What is a ‘word’? (Vanity Fair tweaks NYT)


A recent Vanity Fair piece spoofs the shockingly stupid editor’s column in the NYT that asked readers to decide whether newspapers should report facts. Many VF readers apparently didn’t get VF‘s joke. Read the VF piece below and then the reader responses to it to see what I mean:

Just as New York Times public editor Arthur S. Brisbane is concerned whether his newspaper is printing lies or the truth, we here at V.F. are looking for reader input on whether and when Vanity Fair should spell “words” correctly in the stories we publish.

One example: the word “maintenance” seems like it should only have one “a” in it. It should be “maintenence,” right? But it’s not. So is it our job as reporters and editors to spell it correctly?

Another example: who decides “Michele Bachmann” should be spelled with one “l” in “Michele” and two “n”s in “Bachmann”? I’ve never seen it spelled like that in any other circumstance, so should we print it just because that’s how she spells it? I don’t know.

As one reader recently wrote in a message to the spelling editor:

“My question is what role the magazine’s news coverage should play with regard to stupidly spelled words. In general, Vanity Fair spells stuff correctly, but sometimes words just look wrong. ‘Broccoli,’ for instance, looks dumb. If a magazine’s overarching goal is to be correct, but something makes you do a double-take because it just looks so bad, should Vanity Fair just let these oddities stand?”

Is that the prevailing view? And if so, how can Vanity Fair do this in a way that is objective and fair? Whose job is it to decide what words look strange and what words just look fancy? And at what point does an exotic extra consonant become distracting?

One respondent to the VF piece wrote: “Small changes, like the spelling of broccoli, shouldn’t be decided by one or two editors. But an interesting thought nonetheless!”

It’s amazing how many people are irony-deficient. Too bad you can’t buy the stuff in supplement form at the GNC.

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One Response to What is a ‘word’? (Vanity Fair tweaks NYT)

  1. Pingback: What is a ‘word’? (VF tweaks NYT)

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