Sunday, October 19, 2008

Word of the Week: robo-call

I first heard this week's word of the week (robo-call) this morning when Colin Powell used it on Meet the Press. Of course, Powell didn't stop and define it (for those like me who had never heard of the word), but from the context I figured he was referring to those annoying taped phone messages we've all received -- often from telemarketers, but also from various political groups.

When I heard the word, I made a mental note of it, but I didn't rush to look it up or anything. But then, about an hour later, I was reading an article in the Sunday Toronto Star and the word came up in an Associated Press article about -- you guessed it -- the U.S. election. This time, not only did I make a mental note of it (and the fact that it was hypehnated, making it, basically, a compound adjective), I decided to look it up on

Given that I suspect the term is of fairly new, I wasn't surprised I couldn't find in on I then turned to -- the great resource for new words. To my surprise, robocall wasn't listed there either.

So, though I never intended Word of the Week to be on the cutting edge of new words, I'm not opposed to the idea either. Therefore, I offer "robo-call" -- those taped phone messages sent out using an automated calling system. Mind you, I'm not condoning robo-calls, I'm just saying that it seems there is now a name for those annoying calls!

Friday, October 10, 2008

Word of the Week: upon

I chose this week's word of the week for two reasons. First, I've been working on a big editing project for a corporate client -- one with more than half dozen different writers -- and each one of them used "upon". For example: upon receipt of an assignment; upon closure of the file; upon contact with; etc.

The first few times I came across it, I unceremoniously changed "upon" to "on" -- it just sounded more normal to me. After awhile, however, use of "upon" was so prevalent, I began wondering if there was some corporate policy to use "upon" instead of on. (I thought maybe they were using a style sheet I wasn't aware of!)

At some point, I decided I had better look "upon" up, to make sure I could justify making the change. I'm pleased to say I was right, as uses one word to define "upon": on. Interestingly, it also notes that "upon" is from the 12th century (which explains why it sounded so stilted and, well, out-of-date to me).

Anyway -- at the same time that I was lopping off the "up" on all those "upons", I was working on another project where there was a strict length limit based on the number of characters (rather than words). I can't tell you how frustrating it was to cut and paste text into the template we were working on and get an error message that read something like: "17 characters too long". When that happens you find yourself carefully combing through the text, literally looking for ways of eliminating a character here and there. So, when you're in that granular editing mode, you think to yourself -- if I make that "upon" into "on", I can save two characters!

So there you have it -- two reasons you should think twice before using "upon": you can save yourself characters and demonstrate to your readers that you're no longer in the 12th century.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Word of the Week: maverick

I always thought a maverick was a horse. Turns out, I was confusing it with a mustang... oh well.

So, trying hard to make sense of the current U.S. presidential race, I thought I had better look maverick up. Here's how defines it:

1: an unbranded range animal ; especially : a motherless calf
2: an independent individual who does not go along with a group or party

Unfortunately, that doesn't help me much in understanding why being a maverick (or at least seeing ones self as a maverick) makes one particularly appealing as a presidential or vice presidential choice. (Not to mention that it seems kind of odd to think of the head of a party as someone who relished the idea that they don't go along with others in their party...)

I guess I'd rather vote for someone who is qualified, experienced, level-headed, and smart, and who proudly heads a party whose ideals are well reasoned and clearly articulated than someone who seems to prize being a maverick more than anything.