In Latin class at Carolina, I sat next to the son of the prominent opera singer Lauritz Melchior. During our classroom friendship, he shared an amusing anecdote involving his father.
During a New York performance, the opera’s heroine rides across the stage on a horse. As the diva ascends to the aria’s climax, the almost incredible but ultimately inevitable occurs. The horse answers the call of nature – on stage before a packed audience.
As the audience sat in stunned silence, Melchior cried, “There’s always a critic!”
The audience roared with laughter and applause.
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Journalists in particular can appreciate Melchior’s comments. We have legions of eagle-eyed and opinionated critics. And that’s as it should be.
On a recent Sunday, an Ayden reader forwarded a letter to the editor from another Eastern North Carolina newspaper. He had circled eight grammatical errors.
On that same Sunday, I received my own comeuppance from reader Allen Spalt. “I liked your notes on the hummingbirds,” he wrote. “But they can’t get to South America in 500 miles, as you stated. That would barely take them to the Gulf of Mexico which they have to cross.
“However, your error was minor compared to the Sports section headline that read: ‘Coleman leads No. 2 Baylor past West Vaginia.’ I didn’t know you could report on such games in a family newspaper. But it’s a good week that begins with a smile,” he concluded.
Some errors are made out of ignorance; others out of carelessness. I meant Central America, of course, not South America. But readers know only what we wrote, not what we meant in such cases.
Nevertheless, I’m amazed at how few errors appear on our newspaper’s pages and pages of copy, much of it written and edited under the pressure of deadlines.
Still, accuracy is the newspaper’s watchword.
When a journalism professor once quoted Joseph Pulitzer’s comment that “Accuracy is to a newspaper what virtue is to a woman,” a student’s hand went up.
“Oh, no, it’s not the same,” she said. “After all, a newspaper can always print a retraction.”
As President Bill Clinton said during his Congressional impeachment hearing into his Monica Lewinsky affair, “It all depends on what your definition of ‘is’ is.”
I thought of that when I read a sports page headline, “Clemson stomps State.”
First, let me commend our Sports staff for their expertise in coming up with a plethora of different headlines to describe the results of the dozens of sports events played in a single weekend.
I just feel that losing by 15 points to powerhouse Clemson in a high-scoring 56-41 game doesn’t deserve such a demeaning verb as “stomps.”
Perhaps it does. What is the point spread breaking point between, for example, “stomped” as opposed to “defeated?”
I salute our sports guys and gals on their colorful vocabularies as well as their imaginative and colorful writing.
Check out their skills some Sunday morning and enjoy their panorama of action verbs used in sports pages headlines. Here are a few examples: edges, survives, tops, holds off, beats, hands loss, crushes, slaughters, smashes, bashes, embarrasses and many others.
Reader Jim Richmond, who also was given the three-word memory test during a recent visit to his doctor, explains that the test is a requirement by Medicare and the Affordable Care Act.
“When I got home, I realized the doctor had forgotten to ask me about the three words at the end of the visit,” Jim said. “When I e-mailed them to him, the doctor got a kick out of it and said, ‘I must be slipping.’”
Set out a maple
If you’re thinking of upgrading your landscaping or are just starting a new lawn, I implore you: Include a maple tree or two.
We have two. During this autumn’s dreary monsoon season, they actually illuminated the lawn and for a month or longer even spread their cheerful, golden glow through the windows.
For years, we mailed maple leaves to the Florida grandchildren for “Show and Tell.”
Palm tree fronds have nothing to say.
As I write, the maples, shimmering in the dusk, bring to mind lines from Rudyard Kipling’s, “When Earth’s Last Picture is Painted”:
And those that were good will be happy;
They shall sit in a golden chair
They shall splash at a ten league canvas
With brushes of comets’ hair ...
We’re grateful for the maples that brighten our small part of Nature’s ten league canvas.