Can't we all just get along?
"People suffer injuries. Inanimate objects sustain damage. Didn’t your people learn anything in journalism school?"
The message on my voice mail went on a little longer than that, but the caller, who left no name, spoke emphatically throughout (hence the boldface italics) about the contemptible ignorance of The Sun’s writers and editors.
No doubt I would have been held personally accountable if the caller had happened to read my post on that subject from November
So let me ask. Is there anyone out there who knows of a reason to make this distinction apart from some stylebook shibboleth or managing editor’s ukase? Is there some reputable authority on usage who sanctions this? Show me that I am wrong, and I will dine publicly on crow.
And even if there were some legitimate justification for all the to-ing and fro-ing over suffer and sustain, could we manage to be a little less rude? After all, we don’t put mistakes into the paper intentionally, and some of the things that readers perceive as mistakes are not wrong. There is no necessity to write the kind of Have-any-of-your-editors-ever-been-to-college? letter that has landed repeatedly on my desk.
Some of the snarkier letters end with a suggestion that the whole paper could be straightened out if we just put the letter-writer in charge of the editing.
Not so much. Most civilians — and not a few journalists — dropped on a newspaper copy desk would confront a cascade of articles, many with serious errors of fact, grammar and usage, many with problems of structure or clarity, many moving past deadline, all requiring headlines and formatting for typesetting, many having to be cut because they were moved longer than their budgeted length. And, having dealt with these issues under unrelenting deadline pressure, most civilians — and not a few journalists — would flee gibbering into the night.
You probably couldn’t do any better than we do, which is one reason to keep a civil tongue in your head.