinually revolving. We rant fang gong to the laxatives of the mast, except when the tomato is dexterous haranguing syzygy. Walnut you geranium-mincers take a powder?

You know what I mean?

Posted by: Lionel Hutz, attorney-at-law on April 22, 2006 at 5:16 PM | PERMALINK

unmoded = outmoded. The coffee just isn't working today for some reason ... And damn -- I proofed the *hell* out of that post, considering the subject and all ... *sigh*

SocraticGadfly:

What some people see as "decay," others call "evolution."

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on April 22, 2006 at 5:17 PM | PERMALINK

so has = so is

Goddammit. Please don't confuse my appalling lack of typo vigilance with an argument for prescriptivism, which I make on other grounds ...

I remain an anal-retentive in my heart -- and a poor human slave to the second law of thermodynamics.

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on April 22, 2006 at 5:23 PM | PERMALINK

Lionel Hutz:

I plead alignment to the flakes
Of the untitled snakes of a merry cow
And to the Republicans
For which they scam
One nacho, underpants
With licorice and jugs of wine for owls

--Matt Groenig

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on April 22, 2006 at 5:39 PM | PERMALINK

What we've lost is important ... but so has what we've gained. At the end of the day, content will always trump form.

Yes, but it can be a real chuckle when errors in form interfere with the delivery of content....

(just couldn't resist)

Posted by: nota bene on April 22, 2006 at 5:45 PM | PERMALINK

nota bene:

To a point, sure. There's still, though, a difference between a usage that you might consider unfelicitious on any number of grounds good or bad -- and a plain ol' typo.

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on April 22, 2006 at 5:48 PM | PERMALINK


ZENO: I mourn the gradual loss of the useful distinction between reticent and reluctant, for example, and confusing flout and flaunt seems just sloppy (although it's even occurred in a Supreme Court decision, of all places!). Language is one area where I'm quite conservative, fighting a rear-guard action in a losing battle.

These things do happen, but it's usually with words not commonly used by the general public. It is meaning that is important, and that is seldom lost in context. So I think the sloppiness you bemoan is fairly inconsequential, except as a subject of interest for linguistic hobbyists and traditionalist academicians.

But they should keep in mind that, because it is they who are published and likely to be read by others, it is often the most learned who instigate these changes in meaning, rather than pretenders to literary skill. For instance, I can think of no prolific commenter to these columns whose writing skills surpass those of cmdicely. And yet, he has the peculiar habit of using the word "inasmuch" when the context clearly calls for "insofar." How he might have come to this misunderstanding would be interesting to learn. But should his misuse have the ultimate result of making those words synonymous, I don't think the English language will suffer any damage whatsoever.


NOTE: Previewing gives me the opportunity to see new comments prior to posting. One in particular from rmck1 at 5:11pm makes basically the same point regarding context as I am doing here. But, for the sake of my novel mention of inasmuch/insofar, I'll post this anyway.

Posted by: jayarbee on April 22, 2006 at 5:48 PM | PERMALINK

jayarbee:

Cmdicely is one of my favorite posters, both for his opinions (with which I nearly always agree) and in the quality and unfailing civility of his debating skills.

But Chris can also be a *terrible* writer sometimes. He has a habit of suspending verbs in multi-clause sentences that are needlessly long. Probably comes with the turf of being conversant in legalese ...

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on April 22, 2006 at 5:54 PM | PERMALINK

I didn't get it at first either. I kinda suspected the flout/flaunt thing, but I thought flout was spelled with an a.

I thought the joke was that if read one way, the headline could be saying the law requires mistreatment of illegals, and the plant was flaunting the law. Rather bad form, if you ask me.

Posted by: jussumbody on April 22, 2006 at 5:58 PM | PERMALINK


RMCK1: But Chris can also be a *terrible* writer sometimes.

Hahaha! And I thought I was going out on a limb a little..:)


Posted by: jayarbee on April 22, 2006 at 5:58 PM | PERMALINK

jayarbee:

Limbs R Us :)

I hope you (and everybody) noticed that I praised him to the skies before I said that ...

If he sees that, I'd like him to take it as a sincerely-meant constructive criticism.

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on April 22, 2006 at 6:04 PM | PERMALINK


Yes, it is terrible writing, beyond the call of duty even for a tabloid hack.

1. Dead / mixed metaphors form a cliched jargon unique to journalists: "An informant *triggered* the nationwide *sweep*".

2. Inappropriate use of metonymy creating confusion: "a plant in New York flaunted the law". Actually, the *owners* or *managers* of the plant did the flaunting or flouting. Attributing it to the plant fudges the story.

3. Flaunt and flout are quite different words, even if one is relatively frequently mistaken for the other. To use 'flaunt' when you mean 'flout' is simple illiteracy. These words are *not* in common colloquial use, apart from a couple of stock phrases, mainly 'flout the law'. People try to use them when getting on their high horses... and end up facing backwards in the saddle.

Ever heard the saying 'If you've got it, flout it'? I thought not.

Posted by: Thomas Dent on April 22, 2006 at 7:28 PM | PERMALINK

Merriam-Webster: flaunt

usage Although transitive sense 2 of flaunt undoubtedly arose from confusion with flout, the contexts in which it appears cannot be called substandard [meting out punishment to the occasional mavericks who operate rigged games, tolerate rowdyism, or otherwise flaunt the law -- Oscar Lewis] [observed with horror the flaunting of their authority in the suburbs, where men... put up buildings that had no place at all in a Christian commonwealth -- Marchette Chute] [in our profession...very rarely do we publicly chastise a colleague who has flaunted our most basic principles -- R. T. Blackburn, AAUP Bull.]. If you use it, however, you should be aware that many people will consider it a mistake. Use of flout in the sense of flaunt 1 is found occasionally ["The proper pronunciation," the blonde said, flouting her refined upbringing, "is pree feeks" -- Mike Royko].

