What’s that word?

I was out walking last week, and noticed a familiar plant, whose name I couldn’t recall.

It wasn’t until a couple of days later, when I passed another garden with the same plant, that I realized the word still hadn’t popped into my head. I knew it started with “h,” I knew we’d had one in front of our old house, and I knew I’d used the word in an article I wrote in 2007 about Berlin.

Disconcerted, I mentioned my memory lapse to my walking partner, who wasn’t familiar with the plant. A few minutes later, the word came to me. Hosta!

It’s not a word that’s part of my everyday vocabulary. Forgetting a word I use all the time would be more of a concern. But it’s interesting to me that I remembered the exact article I used it in. I like words, and once in a while, when I have occasion to use a word or phrase that I don’t use often, it makes a long-lasting impression.

Hosta – I think it will stay fresh in my mind for a while.



A chance to be the editor…

I love the Toronto Star’s annual You be the Editor survey. And I like reading the follow-up results even better.

It’s an opportunity to make real-life editing decisions with no risk of fallout. It’s a learning opportunity, too.

Here are a few points I found particularly interesting. No, let me rephrase that, because I found the whole column particularly interesting. So I’ll just highlight a few of the questions.

Public editor Kathy English described #10 as “a tough one.” It had to do with a business profile of Heather Reisman. Most readers who completed the survey would have chosen not to publish the cited excerpts, which describe the Indigo CEO’s appearance. I probably would have omitted the reference to her “slim, lithe figure,” but I would have retained the phrase “petite frame belying the power she wields.” I’m always intrigued by contrasts and unexpected impressions – I think they make articles more interesting to read, and may help readers question their own assumptions. In this case, I believe the phrase is relevant to Reisman’s role. English asks a key question: would a male CEO’s appearance be described similarly?

#11 dealt with a column that referred to former mayor Rob Ford and his brother Doug in strong and unflattering language. A resulting complaint to the Ontario Press Council was dismissed. A lot of people that I meet aren’t clear about the difference between a column and an article. Columnists – as I learned in one of the first writing courses I ever took – are “queens” of the business who write their opinions. Journalists don’t “editorialize” in their articles.

“Paddy wagon” (#6) is a term I don’t recall ever using, and I don’t think I’m likely to use it in the future. But finding it in the survey served as a reminder that the phrase might be considered offensive.

More importantly, it’s a reminder that every word counts.