To-Wit 101


by Greg Baysans, aka Poet X

To-Wit: Five
Back to: Grab Bag

. . . . .

"Welcome, class, to Friday's edition of To-Wit 101. To-Wit, you all know, is an acronym for 'The Oregonian -- What's It Teaching'. On Thursdays, you'll also recall, we review the previous week. On Fridays we start a new week and try to cover more than one section of the paper. It's also the day to find a word and verify its meaning in a dictionary.

"To emulate the business world, you never know what we'll cover on Friday. It's also the day we're more likely to go into 'overtime,' as it were. Today we start with a story on Page One, today's Oregonian, Friday, April 12, 2002.

"We're interested in the story about Enron. What story about Enron? Given that Enron is a major news topic, one would expect that or some other identifying word to appear in the headline. The story we're looking at is called 'Deals were a "sham," regulator testifies'. The story begins on Page One and jumps to page A8.

"Recall how a few days ago there was a missing word 'to' (and I did receive ribbing about having 'found' that)? Today we'll talk about why even a seemingly insignificant missing word can be critical.

"In the second paragraph after the subhead 'Data not available', the last sentence reads, 'As such, Enron's profits suggest company accurately foretold the market rise.'

"Again, the intelligent reader will automatically correct. Here, the missing word is probably 'the' and would go after 'suggest'. But that's only a probable solution to the missing word or words.

"There's the prob-lem -- it's only prob-able. What if the sentence should read 'As such, Enron's profits suggest company lawyers accurately foretold the market rise'? It might even have been 'As such, Enron's profits suggest a competing company accurately foretold the market rise.' Who's to say?

"It's even remotely possible that there is no missing word: the writer of this story had company while writing the article, and they accurately foretold the market rise.

"My head swimming, I have to wonder if I really want to finish reading the article.

"So let's turn to the op-ed page. Maureen Dowd provides today's word to look up: atavistic. Men have an 'atavistic desire' to pick dumb women as mates because they don't like being one-upped. A word to remember when thinking of male behavior. (I know that's a sentence fragment; when one knows the rules, one can effectively break them.)

"Turning -- for some entertainment -- to the entertainment section, page E4, a review of a movie about gay Jews is connected by a longer headline to an interview with the movie's director. The review includes a wonderful quote and sentiment: 'You cannot demonize. You have to love and help.'

"At the end of the lead-in to the interview, a 'Special to The Oregonian' by Kim Morgan, a web address is given. The hyphenization program in use does not recognize these addresses and often causes what you see in the line above it -- big spaces between letters or words in a line. I call it 'gap-osis'. There's probably an obscure technical word for it, but I've not learned it in twenty years. The word I use is descriptive: 'gap-osis'.

"Newsweek magazine follows a typographic standard for web addresses. To avoid putting a hyphen in a web address, usually very keystroke-specific, Newsweek will separate a web address BEFORE internal periods. This alone solves most cases of gaposis.

"With that we'll close a nice Friday session, class. We've rambled, started on Page One, looked up a word, quoted a movie review, and learned a new word: gaposis!

Professor Soren Horse, Portland Understands Papers University.