One time I interviewed a soldier who had just returned from Iraq. Instead of responding to my questions with "yes," he would say, "roger that."



Is it hypocritical for me to call out copy editors for their overbearing attentiveness to minor grammatical flaws, and then turn around and write an entire blog post about a particular error that really gets my goat? Well call me a hypocrite, then, because I really hate the misuse of quotation marks.

Who knew that quotation marks were so difficult to understand? You put " and " around a phrase that you are reproducing in its entirety -- as in a quote from a conversation, e-mail message, phone sex transcript, or something of that nature. Here's an example, you nitwits.

President Bush said "Comprendo" when asked a question in Spanish at a press conference.

Wow, I even used an example that is demonstrably true. Anyway, let's not forget the ironic use of the quotation marks, which is when you put quote marks around something that is only ostensibly true, but not actually true. For example:

President Bush "speaks" Spanish.

This is often accompanied by making a curly bunny-ears gesture with your fingers. Depending on your point of view, the gesture could also be interpreted as a pair of retractable claws, or possibly fangs. I leave this up to your discretion.

Note, however, the other uses of quotation marks that was not included in my definition. That is to add emphasis, or in place of parentheses, or for no reason at all. This is almost never appropriate. And yet, as I approached the shiny Washington Mutual ATM last weekend, to withdraw the last $20 bill between me and a pauper's grave, what did I see outlined on the window? "ATM inside building."

The quote marks were there on the window. Okay. I suppose that would make sense, if it were a quotation from someone famous. You know, like the inspirational words General Eisenhower imparted to troops destined to land on Normandy Beach on D-Day: "You fine young men will be part of history today. Your role in protecting the people of our country -- nay, the free people of the world -- will be remembered for ages to come. Your bravery and courage have been proven time and again on the battlefield, and today we ask you to take the first step in a new campaign to finish off our enemy once and for all. ATM inside building."

But I don't think Eisenhower said that. I saw "Saving Private Ryan," and in fact, I don't even think Ike was there. He was probably lying in a Manhattan penthouse, getting fellated by Rita Hayworth. Regardless, we can all agree that the quote marks do not belong on that bank's window.

It doesn't stop here, of course. How many elevators have I been in that included safety instructions for emergencies? At least two. Possibly three. Oh, wait. That would be every elevator in the country. Yes, at least three. More to the point, how many of those elevators' safety instruction plaques misuse quotation marks? I would say about 180 percent of them. In case of elevator malfunction, I should use the phone to call for help, "if equipped." With quotation marks there.

What the hell does that mean? Not only does it not make sense (they probably meant to use parentheses), but it doesn't even not make sense in an amusing way. This error has pissed me off and failed to amuse my blog readers. But don't worry. The homeowner will not let you down.

The homeowner is the woman who owns the house where I rent a room. She likes to leave me little notes reminding me to lock the door when I leave. This is because she, like many single women who lived alone for a period of time, exists in a world of fear. Last week she ran inside the house from the backyard because she was spooked by a grasshopper. I thought about offering to go outside and kill the big scary thing, but I didn't. It's not like I was enjoying her frustration. I was just enjoying my dinner, and I only kill bugs for women if I'm sleeping with them. The woman, not the bug.

Anyway, she likes to leave me notes about locking the door, even though I always lock it when I leave. The last one said:

Be sure the door is "locked"

You might think that this would upset me, given my proclivity to be bothered by the inappropriate use of quotation marks. However, I decided that she was using them in the ironic sense. That is, she does not actually want me to lock the door. She wants me to merely go through the motions so as to create the ostensible appearance that the door is locked. Which is fine with me.

Thus, every morning, as I leave for work, I stand outside the door, keys in hand, and mime like I am locking it. I even say out loud, in case anyone is listening, "Okay, ... locking the door now ... it's locked up tight. Yessir, no one can get in here. Locked good." I also perform the quote-mark gesture with my fingers. That way, she can be certain that her door is "locked."


That's what I get for having an ego

So, more about me and my name. If you are nuts, like me, or at least one of my comment-posters, you have put your name into Google to see what comes up. For me, this is more about ego than it is about "see what comes up," since I have a lot of hits from having my byline published in a lot of newspapers. But sometimes I wonder what people think about what I write, and by extension, about me, even though they've never met me.

Once in a while, therefore, I type my name and "blogspot" or something like that into Google, on the assumption that maybe I wrote something that someone is posting on their blog and writing about themselves. "This is stunning!" they are writing, and their commenters agree. "Who knew that the relatively mundane proceedings of a small-town planning commission meeting could be rendered in such lucid, heartwrenching prose?" "If only I had this reporter's address, because then I could send him money and my hot sister."

