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Reasonably Well Paid Pat

  Did everyone notice that Pat the Perfect dropped by the blog the other day? This was the greatest honor the blog has received since the day we got that link from the Barry blog. Pat the Perfect normally hangs out in the Weingarten chat, but, at my urging, decided to referee a dispute in this blogohedron (you have heard of the blogosphere, but the geometry of this particular blog is a dodecahedron).

    As you recall, the amateur grammarticians were finding various things to whine about. One, Frieda, said I should write better, since I'm a "reasonably well paid writer." But then Baggins said that "well paid writer" should have a hyphen between "well" and "paid."

   Pat the Perfect then squashed the Baggins objection:

    You can hyphenate "well-paid writer," but she said "reasonably well paid writer"; hyphenating "well-paid" pulls "well" too far away from "reasonably" (same with "very"). So I would agree with Frieda's punctuation there...The Post actually used to have a style not to hyphenate "well," since it's an adverb and usually can't be ambiguous; we now do, but only before a noun: "He's a well-paid writer"; "The writer is well paid."

   You would think that settled the issue. Who would argue with Pat the P? Someone named Stan, it turned out. Stan wrote:

   "My problem with that analysis is that without the hyphenation of well-paid one could argue that the phrase refers to a healthy professional scribe."

   Boy was that a meatball right down the pipe into Pat's wheelhouse. If you know what I mean. Pat wrote:

    For poor Stan who's worried that someone would read "a well paid writer" to mean "a well writer who was paid": Relax, we at The Post do indeed, as I said, hyphenate "well-paid writer." Just not when there's an extra adverb before it to modify "well." I hope Stan is not also confused when he reads about estate agents who are real, and rights workers who are civil. Not to mention school teachers who are elementary, and room rugs that are living.

     Lesson: Don't mess with P the P.   

   

By Joel Achenbach  |  July 1, 2005; 12:41 PM ET
 
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Comments

I have to say, P the P's final post was one of the funniest things I have read on this blog. I have never heard someone say, "You are a fool!" so wittily!

Posted by: jw | July 1, 2005 12:57 PM | Report abuse

It was indeed an honor to have Pat the P come down and blog among us. I wonder if she would deign to join the select 15?

Posted by: Tom fan | July 1, 2005 12:59 PM | Report abuse

And wouldn't the geometry be a pentadecagon?

Posted by: jw | July 1, 2005 1:01 PM | Report abuse

Pentadecahedron. Yes.

Posted by: jw | July 1, 2005 1:06 PM | Report abuse

let-me-hyphen-every-single-word-I-post.

Posted by: fdg31 | July 1, 2005 1:14 PM | Report abuse

We need a spelling check button in this blog.

Posted by: fdg31 | July 1, 2005 1:15 PM | Report abuse

Oh, for criminey's sake...just pick up an Associated Press Style Guide. The one I got in 1980 cost $8.95, the one I purchased in 1987 cost $10.95. What do ssuppose the cost is today?

Having one of these nifty guides will answer have most of your questions about how journalists have to use certain conventions, such as the hyphenated "well" construct before a noun, or an adverb ending in "ly" before an adjective. (Then Joel can free himself up to write about other, more relevant topics...)

As for the collective nouns:
It takes a singular verb when the group is considered as a unit and takes a plural verb when the individuals are considered:

The team of Washington Post writers is popular. The team have recived their merit raises.

As for sentences starting with "There" or "Here" followed by a verb and subject: The verb may be singular or plural depending on whether the subject is singular or plural.

There are clouds on the horizon.
(plural subject, plural verb)
Waiter, there is a fly in my soup.
(singular subject, singular verb)

Of course, President George W. Bush makes this mistake--confusing his plural subjects and singular subjects with his plural verbs and singular verbs all the time--as does the local weatherman on our ABC-News affiliate station (both of whom drive me to distraction!). You can practically bet Bush's Crawford ranch on Bush tripping up his tongue on this usage convention. Froomkin and Achenbach misuse this contruct on the very rare occasion.

What, I ask, is a home library without a "Plain English Handbook" or a "Practical English Handbook?"

Joel, have a nice vacation...enjoy your Fourth of July...and on to the next topic, please?

Posted by: Marian the Grammarian | July 1, 2005 1:15 PM | Report abuse

Can we talk about the other kind of style? Like how much I hate those male capri-pants?

