To-Wit 101


by Greg Baysans, aka Poet X

Back to: Grab Bag

. . . . .

"Welcome, class, to our final session of To-Wit 101. That's an acronym, of course, for 'The Oregonian -- What's It Teaching?'

"The past week has provided excellent samples of the main topics we've covered.

"Monday, April 5, 2002, we reviewed gaposis (page E5, 'Portland police kill burglary suspect,' where the gaposis is caused by a missing word space after a comma; yes, missing 'air,' second to last paragraph).

"Yesterday, Thursday, April 18, 2002, had that great example of gaposis on page A15 caused by placement of a photo, easily remedied with minor page rearrangement. My, that was ugly!

"Tuesday, April 16, 2002, we saw the importance of punctuation with Marge Boulé's column (page E1). I forget which we decided would be better than 'Off with their heads! would-be royals roar': did we choose 'Off with their heads! Would-be royals roar" or was it '"Off with their heads," would-be royals roar'?

"Wednesday, April 17, 2002, we had a great laugh trying to figure out if Op Ed columnist David Sarasohn (page D9, paragraph 16) really meant to say, 'Oregon's universities will stand shoulder to shoulder-to-shoulder with other world-class institutions' or not. I'm bemused enough to say I've still not decided if it is a mistake or not.

"That column provided us with the excellent explanation for why The Oregonian has such frequent errors and little concern for improvement: the 'Northwest of Reality' theory.

"But for our final topic, let's again turn to the topic we discussed yesterday -- those pesky hyphens. Yesterday's story on page A3, 'Documents show bishops' roles' (page A3), twice hyphenated the tricky proper name 'Geoghan' after the 'Ge' and, finally, as 'Geo-ghan,' adding a syllable to what was presumed a two-syllable word.

"Today's text? Friday, April 19, 2002, page A1, a very somber and, because of the emotional content, difficult-to-read article about relatives gathered in Princeton, N.J., to hear the black box recording from Flight 93 which crashed in Pennsylvania that catastrophic day last September.

"Jumping to page 12, as the article does, the story is nearly as difficult to read as it might have been to be present in New Jersey. Skip ahead to the third paragraph in the middle column and pretend that you're in a focused frame of mind, pondering the somber content of what you are reading.

"The last sentence begins, 'The pilots' group has long argued that the "ta-pes" (sic) should stay closely guarded'.

"We are back where we began on that first day of class many months ago. On that day, an Op Ed piece was also concerned about tapes of some kind. And the one-syllable word was hyphenated the same way as it is today. I couldn't help but think of the biological 'stapes,' the innermost of the three small bones in the middle ear of mammals.

"I also couldn't help but interrupt my reading with a gasp. I was quite removed from my own sphere of awareness when my eyes encountered that 'ta-pes'. It brought me totally back to the here and now, maybe a good thing, but not the intent of good writing.

"Months ago, the 'ta-pes' error made me laugh and laugh. Today it made me shudder and more. Powerful, this 'Northwest of Reality' language. Variable in its power, too.

"An excuse for this shoddiness other than the 'Northwest of Reality' concept is presented today by Arianna Huffington in the same Op Ed space that Sarasohn occupied a few days ago, page C7 today. Seeing her on television, one can guess that English was not her first language. Her command of written English -- well, barring typesetter mistakes like 'shoulder to shoulder-to-shoulder' (ah, I've decided!) -- is remarkable.

"Today, she explains that incompetents have found their way to positions of influence and power in a twist of Ayn Rand's out-dated vision of a meritocracy.

"There are no mistaken hyphens, missing words, added words or awkward headlines to the article -- a wonderful way to end our class sessions! On Monday, you will no longer be required to bring your paper to class for discussion. Do bring your Oregonian, as usual, however. We plan to shred them for confetti to be thrown after our ceremonies.

"I hope you've enjoyed your classes and have actually learned something, anything, in spite of our location 'Northwest of Reality.' The Oregonian is sure to have an article about 'ta-pes' soon.

"Making an em dash out of a hyphen, I remain your friendly finder of fault."

Professor Soren Horse, Portland Understands Papers University.