Connections: The Memory Card

I am old school when it comes to the rigors of style and grammar that I’ve hewed to in my career

I may have been the winner of a spelling bee when I was in second grade, but now that I am above a certain age my spelling prowess is diminishing. It’s hard to stomach the fact that I sometimes have to consult a dictionary these days before committing a word to prose. (I was about to say “to paper,” but thought better of it.) Sometimes I even rely on Microsoft Word’s spell-check to be sure of certain words that used to come automatically. Oh, the indignity!

Still, I am old school when it comes to the rigors of style and grammar that I’ve hewed to in my career, and I still know my way around a proofreading galley. I’ve been writing, editing, and proofreading for so many years that it’s hard to stop, even when I am trying to relax. Reading someone else’s newspaper, my eyes go directly to the blooper and my hand starts reaching for a proverbial red grease pencil. I cannot imagine many students in journalism school these days are still learning proofreading marks — the shorthand hieroglyphics with which a galley is marked up for correction — though I could be wrong.

Many publications throughout the country use AP (Associated Press) style, which — at least among ink-stained old curmudgeons — is considered snappier and a bit more modern than New York Times style, although we at The Star do prefer more the formal usage set by The Times, while abiding by a few style-rule and spelling quirks unique to us.

There have been bloodbaths recently in the newsrooms of papers around the country, including the horrible news this week of mass firings at The Daily News and the demolition not long ago of the copy desk at The Times. Entire departments have been slashed and streamlined — and, from my perspective, the damage to the language is obvious. It is troublesome to see mistakes and missing words cropping up more and more often as The Times is rushed to print and into digital form. 

Although my spelling isn’t quite what it once was, my memory for numbers is as sharp as ever. When my kids were in school, they counted on me to remember their friends’ phone numbers. The advent of cellphones has complicated that, of course, as has the proliferation of area codes over the last 20 years. Once, 516 and 324 would do, and then 631 and 329, but they were followed by all the cell-specific exchanges, your 917s and 347s. I remember when people even sold old 324 numbers to newcomers, as a way of making cash from that numerical prestige.

How many different phone numbers are your friends and countrymen using these days? I don’t believe kids today bother to memorize phone numbers, do they? All the various numbers are simply stored into their cellphones. My daughter, who still uses old rotary and push-button phones from the 1980s and 1970s (she says it is because the older phones were better built and never break, but I think it’s really more of an aesthetic choice) claims that one of her summer interns last month was unable to operate a push-button landline phone when confronted with it.

I use a cellphone, of course, but have resisted programming my contacts’ numbers into it. This isn’t so much because I don’t love cellphones — although, truth be told, I do not love them, and never want to be one of those people whose head is always down and whose nose is always in the screen. No, the real reason I still rely on my brain for phone-number storage is because it still gives me a second-grade thrill to be able to brag that I remember them all.