Writing and editing with Weird Al

“Weird Al” Yankovic is back. The song parodist who lampooned Michael Jackson and “Star Wars” back in the day has a new album called “Mandatory Fun.” Each day this week, Yankovic is posting a music video from the album on his website.

Two of the songs from “Mandatory Fun” share a “wordy” theme. “Mission Statement” takes aim at those jargon-filled declarations from corporations, government and academia. “Word Crimes” offers advice on grammar, word choice and punctuation, all to the tune of “Blurred Lines.”

“Word Crimes” has generated chatter on Twitter among writers, editors, linguists and lexicographers. Here is a sampling:

  • I think ACES has found its new theme song.
  • “Weird Al” Yankovic’s “Word Crimes” is fun but reinforces stereotype of editors as cranks who need to get a life.
  • I always take peeves as a sign that the person truly cares about language. Which is a start.

I see some truth in each of these statements. As an editor, I like grammar and have my own peeves, but I’m also more flexible on matters of language than I used to be. And I don’t edit personal email and text messages that I receive, as Al apparently does. Calling a lapse in grammar or bending of a style rule a “word crime” makes me uncomfortable, as does the song’s scolding tone.

But this is Weird Al. It’s all in good fun. His song uses a slinky beat and clever lyrics to share a lot of solid tips for writers and editors. If “Word Crimes” helps someone remember the difference between its and it’s, then I am willing to smile and sing along.

UPDATE: More reaction on “Word Crimes” from Grammar Girl and ACES blogger Pam Nelson.


This blog will be quiet this week as I finish grading midterms and teach classes.

I am also preparing to go to Las Vegas for the national conference of the American Copy Editors Society. I will be part of two sessions at this year’s gathering, which starts Thursday, March 20.

I’d love to see you at the conference, but if you can’t be there, you can follow the fun on Twitter with the hashtag #ACES2014. Viva Las Vegas, and viva ACES!

What we write in big type is a big deal

The American Copy Editors Society recently shared this video via social media. It’s about headline writing at the Winnipeg Free Press.

As I watched the 11-minute piece, memories of my own newspaper experiences came to mind. The personalities, editing skills and headline-writing styles of the editors at Winnipeg mirror those in the newsrooms in Greensboro, Raleigh and Los Angeles where I have worked.

Editors who write headlines care deeply about what they do. And they do it in relative anonymity. There’s no Pulitzer Prize for headline writing — not yet, at least.

Headlines are still important, in print and online. They tell us what’s news, and they lure us into reading more. Headlines reflect not only the content of the stories, but also the tone. And they need a human touch.

Charles Apple goes solo

Since 2010, my friend and former colleague Charles Apple has written a popular blog on the website of the American Copy Editors Society. Now Charles is leaving ACES and taking his insights to a new site under his own name.

Charles explains his reasoning in full in this introductory post, but basically, it sounds like he is ready to be a solo artist. He will still touch on familiar themes about editing and design. I am certain that Charles will continue to be a must-read on those topics and on journalism generally.

Thank you, Charles, for your work with ACES. Best wishes on your new venture.

Moving on from the ACES board

The national conference of the American Copy Editors Society takes place this week in St. Louis. I’m taking a break from attending, and it’s the first time I will miss an ACES conference since 2005.

I’m also ending my time on the ACES Executive Committee. I’ve served two terms, and I like the idea of self-imposed term limits. I feel like I’ve done what I set out to do: establish a tighter connection between academia and the profession, and to give a voice to journalism education on the ACES board.

To that end, we created an award for research about topics affecting editing. ACES itself sponsored a study showing why editing matters to readers. Since I joined the executive committee in 2009, two more professors who teach editing have come on board. They will continue to foster the academic-professional relationship.

It’s been an honor to serve on the ACES board. I’ll continue to be an active member in the years to come, and I’ll follow this year’s conference on Twitter, Facebook and on the ACES site. I hope you will do the same.

On the road with ACES

This blog will be quiet for the next couple of weeks. In addition to giving and grading midterm exams, I’ll be on the road as part of my duties with the American Copy Editors Society:

  • This week, I’m headed for St. Louis to the mid-year meeting of the Executive Committee of ACES. We’ll work on details for the 2013 national conference.
  • The following week, I will be in Washington, D.C., as a presenter at an ACES editing bootcamp. It’s the latest in a series of one-day workshops that ACES is sponsoring throughout the country.

A week in Chicago

Creative Commons image

This blog will be quiet for the next week or so. I will be in Chicago to attend two events:

  • An editing bootcamp sponsored by the American Copy Editors Society. I’m one of three presenters at this all-day workshop.
  • The annual conference of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication. My main task there is to serve as moderator for the Breakfast of Editing Champions.

It’s my first trip to Chicago in 15 years, and I’m looking forward to it. While I’m there, I’ll avoid tired references to the Windy City, but I may try one of these lesser nicknames.

Perhaps I will see you there. If not, I will be Tweeting on occasion, and you can follow the conference overall there with the hashtag #AEJMC12.