When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro. - Hunter S. Thompson

31 August 2005

LevEE, dammit

Given all of the destruction and devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina, what I'm about to write is going to seem incredibly petty.

But, after all, what's a blog for? If it doesn't allow the author to vent about the petty stuff that pisses him off, what's the use?


When you're writing about the breached earthen walls that have failed to protect New Orleans from storm-related flooding, it's "levee" or "levees," dammit, and not "levy" or "levies."

I have seen this fundamental copyediting error too many places over the last couple of days, including CNN and the Wall Street Journal.

Repairing a levee is a major engineering project.

Repairing a levy is something that tax policy analysts try to do.

Got it?

It's true that both terms come from the Old French levee, meaning "to raise." That's probably what's confusing people.

To forestall further confusion, a Levite is a member of a Jewish priestly class; Levi Strauss makes blue jeans (but not in America anymore, sadly) and Lévi-Strauss is an anthropologist.

And Levi Stubbs used to sing lead for The Four Tops.

We now return you to your hurricane-devastation coverage and your regularly scheduled Wednesday workday. Don't forget to send in your donations to the hurricane-relief group of your choice.

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