Posted by: loosestrife on April 22, 2006 at 7:38 PM | PERMALINK

Thomas Dent:

You make the descriptivist point. Since loosestrife demonstrated that the sense of "flaunt" as "flout" is in fairly common (if unstandard) usage, your flogging amounts to, well, what *does* it amount to?

I mean, you're bashing users of the expression for being on a high horse -- while being on a higher one yourself.

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on April 22, 2006 at 8:24 PM | PERMALINK

Ah, fuck the descriptivists.

Sometimes wrong is just wrong.

If you insist on misusing certain words you're just a bad person with no taste and nobody should like you and I sneer in your general direction.

Posted by: frankly0 on April 22, 2006 at 9:01 PM | PERMALINK

frankly0

And I sneer in the general direction of pompous-ass grammar fascists.

Your point?

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on April 22, 2006 at 9:03 PM | PERMALINK

frankly0:

Or put another way: sometimes being correct is only the booby prize of life.

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on April 22, 2006 at 9:05 PM | PERMALINK

You shoulda seen the way they flaunted that law, waving it around like a male stripper would twirl his muscle shirt before hurling it into the audience.

Posted by: scarshapedstar on April 22, 2006 at 9:23 PM | PERMALINK

Bob,

I wasn't referring to you, in particular!

I meant a generic "you".

Don't wear the shoe if it doesn't fit!

Posted by: frankly0 on April 22, 2006 at 9:24 PM | PERMALINK

frankly:

It *does* fit.

That's the point.

All other things being equal, a grammar fascist (fighting oh so nobly on behalf of The Language) is a worse beast than a pure descriptivist.

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on April 22, 2006 at 9:30 PM | PERMALINK

Bob,

a grammar fascist (fighting oh so nobly on behalf of The Language) is a worse beast than a pure descriptivist.

Kind of a false dilemma, don't you think?

What gets me are the descriptivist justifications for EVERYTHING -- finding 20% of the population who get something wrong, adding in some poor confused sod with a big name who also makes the same blunder, and then declaring that it's a "correct" usage.

Basically, arguing that, by definition, nobody's shit stinks.

Posted by: frankly0 on April 22, 2006 at 9:38 PM | PERMALINK

frankly:

I mean, the idea that prescriptivists are simply slop-tards (instant neologism) who don't give a shit about communicating effectively or who like to see rules broken just cuz they -- I dunno -- hate authority? ... is pure mythology. I hate myself a little when I don't catch all my many typos.

Maybe we're just tickled by stuff like instant neologisms :)

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on April 22, 2006 at 9:38 PM | PERMALINK

frankly:

No, I don't think that's an accurate description. Once again, I'd recommend David Foster Wallace's essay on the subject in his new collection, Consider The Lobster.

Descriptivists aren't the ones all uptight about what's "correct." It's the prescriptivists who run around sanctioning the correct and scourging the incorrect.

Descriptivists are just looking at the way language is used in the real world. They're empiricists. They also think the idea that the language is "decaying" is entirely silly; a language dies when it falls out of use. Are the plethora of meanings restricted or distorted somehow by evolving usage? Sure, maybe around the margins ... until the new meanings become commonplace. Imagine what the world would be like if we were stuck with 13th century Middle English meanings of common words. Language *must* assimilate new meanings as experience evolves. Sure, there are horrible things like bureaucratese and jargony verbification. Sure, some groups like to create a cult of expertise or special knowledge around themselves by tricks of language. Sure, the business community, endlessly engaged in PR, will always try to sell its "visionary paradigmatics" by such horrid excrudescences. Corporate conference-speak is a linguistic abortion, and should be called out, mocked, and -- most importantly -- rewritten.

But bottom like, words and meanings are polymorphously perverse. May they ever be that way. Descriptivists take a special joy in that, in the eternally open-ended nature of language and meaning.

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on April 22, 2006 at 9:57 PM | PERMALINK

bottom like = bottom line.

Arrghh ...

Posted by: rmck1 on April 22, 2006 at 10:01 PM | PERMALINK

frankly:

Last point before I get out of here and go do something fun ...

A descriptivist isn't some kind of radical relativist who believes that mistakes in laugage are by definition impossible. The measure of correct usage is still acceptance.

All they do is simply measure acceptance empirically rather than relying on sources of authority that -- considering the time it takes to revise and edit a dictionary -- are inevitably behind the times.

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on April 22, 2006 at 10:23 PM | PERMALINK

zeno wrote: "Anyone here remember when the verb graduate used to be intransitive? Today's kids 'graduate high school' (unless the exit exams get them), while years ago I definitely 'graduated from high school'."

Originally, graduate was a transitive verb, but it was used the opposite way. It is the educational institution that graduates the student, not the student that graduates the school. This usage prevailed from the fifteenth through nineteenth centuries. Then, the intransitive usage, originally condemned, largely supplanted the original transitive usage. Now we are trying to resist the reversed transitive usage.

Considering that individual is a graduate and not a graduator, it's clear that it must be the school graduating the student.

Posted by: Joel Rubinstein on April 22, 2006 at 11:30 PM | PERMALINK

"flaunt" instead of "flout."

Oddly I just came across the same mistake (and it is a mistake) in vol. 3 of Miracleman by Alan Moore.

The book is larded with tons of the master's prose at its most purple. But his self-regarding brilliance couldn't keep out this conspicuous example of non-brilliance.

Posted by: Kyle on April 23, 2006 at 12:12 AM | PERMALINK

Kyle:

A non-standard usage is not a mistake -- it's a non-standard usage, especially if it's in the dictionary as such.

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on April 23, 2006 at 1:22 PM | PERMALINK




 

 

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