Does anal-retentive have a hyphen?

Posted by: jw | July 1, 2005 1:19 PM | Report abuse

Nixon had Pat Nixon and Pat Buchanan.

Posted by: nottamember | July 1, 2005 1:20 PM | Report abuse

The Associated Press Style Book is #385 in the Amazon rankings--I guess lots of people are buying it. E.B. White's Elements of Style is in the top 100 (#93, I think). I remember hearing a professor say once that he requires all his students to buy Elements of Style, not necessarily to read it, but at least to carry it with them, like a sacred object. Apparently, that's what most people are doing with these thousands of style guides that are being purchased, because there's not much evidence that they are being read.

Posted by: Amazon Woman | July 1, 2005 1:24 PM | Report abuse

(OK, Tom fan, remember the we-don't-know-where-the-poster-is-coming-from rule. You will be nice. You will not respond to Marian's post.)

Posted by: Tom fan | July 1, 2005 1:25 PM | Report abuse

Pat's response is one of the best I've ever read by an editor. Really tasty, and I'll steal it first chance I get.

Posted by: Martha | July 1, 2005 1:25 PM | Report abuse

I only read EoS for the humor. I ignore everything else.

Posted by: jw | July 1, 2005 1:25 PM | Report abuse

Tom Fan: very cryptic. Does that mean what I think it means? It's like a treasure hunt!

Posted by: jw | July 1, 2005 1:29 PM | Report abuse

Not much of a hunt. Poo poo.

Posted by: jw | July 1, 2005 1:30 PM | Report abuse

I'm afraid I'm not as clever as Pat in that regard. I'll keep working on it.

Posted by: Tom fan | July 1, 2005 1:33 PM | Report abuse

Ok wordies, what's the difference between fishes and fish, in a plural context?

Posted by: jw | July 1, 2005 1:35 PM | Report abuse

While those style books are all well and good, you have to remember that the youth of today is only learning instant message speak. So 4get ur style guide and get with the program...

Posted by: DC Fan | July 1, 2005 1:36 PM | Report abuse


why is it that I can understand math, but not grammar????

Posted by: pete | July 1, 2005 1:38 PM | Report abuse

Ok, here's a grammarian knot that drives me bonkers:

Is it "Whose bed are the boxes under?" or "Whose bed is the boxes under?"

Posted by: TnD | July 1, 2005 1:39 PM | Report abuse

It's Whose bed are the boxes under? The boxes are under WHOSE bed? The boxes are under Joel's bed.

Posted by: Tom fan | July 1, 2005 1:42 PM | Report abuse

Well, here's my guess. If you rearrange the question you get: "The boxes are under whose bed?" Boxes is the subject, so you'd use "are."

Posted by: jw | July 1, 2005 1:44 PM | Report abuse

I should be a copy-editor. For something easy like Teen Beat.

Posted by: jw | July 1, 2005 1:46 PM | Report abuse

What about "a writer who is paid well."?

Posted by: Jim in Kailua | July 1, 2005 1:48 PM | Report abuse

Thanks - what I thought, but it's the whole, which is modifying what that gets me. I usually know what sounds right, but....

So. What's IN the boxes under Joel's bed?

Posted by: TnD | July 1, 2005 1:48 PM | Report abuse

(A regular reader, but infrequent poster, can I be in the special group of 15?)

PtheP's explanation matches exactly what Mrs. Miller taught me in 4th grade. If it's before the noun hyphenate (well-paid writer), if it's after the noun do not (writer is well paid).

I've noticed many, many print ads defy this rule. Is Pat saying alternative methods are OK, just not up to Post standards, or is this the one and only correct approach?

Posted by: Karen | July 1, 2005 1:49 PM | Report abuse

Bird food.

Posted by: Tom fan | July 1, 2005 1:49 PM | Report abuse

Pat the Perfect:
You can hyphenate "well-paid writer," but she said "reasonably well paid writer"; hyphenating "well-paid" pulls "well" too far away from "reasonably" (same with "very"). So I would agree with Frieda's punctuation there...The Post actually used to have a style not to hyphenate "well," since it's an adverb and usually can't be ambiguous; we now do, but only before a noun: "He's a well-paid writer"; "The writer is well paid."

