27 January 2008

Sunday Judgment I

Today's subject: chagrin.

At last, I'm unveiling today the probably-not-so-highly-anticipated Sunday column I've been promising for three or four weeks. Column isn't really a good word for it. Weekly feature might be better; I've realized that the key to maybe keeping this thing regular is to keep it short.

My advisor puts a premium on his students developing engineering judgment--that quality that allows one to make wise, technically sound choices on issues that do not have a black-and-white answer. Deciding which parts of a system to model and which parts to omit is a good example of a situation calling for engineering judgment. Two parts technical experience and one part common sense, engineering judgment still eludes me in many situations.

However, this quality is closely related to an analogous one: editorial judgment. You develop editorial judgment in much the same way, and after numerous jobs in writing and editing, I think on this front I can at least say I'm on my way. Thus, in hopes that you might occasionally find them useful, I'm going to share with you a particular judgment every Sunday.

The subject of this first installment of Sunday Judgment is the usage of the word chagrin. This one drives me crazy, so it occurred to me first, though in future installments I'll try to choose some more practical examples.

Anyway, chagrin has nothing to do with anger, at least not in and of itself. It has to do with embarrassment. Sure, annoyance may spring from those feelings of embarrassment, but don't say "much to his chagrin" if what follows is an account of something that simply made a fellow mad, rather than embarrassing him. Of course, people ignore this advice all the time, which is probably why American Heritage's definition mentions the annoyance angle, whereas Merriam-Webster ignores it.

That said, the whole essence of editorial judgment is that it is (semi-)subjective; reasonable people can disagree on these matters. If you do, I hope you'll let me know, either by posting a comment or via email.

That's all for this week. See you next time on Sunday Judgment.

Speaking of Sunday fixtures (or at least would-be ones), I'm currently listening to this week's Prairie Home Companion rerun (I seldom remember to listen Saturday evening). Good stuff, especially from Roy Blount, Jr. and Nellie McKay. The former's frequent mentions of Roger Miller (see the previous post's "Kansas City Star" link) in his bit on "honky tonk philosophy" made me happy and nostalgic, and the latter's "Mother of Pearl" was both hilari- and venom-ous. You should be able to checkout highlights soon on the show's Web site.

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