Thursday, October 31, 2013

Syllabification: eve-ry-where or everywh-ere? pleas-ure or plea-sure? re-think or reth-ink?

Syllabification: to break a word down into syllables in speech or writing
reach: reach
rethink: re·think
pleasure: pleas·ure
everywhere:  eve·ry·where
It’s not every morning I read print edition of The News & Observer with intent to find mistakes. Usually the mistakes jump off the page at me. When that happens, the morning coffee with my wife and The N&O includes more of those errors and less of the actual news/opinion content of the paper which, today, is not much anyway. This post is about the mistakes, not the content, so, please, read on...
Back in my youth, growing up in Sanford NC, what I learned at the dining room table every morning at breakfast and every evening at dinner was more of my academic education than what I learned in K-12. I remember more of what my parents taught me than what was presented by those wonderful under-paid teachers.

Mom was the stickler for grammar, definitions, and spelling. Dad taught practical applications. Both educated us in social skills (some took with me; some didn’t) and philosophy. My guess: With my five siblings and me, Mom’s lessons had a greater lifelong impact. She corrected grammar (until we got the hang of it and then used it incorrectly just to needle her); she instructed us to “look it up” for a definition instead of offering the meaning of a word. She also taught us to spell by sounding words and understanding the syllables.

Syllabification should be taught daily in K-12. It is a great way to teach pronunciation, spelling and, just as important, hyphenation, or where a word can be split at the end of the line using a “-“ between syllables. We see that more today in printed newspapers and magazines—those that hit the driveway in the morning or are delivered to the mailbox later in the day—not the website “online” editions where justified type (even margins on the left and right) is a thing of the past.

Which brings me to the point of this post: Printed newspapers and magazines are not immune to the laws of syllabification but, for some reason, sometimes the rules are ignored. It may be editors who are at fault or some flawed program that automatically hyphenates words at the end of a line when the entire word will not fit. With justified columns, words are syllabified to help with economy of space or to fit more in within the limits of the paper on which the words are printed. These broken words from the right of one line to the left of the next line should only be separated at the correct syllable break. One syllable words do not break. Multiple syllable words should break at the syllables. See examples above.

(5th & 6th lines top)
(4th & 3rd lines bottom)
Newspapers, of course, have different rules than the rest of us when it comes to a lot of things, too many to include here. I’m not sure how this happened, but in the Wednesday, Oct 30 edition of The N&O, without an extensive examination of the newspaper, I came across these four wrong hyphenations at line-breaks:

reth-ink (1st & 2nd lines)

reach: re-ach
rethink: reth-ink
pleasure: plea-sure
everywhere:  everywh-ere

They can blame it on budget and personnel cuts and automatic syllabification programs, but if The N&O wants to be used in the education process, proper syllabification should be followed when hyphenating words.

By the way: syllabification: (syl·lab·i·fi·ca·tion)
From time to time, I still misuse “I” and “me” in speech. It is easy to do and was a regular correction at the table growing up. (If I agree my nephew, which I don't, it’s not how I say it but what it means even if I say it incorrectly.) But, shouldn’t a Harvard Law School grad get it right all the time? In his October 21 Rose Garden excuse for the mishaps of the website, President Obama said, quoting from November 4 edition of Time magazine which is the same thing he said on one of the national newscasts the evening of his speech, “Nobody is madder than me about the fact that the website isn’t working.”

To his credit, during the same speech, he said “nobody is madder than I am” which is correct. It’s “I” and not “me” because by using “me” he was saying that nobody is a madder except Obama. What? A madder? Well, according to the Oxford dictionary, a madder is a scrambling or prostrate Eurasian plant of the bedstraw family, with whorls of four to six leaves. Now that’s a description I’ve not heard when referring to President Obama. Is it just me? Or, is it I?


  1. Pomeranz,

    I tried to post a comment but I had no clu-
    e what I was doing so I'm just responding th-
    is way. I read your comments and then loo-
    ked at the Raleigh N & O articles and I do
    not know what the problem is. They look j-
    ust fine to me.

    Go Heels!

  2. In your 6th paragraph, the grammatically correct statement would be "different from" rather than "different than." The "different than" probably appeared during your NCSU years in contrast to what your Mom taught you.

    1. That may be correct if phrased: "Newspapers, of course have rules different from the rest of us..." but the way it is phrased, "Newspapers, of course, have different rules than the rest of us..." I might be correct.

      Of course, you spent many years associated with Duke Medical Center, so your brain operates a little off, I'm sure, being around all those...well I'll just leave it at that...but thanks for your input and insult....

    2. And, read this:


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