GateHouse spikes ‘Words’ columnist’s farewell

Barry Wood (Photo credit: Rockford Register Star)

Rockford Register Star “word guru”/copy editor Barry Wood has been laid off, which means the end of his GateHouse-syndicated “Wood on Words” column. I’m told that his farewell column was posted early to some websites, then pulled when one of the bosses saw it.

I’m wondering if it was this passage that caused the news manager to spike the piece:

The process of fossilization is slow but steady. For me, it was completed recently when the Register Star and its parent company, GateHouse, decided that they could no longer afford to pay me for what I do: editing stories, writing headlines, proofreading pages and writing this weekly column. The modern copy editor has to be able to do more.

Or this one:

Who wouldn’t like to be told after years of blood, sweat and tears that a company is “going in a different direction”? Well, now I’m going in a different direction. I’ve gone through the stages of grief — denial, depression, grumpy, sleepy and happy — and now I’m ready to move on.

I’ve asked Wood and Register Star executive editor Doug Gass for comment.

THE COLUMN THAT DIDN’T RUN:

By Barry Wood
GateHouse News Service

I used to collect fossils. Now I’ve become one.

You may have heard that the newspaper business is changing. I dare say you’ve noticed the effects in this paper.

Readers of this column are about to notice another: These are the last words of Wood on Words.

The process of fossilization is slow but steady. For me, it was completed recently when the Register Star and its parent company, GateHouse, decided that they could no longer afford to pay me for what I do: editing stories, writing headlines, proofreading pages and writing this weekly column. The modern copy editor has to be able to do more.

Officially, I’m being “laid off.” How appropriate that my career is ended with a form of the word “lay.” I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve had to change “laying” to “lying” and make other corrections involving “lay” and “lie.”

By the way, Webster’s definition of “lay off” is “to put (an employee) out of work, especially temporarily” — essentially the same as “furlough.”

However, there is no illusion here: This is permanent. It may make everyone else feel better to say “layoff,” but it feels like a “firing.” To “fire” means “to dismiss from a position; discharge.” In fact, says Webster’s, this use of “fire” is a pun on “discharge.” So both words come from the use of guns.

Throw in “terminate” and “ax,” and you have quite a lethal linguistic arsenal./CONTINUES

Other terms sometimes employed when ending employment include “boot,” “bounce,” “can,” “drop,” “let go,” “give the pink slip” and “strike off the rolls.” Of recent popularity are “outsourcing” and “downsizing” as reasons for showing employees the door.

More complicated euphemisms include “eliminating (someone’s) position” and “choosing not to renew (a person’s) contract.”

And who wouldn’t like to be told after years of blood, sweat and tears that a company is “going in a different direction”?

Well, now I’m going in a different direction. I’ve gone through the stages of grief — denial, depression, grumpy, sleepy and happy — and now I’m ready to move on. You’ll still be able to find me teaching the occasional class at the Rock Valley College Center for Learning in Retirement and the Society for Learning Unlimited in Beloit, Wis.

I’ll also still be writing about words. But until I finally manage to finish the book I’m working on, it will be online. Starting June 15, you can check out woodafterwords.com.

The email address here at the paper will no longer be valid after Friday, but you can contact me at home: woodgunk@aol.com.

The Wood on Words column began in the early spring of 2002. It has opened doors to other opportunities and put me in touch with many wonderful people — and a couple of cranky ones.

My sincere thanks to (nearly) everyone who has called me or written, chatted with me in person, shared the column with others, or just plain enjoyed reading it.

And my sincere apologies to people whose communications I didn’t get around to answering. I have no excuse for that. You, the readers, deserved better. Without readers, the column would have been just me talking to myself — and I do plenty of that as it is.

Overall, it has been gratifying to be regularly reminded that so many people still care about words.

Keep up the good fight!

In the immortal words of Porky Pig, “Th-th-that’s all, folks!””

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