Thursday, July 27, 2006

Blogger Q&A No. 15 Bill Walsh

If you're on a copy desk somewhere, you probably know who Bill Walsh is.

But good luck finding a picture of him--he doesn't show up until page 5 on Google images. There's some other Bill Walsh, something to do with football...

The blogger interviews continue.

Q: When did you start blogging?

A. For me, that's kind of a trick question. I started writing about language on the Web in 1995. First it was The Crusty Old Slot Man's Copy-Editing Peeve Page (the URL, if I recall correctly: In 1996 I retooled the site and renamed it The Slot, at I started a personal blog at the end of 2000, and I started a blog on tennis in 2001. It was Sept. 10, 2001, to be exact -- I was groggy from a late night of coding when my wife woke me up to tell me the horrible news.

The Slot wasn't very "bloggy" until February 2001, when I added a "Carets & Sticks" feature that I used to dash off quick, sometimes trivial entries not worthy of one of the longer essays I usually put on the site under "Sharp Points." Finally, in March 2004, I started blogging about language on a Blogger site. It's a lot quicker than coding the entries by hand! (My Blogger archives go back to February 2001, but the early entries are retrofitted from Carets & Sticks.)

Q.What's your purpose or motivation to blogging? What do you hope to acccomplish?

A. To be honest, I started my Web site just to start a Web site. My girlfriend, who's now my wife, was starting one, and she got dibs on the topic of tennis, so I chose a topic for which I'd find plenty of material at work. My second goal was to get a book deal -- mission accomplished, eventually. I keep doing it because I enjoy it, and it forces me to think about material for future books, and I have an
audience. Having an audience is fun. To whatever extent my writing can influence what other people are thinking about language, and maybe inspire young people to go into copy editing, those things are wonderful too.
Q. Where do you get your topics?

A. I riff on what I see writers and fellow editors do at work, as well as things I read in books and magazines and other newspapers, and things I hear on radio or TV or the street, and things I see on signs.

Q. What has provoked the most response from readers?

A. I haven't kept statistics, but the great subject-verb debate of early '06, which spilled over from the ACES board, was where things got the nastiest.

Q. Do you know who your readers are and if so, do you have much interaction with them? Anything interesting to say about them?

A. I suppose fellow newspaper copy editors make up a plurality. Some I know, some I have a vague idea about, and some regulars are people I know by sign-in name only because they're regulars.

Q. If you know, are your readers language or journalism experts or just regular folks?

A. A lot of them are editors, but I get a fair amount of regular-folks traffic. With both the editors and the regular folks -- and I guess this is true in a broader sense, as you know if you've read my books -- I find myself playing the descriptivist, the anti-stickler, at least as often as I'm the stickler you might expect. A recent e-mail was typical: One of my regulars was aghast at this "error" he had found in an otherwise reputable place -- "entitled" where it should have been "titled." I explained that "entitled" isn't wrong; it just isn't AP style, and it goes against the general principle that copy editors choose the simpler over the more complex, the shorter over the longer, all other things being equal. I find the online engagement between descriptivists and prescriptivists constructive. As is true with a pesky reporter who questions your every change, that kind of scrutiny keeps you from becoming intellectually lazy. It's easy to parody either side: On one
of the linguist sites I visit now and again, somebody was recently pretending to have no idea why a silly copy editor would change "amidst" to "amid," or "amongst" to "among." I guess that "chiefly British" line fell out of his copy of the descriptivist dictionary.

Q. Do you try to post on a regular schedule or as topics arise?

A. That's the great thing about my blogging "job": I do it when I feel like it. (Here's something weird: For a while there I got the muse only on Thursdays.)

Q. Do you think we should think about linking in some fashion to deliver language or other advice by e-mail?

A. Nah. That's what RSS is for. The sharing develops organically.

Q. Do you consider yourself web savvy or up to date on technology? Will we still be bloggin in five years or will technology replace this kind of communication?

A. I don't see a change on the horizon, but then again I was a Web-savvy one-man show who didn't foresee the advent of the blog.

Q. How much time do you spend each week on your blog?
A. Somewhere between zero seconds and half a day.

Q. What are your favorite language web sites or blogs?

A. Let's check my RSS feeds: There's Nicole Stockdale's site, the ACES site, Doug Fisher's site, the Eggcorn Database, Language Log, Languagehat, Tongue-Tied, Pam Nelson's Nando site, that other Pam's site, Ruth Walker's Verbal Energy, and John McIntyre's site. And, of course, there's Phil Blanchard's Testy Copy Editors.

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