Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Copywright* (for Copyright* or Copywrite*)

The first U.S. federal copyright act was passed today in 1790 and it's been kind of a hard word to get right ever since. I once had an unfortunate moment of "wordnesia" (during a spelling bee, no less) and inexplicably spelled the word playwright "playwrite," so I can understand how some people might be inclined to misspell copyright as "copywright." Or even "copywrite." Especially since those who write "copy" are called copywriters. Lots of copy has been written about copyright (both pro and con), but there may not be any dissent at all when it comes to the "best copyright statement ever," as helpfully supplied by a NYLINE member recently. It's from the Riverhead Books division of Penguin Random House and starts off typically enough ("Penguin supports copyright..."), but soon veers off into "a clear and charming argument for the importance of supporting intellectual property." The copyright statement, which was suggested by cartoonist Ryan North, author of a "choose your own adventure" series based on the stories of Shakespeare, continues for a while and then interjects: "Also, way to go on reading all this small print! Lots of readers just skip over it (they think it's "boring"), but it's nice to see that you, for one, are getting your money's worth out of this book by reading every single word it contains. In thanks, here are some special words just for you that won't appear anywhere else in this book: callipygian, saudade, and mamihlapinatapei. Look at those words! Those are some quality words, and everyone else who picked up this book is missing out." I know that callipygian means, to put it bluntly, having a big beautiful butt, but I had to look up the other two, an endeavor I highly endorse. And speaking of big butts, I was just discussing with a friend whether the more "proper" expression is "butt naked" or "buck naked." It's an interesting debate that may or may not involve a level of racial bigotry. Some words are intrinsically "offensive," I suppose you could say, while others are simply misunderstood (niggardly, picnic, etc.). Just ask your favorite copywriter. Today's typo came up seven times in OhioLINK, and 291 times in WorldCat. (In one case, though, what at first looked like a typo actually turned out to be a pun of sorts: The Copywrights: Intellectual Property and the Literary Imagination.)

(Three happy copywriters in 1950s Chicago, from Wikimedia Commons.)

Carol Reid

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