Right. Turns out that such Googling is a good way to subject yourself to vituperation and scorn. (Although, to be fair, the two examples I am about to mention were found via Yahoo!, not its more powerful rival.) First I discovered my name in a list compiled by a copy editor at the Cleveland Plain Dealer, a respected newspaper in Ohio. For those of you who do not have time to click back to my compilation of journalism jargon, copy editors are sad, lonely people whose life's work is to locate grammatical errors, no matter how esoteric, and correct them. Occasionally, they supplement this thrilling task by writing misleading headlines, or inserting errors into my stories. As you can imagine, such a life typically attracts humanity's outcasts. It is my personal theory that most copy editors would be very comfortable at a serial killers' convention. Except for the killing.

Anyway, this particular copy editor apparently compiles an annual list of grammatical lowlights from all the articles he's read and edited each year. Said list consists of lame double-entendre headlines, like "Mayor comes out in support of gay marriage"; or incorrect statements in articles, such as "A man was found dead in an empty motel room Wednesday." Imagine a balding, half-unshaven, 50-something man reading this out loud in a windowless office as the dead glow of a computer monitor flickers on his oily skin. "Get it? Get it? Comes out? Get it?" Yeah, hilarious, get away from me. Also on his list of such side-splitting wackeries was a smattering of people whose names are also words that have regular meanings, which is vaguely amusing, if you are four years old. For example, "Martin Short -- I guess he's not very tall! Get it? Get it?"

Long story short, my name was on this list, although it took me a minute to figure out what the guy was saying, mostly because the actual word my last name is derived from is rather obscure in American English. For the Brits, things are different, but I doubt the copy editor at the Cleveland Plain Dealer hails from the Isles.

So, that was fun. Nothing like seeing one's heritage insulted. Still, more was yet to come. A little farther down the Yahoo! results list, I find this on some guy's blog:

(who the hell is [my name] anyway?)

Wow, that sounds like something. I click and find myself on the blog of an old man who lives in this area and didn't like something I wrote in the paper. He said my article proves the existence of parallel worlds: one in which I live, and the one in which everyone else lives, called reality, where people scratch their heads at my article and say, "Why the hell did he write that?" He also derided my prose, calling it a "weird" attempt at "stream-of-consciousness" writing. If you have ever read a newspaper article, and read real stream-of-consciousness, you will naturally find this laughable, but whatever, it still hurt. To see myself called out like that, in public, by someone who knows nothing about me, was a unique experience.

And yet, and yet. Would I prefer that copy editor take down his list of silly names? Do I think that blogger should stop libeling me? I guess not. After all, I've done a lot of people worse, you could argue. How many articles of mine have included statements about other people that didn't cast them in a very nice light? A brief sampling:

* "I want to say to John Kerry ... call off your dogs," Nader said. "Stop engaging in dirty tricks, or you will be held accountable directly."

* Prosecutors in both cases portrayed the elder Kimes as a domineering and controlling woman who convinced others, including her son, to kill in order to secure a house and a fraudulent loan.

* Miller has a criminal record dating back to 1994 that includes car theft and forgery, records show. He was paroled in February after being convicted of trying to escape custody.

* ... a Hollywood stuntwoman claims Schwarzenegger and his campaign intentionally defamed her after she alleged last year that the film star lifted her shirt and groped her on film sets.

* "We feel sad that the cardinal's decision to name abusers in his archdiocese was not to genuinely protect children but to avoid criticism, and is the result of pressure, court orders and exposure for refusing to remove molesters from ministry," Grant said.

* Reid, 54, and Ernest Nelson, 46, were arrested during the weekend for investigation of trafficking in stolen body parts.

Naturally, all this stuff is perfectly legal to print. John Kerry might not like being charged with dirty tricks, but that's what Ralph Nader said. Similarly, those last two guys might not like it being in the paper that they were arrested for possibly selling human body parts, but that is what they were arrested for. The fact is that when something newsworthy happens to you, whether or not you were the cause, you find yourself in the bright glare of public scrutiny.

Yes, but does that open me up to scorn as well? Does being a reporter necessarily mean I should be subject to derision? I don't think so, but what I've experienced so far -- being called out on two largely invisible Web sites -- is nothing compared to what some people go through, even when they've done nothing to deserve any attention. So I guess if I can dish it out, I can take it. But if I ever meet that elderly blogger who bashed my article, it'll be tempting to knock his dentures out.