So, Joel's headline for this piece is correct, according to Pat the Perfect. But nowhere in the AP Style Guide can I find this rule. Don't tell me that P the P is carrying around as sacred object (as Amazon Woman points out) the "Chicago Manual of Style?" She must already be working on becoming the Notre Hunchback of the Washington Post!

DC Fan, uR rite! Wh kares? Duznt madder. Sped not grammer rooles.

Posted by: Marian the Grammarian | July 1, 2005 1:49 PM | Report abuse

Amazon Woman:

Linda Carter, is that you ?

Posted by: nottamember | July 1, 2005 1:56 PM | Report abuse

I always heard that "fishes" is for when you are speaking of more than one kind of fish: "all the fishes in the sea" meaning the cod and the flounder and the sea bass and so on. But it's not in my American Heritage Dictionary so I am not staking anything on this answer. In the dictionary entry, though, I see an old usage that is kind of colorful--I wish it was still in use: "fish: informal. A person likened to a fish for lacking some human attribute or advantage: a cold fish; a poor fish."

[A co-worker came by and said, "Typing the dictionary??" I was able to convince her that I am working. I am good.]

Posted by: kbertocci | July 1, 2005 1:58 PM | Report abuse

What about a "dead fish" as in, "his handshake felt was a dead fish."

You're right about fishes. It's more of a style thing than dictionary thing, so you might not find it there.

Posted by: jw | July 1, 2005 2:01 PM | Report abuse

Tom fan, don't say anything. My brain was changing gears and I let the clutch out a little too soon.

Posted by: jw | July 1, 2005 2:02 PM | Report abuse

It is Linda-Carter for now on

Posted by: fdg31 | July 1, 2005 2:09 PM | Report abuse

I hadn't read P the P's final response before now. I laughed out loud as my boss was walking by, and he asked me what was so funny. I didn't know how to answer that without following the explanation with, "Yes, Sir, I will deduct time from my time card." Luckily he didn't stick around for the answer.

Posted by: Sara | July 1, 2005 2:33 PM | Report abuse

To such a question, I usually respond, "Your face." Delivery is important. You cannot turn away from your computer at any point in the exchange.

Posted by: jw | July 1, 2005 2:52 PM | Report abuse

If only I were that ruthlessly suave.

Posted by: Sara | July 1, 2005 2:56 PM | Report abuse

test

Posted by: carol | July 1, 2005 3:04 PM | Report abuse

It seems self-evident that a "reasonably well paid writer" could just as easily refer to a professional scribe whose health, though good, is not perfect, as it could to a scribe who receives reasonable wages; since PtheP is definitionally infallible, then, we must assume that she ignored this fact for comic effect.

The truly unambiguous formation, FWIW, would be "reasonably-well-paid writer".

Posted by: Sweth | July 1, 2005 3:12 PM | Report abuse

Is it fair that Congress requires me to write a report over 4th o' July weekend? It is not. Damn them--when I'm in charge of this country, things will be different.

Posted by: jw | July 1, 2005 3:16 PM | Report abuse

Ruthlessly suave! I am laughing right now.

Posted by: jw | July 1, 2005 3:23 PM | Report abuse

Then I've done my one good deed for the day.

Posted by: Sara | July 1, 2005 3:32 PM | Report abuse

I still prefer e-mail over email.

Posted by: Videlicet | July 1, 2005 4:00 PM | Report abuse

Pat's response to Stan seems a bit harsh, given that the rule she articulates for "reasonably well paid" makes no sense.

Posted by: Tom | July 1, 2005 4:04 PM | Report abuse

The word "reasonably" means nothing, and should be struck by any thoughtful copy editor. This is easy to demonstrate: who makes more a well-paid writer or a reasonably well paid writer - answer: you can't tell, which means that reasonably adds nothing to the sentence, but rather unreasonably confuses it.

Posted by: Word Smith | July 1, 2005 4:05 PM | Report abuse

word.

Posted by: lop | July 1, 2005 5:34 PM | Report abuse

I believe the phrase "reasonably well paid" actually means "somewhat well paid" insofar as it is an attempt (albeit a lame, half-hearted one) to cross the divide between "well paid" and "poorly paid". Think of it as the middle class.

Of course, that said, a middle-class writer is probably eating week old tuna-fish out of a discarded can in the middle of North Capitol street, as I type. Probably wishing they had majored in Econ at college simultaneously.

