Thursday, December 22, 2011

Editing by Ear

The year 2011 soon slips away so it’s worth a pause during the holidays to mark a celebration that occurred this year – the 400th anniversary of the Authorized, or King James Version of the Bible.

Regardless of religious persuasion, most agree the KJV marks one of the greatest writing achievements in English. National Geographic featured the KJV in a cover story for its December issue, which opines “You don't have to be a Christian to hear the power of those words – simple in vocabulary, cosmic in scale, stately in their rhythms, deeply emotional in their impact.” The article provides insights we forget:

First, the KJV represents one time a committee got it right. It is the product of 54 scholars, not of all of whom were particularly religious, nor were all with the Church of England. They produced their masterwork in a time of political upheaval with bitter divides over religious belief, and every faction already had a translation. But the “most high and mighty Prince James,” as the preface calls its sponsor, saw a new translation as one way to bring his squabbling subjects together.

How did the committee do it? Second, the KJV was intended to be read – aloud – in church and home. The committee’s goal was “that it may bee understood even of the very vulgar,” the preface adds. Yeah, they really talked that way back then. The committee divided into teams and read their draft translations of the original Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek aloud to each other, knowing the ear serves as an excellent editor and tends to find the perfect written phrase.

Modern writers and editors improve their product when they lean back in the chairs and speak the words just typed on a screen, as surely as reading words written with a quill on parchment.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Sic Transit: American Airlines in Chapter XI

My dad came home from World War II and took a job with American Airlines. It was opportune for him, the airlines boomed in the late 1940s as passengers flocked aboard the new four-engine piston planes that made flight both comfortable and fast. It was an exciting and romantic business, something ABC tries to capture, unsuccessfully, with its potboiler Pan Am.

This was a carriage trade back then. Fares were steep and coach class as we know it didn’t exist. That changed with deregulation. Fares fell off a cliff and airlines had to change. I recall gasps when Braniff announced a $299 roundtrip, DFW-London fare in 1980. That price stunned people, although in today’s money it would be a ho-hum $800. You can easily beat that. Some airlines, like American, adjusted. Some, like Braniff, didn’t.

Flying today is less romantic than riding the bus, although commercials by American and its competitors try to remind passengers of the glory days. Tiny seats so close together you can’t cross your legs prove more compelling.

My experience with American goes from vacations on my dad’s pass – getting up on my knees in the window seat to look at the big propellers on the wings – to enough business travel to earn gold-level AAdvantage status. That offered first-class upgrades, where there’s a whiff of romance left. At least I could cross my legs. And reading my dad’s copies of Flagship News years ago provided my introduction to internal communications.

This sea change naturally impacted airline public relations. I interviewed for a PR job with American several years ago. Romance tugged at my heart but reality pointed to the rows of cubicles emptied by multiple layoffs. I didn’t get the job. It might be just as well. PR becomes increasingly optional to a firm fighting to make a profit.

Having been through a corporate bankruptcy, I’m numb thinking about the challenge American’s PR staff faces. But the initial result seems good. I wish them well and every success in whatever the future may be.