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Every day in every way we are getting worse and worse

One of the dusty treasures in my office is a binder with copies of The Baltimore Sun’s in-house editing and writing newsletter from the early 1970s.

The entries are instructive to read when people complain about the decline in literacy and the multiplication of errors in print. Many of those doughty Sun writers and editors and copy editors had been in high school and college in the austere and blessed Fifties, before the wanton Sixties undermined all that was good and true and pure. Let’s see how adept they were.

“COMPOSE AND COMPRISE are not synonymous. The parts compose the whole; the whole comprises (is composed of) the parts.”

“MINUSCULE – The dictionary accepts miniscule as a variant of minuscule. The Sun does not.”

“SPELL them liquefy and rarefy. Also, ophthalmologist has two h’s.”

“GRAMMAR: The author wrote: ‘The Calley case … is one of the issues which are making the United States regard…’ The copyreader changed it to read ‘one of the issues which is making.’ The author was correct.”

“POLITICS is singular.”

“HOMONYMS – ‘I would be loathe to put it into a political context.’ The adjective, meaning unwilling, is spelled loath. The verb, meaning to hate, is spelled loathe.”

“1 2 3 OWL’S EYES – ‘Patrolman Howard R. Banks, 23, lost 10 days’ leave for making an illegal search of a man whom he was told had a switchblade knife.’ And in the next paragraph: ‘Patrolman Jimmie W. Wallace, Jr., 24, lost five days’ leave for misconduct in demanding to see identification of a girl whom he thought was too young to be at a bar.’ In both cases, the word should be ‘who.’ Take out the words ‘he was told’ and ‘he thought’ to see how wrong it is.”

“GET IT RIGHT – ‘The amount of lawyers who have been decimated on prime time would fill a nice-sized coliseum….’ ‘Amount’ is not a synonym for ‘number.’ This misuse has appeared more than once recently.”

“WHICHCRAFT Cutline: ‘(Mrs.) Austin looks through a cart of well-wishing mail for the Alabama governor who is hospitalized in Silver Spring.’ There is only one Alabama governor, and that fact makes ‘who is hospitalized’ an unrestrictive clause, and that makes a comma after ‘governor’ necessary.”

As you see, the same damn things have been cropping up regularly, in good times and bad, fair weather and foul, for the past forty years. If you imagine otherwise, you might consult a professional to determine whether you are suffering from the Recency Illusion or the Frequency Illusion.



Posted by John McIntyre at 8:48 AM | | Comments (0)

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About John McIntyre
John McIntyre, mild-mannered editor for a great metropolitan newspaper, has fussed over writers’ work, to sporadic expressions of gratitude, for thirty years. He is The Sun’s night content production manager and former head of its copy desk. He also teaches editing at Loyola University Maryland. A former president of the American Copy Editors Society, a native of Kentucky, a graduate of Michigan State and Syracuse, and a moderate prescriptivist, he writes about language, journalism, and arbitrarily chosen topics. If you are inspired by a spirit of contradiction, comment on the posts or write to him at
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