William Safire, Politcal Columnist and Oracle of Language, Dies at 79

Many of us in the editing and writing professions may not have agreed with his politics — and might very well have been the actual “nattering nabobs of negativism” or spawn thereof — but when it came to “On Language” there was no one who did it better than New York Times columnist William Safire, who died this weekend at age 79.

The “On Language” column, which Safire wrote for the past 30 years, “explored written and oral trends, plumbed the origins and meanings of words and phrases, and drew a devoted following, including a stable of correspondents he called his Lexicographic Irregulars,” said the New York Times.

There were columns on blogosphere blargon, tarnation-heck euphemisms, dastardly subjunctives and even Barack and Michelle Obama’s fist bumps. And there were Safire “rules for writers”: Remember to never split an infinitive. Take the bull by the hand and avoid mixing metaphors. Proofread carefully to see if you words out. Avoid clichés like the plague. And don’t overuse exclamation marks!!

Photo credit: George Tames/The New York Times.

National Punctuation Day Bake-Off

Did you know today, September 24 is National Punctuation Day? We’ll bet you did not. But hold onto your semi-colon, there is still plenty of time to celebrate. You have until September 30 to enter the National Punctuation Day Baking Contest, and here are the rules:


1. Entrants must send a recipe and a sample of their cookie, cake, pastry, doughnut, or bread baked in the shape of a punctuation mark to National Punctuation Day, 1517 Buckeye Court, Pinole, CA 94564.

2. Entrants must send two print photos—one putting the item in an oven before baking and the other taking it out when it’s done. Make sure we can see the baked goods clearly.

3. First-, second-, and third-place winners will receive a box of non-edible NPD goodies, and all entrants’ photos and recipes will be published on the National Punctuation Day website.

4. All entries must be received by September 30, 2009.

And, while we think this is amusing, for those of us who make our living writing and editing words, we want to remind you that proper punctuation is no laughing matter. Even in today’s world of creative misspellings and other forms of abbreviated communications, there will always be a time and place for proper punctuation. Knowing how to use it will, in the long run, become a valuable skill that is in short supply.

National Punctuation Day founder Jeff Rubin agrees: “Casual shortcuts bred by e-mailing and text messaging have no place in school papers or professional business writing. In the business world, words have power and help decision-makers form impressions immediately. Careless punctuation mistakes cost time, money, and productivity.

“There’s an epidemic of poor punctuation in the United States, much like the Swine flu. It’s too bad there’s no vaccine to prevent it.”

Photo credit: National Punctuation Day website.

San Francisco’s Divisadero Corridor Is ‘Comeback Kid’ Neighborhood

Construction to add medians with plants and sculptures and make the area more “pedestrian friendly” starts today along a “rough stretch” of Divisadero Street in San Francisco. This is an eclectic neighborhood whose slow “gentrification” has managed to keep many elements of what made the neighborhood unique intact. I know. I live in what was once classified as a “No Man’s Land” between Upper and Lower Haight Street, a patch of the Western Addition previously referred to as “near the DMV” by the Panhandle to Golden Gate Park, the area between two main thoroughfares, the Divisadero Corridor and Masonic Street.

Renamed “NOPA” in recent years to signify that a good portion of the area lies between Fell and Geary Streets, or “north of the Panhandle,” the neighborhood is best known for auto repair shops, gas stations (not easy to find in San Francisco) and a few small businesses that have withstood the test of tough times like Da’Pitt BBQ (formerly Lilly’s and formerly before that Brother-in-Law’s), What’s Cookin’ (the tiny shop filled with second-hand kitchenware) and the Metro Hotel (a no frills overnighter that offers some of the best room rates in town).

The neighborhood has always been a relatively safe place as long as you kept your head up (yes, there were drug deals and shootings from time to time). But in recent years, the slow upgrade of the neighborhood has reduced crime to the occasional car break in as new businesses (casual cafes, tiny boutiques and offbeat art galleries) popped up in between the old ones. Rents remain relatively affordable. This is one of the few classic San Francisco neighborhoods that still has huge Victorians with flats for rent that can be shared by three or four roommates, often students from UCSF and the University of San Francisco.

We’re excited about the upgrade to “our ‘hood”, even if it means disruption to its main corridor for the next 15 months. The revitalization is part of San Francisco’s Public Works’ Great Streets Program. District Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi says that the improvements are not going change the area’s creative and diverse makeup. We’ll keep you posted. (Read more)

(Photo courtesy of Cindy Chew/The Examiner)

California State Assembly Passes AJR 15

AJR 15, the California State Assembly bill that would make a formal recommendation to Congress and President Obama to make the Uniting American Families Act (UAFA) law, passed the full Assembly today with a 41-28 vote (along party lines).

The idea for this bill came from Out4Immigration’s Amos Lim. It was then drafted by Assemblyman Kevin de Leon and a hearing in front of an Assembly committee was put together by Alice Kessler of Equality California (EQCA) in August. Two members of Out4Immigration, Gina Caprio and Melanie Nathan gave compelling testimony which aroused compassion for the bill and shot it quickly out of committee and to a full Assembly vote within just a few weeks.

The next step for the bill is a state Senate hearing, which could occur in early 2010. (Read more)

Trapped Girls Update Facebook Status Instead of Calling for Help

Seems two young ladies (ages 10 and 12) in Adelaide, South Australia, trapped in a storm drain used their wireless connections to update to their Facebook statuses rather than call for help.

“It’s not clear how much danger the 10- and 12-year old girls were in: Australia’s ABCNews describes them as both “lost” and “trapped”, but it’s possible that they felt no imminent danger. Nonetheless, the Metropolitan Fire Service expressed concern that the youngsters, equipped with phones, would raise the alarm on Facebook rather than calling 000, the Australian equivalent of 911:

The 10- and 12-year-old girls updated a Facebook status to say they were lost in a drain on Honeypot Road at Hackham in Adelaide’s southern suburbs on Sunday night. Glenn Benham from the MFS says it was fortunate a young friend was online at the time and was able to call for help for them.

“It is a worry for us because it causes a delay on us being able to rescue the girls,” he said.

“If they were able to access Facebook from their mobile phones, they could have called 000, so the point being they could have called us directly and we could have got there quicker than relying on someone being online and replying to them and eventually having to call us via 000 anyway.”

(Source: Mashable, photo credit: Metropolitan Fire Service, courtesy Tarale on Flickr)