There are three great truths in journalism:
1. Whenever someone announces, “There are doughnuts in the breakroom,” drop everything and go immediately. Screw deadline. If you edit those last three paragraphs first, you will go without.
2. Never run stories about Arantxa Sanchez Vicario. Her name is just too, too hard to spell. Or is you must, change name to the speller-friendly Margaret Court.
3. If a co-worker is coming at you while waving the just-published newspaper, you’re in for trouble.
Scenario No. 3 played out last night.
Co-worker is checking the paper when she sees that someone has changed “tamal” to “tamale.” That’s wrong, she says.
She patiently explains to Gringo Boy that the Spanish word is “tamal.” “Tamale” is the dumbass Americanized version. It should be tamal.
I am Switzerland. I mostly want to go home and have ice cream (Mo has just bought some and it won’t last long. See No. 1 above). So I pull out the trusty AP Stylebook. It says, “I’m staying out of this one. Lo siento.” As anyone who has been playing this game for way too long knows, the next step is the beloved New World Dictionary.
Sure enough, New World says Tamale, with an explanation that it is derived from the Spanish word Tamal. Co-worker points to Tamal, saying that it indeed IS in the New World, and therefore should be used. A loophole. Damn.
I google “tamal vs. tamale” and find an endless series of raging debates with no clear conclusion, unless “yo mama” is an acceptable compromise. What to do?
In the end, of course, I do what copy editors always do when faced with such a dilemma: Leave it the way it is. Less work, no chasing pages late at night, no editing in yet another mistake as you fix the first.
OK, she says, but that’s whack. I’m thinking that’s bad, but it’s not in the AP Stylebook, so I can’t say conclusively.
I drive home, wondering if you publish a paper in a land that’s more than 60 percent Hispanic, maybe you should take exception to AP style. It’s just a dumb rule, after all. And wishing I had a doughnut. And wondering what exactly Arantxa Sanzchez Vicario is up to these days.
But mostly, I’m singing the theme to “Annie.”
I love you, tamale
It’s only a food cart away …