Posted by: Edward | July 1, 2005 5:38 PM | Report abuse

well boys i believe i would have to go with Mr.Word Smith on this one and say that its a bit cyclic to add the "reasonably"... but thats just my opinion

Posted by: lop | July 1, 2005 5:46 PM | Report abuse

Having been called out by name ...

I don't believe the comparison to carpets in living rooms or civil rights lines up with the comparison to reasonably and "well paid."

I'm still with reasonably well-paid writer.

I don't see where the "reasonably" and the "well" are so awfully distanced by the hyphen. I think general readability is enhanced by the hypehn.

Posted by: Baggins | July 1, 2005 11:53 PM | Report abuse

Having been called out by name ...

I don't believe the comparison to carpets in living rooms or civil rights lines up with the comparison to reasonably and "well paid."

I'm still with reasonably well-paid writer.

I don't see where the "reasonably" and the "well" are so awfully distanced by the hyphen. I think general readability is enhanced by the hypehn.

Posted by: Baggins | July 1, 2005 11:53 PM | Report abuse

Having been called out by name ...

I don't believe the comparison to carpets in living rooms or civil rights lines up with the comparison to reasonably and "well paid."

I'm still with reasonably well-paid writer.

I don't see where the "reasonably" and the "well" are so awfully distanced by the hyphen. I think general readability is enhanced by the hypehn.

Posted by: Baggins | July 1, 2005 11:54 PM | Report abuse

Having been called out by name ...

I don't believe the comparison to carpets in living rooms or civil rights lines up with the comparison to reasonably and "well paid."

I'm still with reasonably well-paid writer.

I don't see where the "reasonably" and the "well" are so awfully distanced by the hyphen. I think general readability is enhanced by the hypehn.

Posted by: Baggins | July 1, 2005 11:54 PM | Report abuse

Dear Joel,
Of the chaos in the comments, you wrote: "Other blogs have tried to emulate the system, but their readers stay on point, and the blogs suffer from linearity and thematic coherence," which leads me to wonder whether you wrote a post that deals with grammar, because you know all discussions in this pentadecablogohedron lead to pedantic and petty grammar-based bickering anyway, and wanted, just once, to have an entry whose comments stayed on point? Also, at what point does a sentence become a run-on sentence?

Posted by: nomes | July 2, 2005 7:25 AM | Report abuse

A sentence becomes a run-on when, er, you write it. Just look at your own post to Joel.

Posted by: melvin | July 2, 2005 1:14 PM | Report abuse

nomes: I understood the joke, but only after melvin apparently didn't. I thought your comment was funny, too.

Posted by: kbertocci | July 2, 2005 1:45 PM | Report abuse

Say, in looking at the headline at the top of this thread -- Reasonably Well Paid Pat -- I'm left to wonder who "Reasonably Well" is and just how much this person paid to Pat.

Posted by: Baggins | July 2, 2005 11:23 PM | Report abuse

In a similar vein, I am often intrigued, when browsing the Post website, by stories of heroic everymen such as "Energy Bill" and "Steroid-Testing Bill" and "Abortion Bill". Sadly, upon further review, the stories never live up to the hype--not even the recent one about "Bloodstained Dollar Bill" (who clearly needed a hyphen).

Posted by: Sweth | July 5, 2005 6:54 AM | Report abuse

Hi. It's Friday and Weingarten just sent us over from his chat. Don't mind us. We're just looking around. Though we are surprised to see that PtheP isn't well.

Posted by: Virtual Panty Throwers | July 8, 2005 1:10 PM | Report abuse

perhaps we just have to have one side of the argument compare the other side's grammar to Hitler and we can be off this topic officially.

Posted by: hjordanc | July 8, 2005 1:36 PM | Report abuse

Since Weingarten is sending us over here from his 'glog', I will suggest diffidently that the lack of or placement of the hyphen isn't required to distance the 'reasonably' from 'well', I think.

Sorry, PtP, but I think readability is the key here. reasonably well paid makes me kind of twist my head around to follow the phrase, while reasonably well-paid flows right along.

Posted by: JWB | July 8, 2005 3:50 PM | Report abuse

Poop

Posted by: Scott | July 9, 2005 9:44 PM | Report abuse

http:/xoomer.alice.it/ringtones-free/free-mp3-ringtones.html free mp3 ringtones free mp3 ringtones

Posted by: ali | October 3, 2006 11:57 PM | Report abuse

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