Thursday, May 25, 2006

Fine Point vs. El Marko

We are editors, yes, but we must be writers as well. And sometimes a stylebook ruling or a factual correction conflicts with the goal of presenting prose that sounds as if maybe, just maybe, it was written by a human rather than a machine. The correct answer in such a case?

a. Shrug. The stylebook is the stylebook, and we follow the stylebook.
b. Hey, I'm a human! Perhaps I can craft something that satisfies both requirements!

You guessed it. The artfully wielded Bic can be mightier than the thick, permanent black marker. Here are some case studies. The details have been changed to protect the guilty.

THE RAW COPY: She is a teacher at Los Cerritos High School, which offers classes in seven foreign languages.
THE CATCH: It's a high school all right, but that's not its name. It's something long and unwieldy, like Los Cerritos Advanced Institution of Learning and Culture for All the Live-Long Day.
THE EL MARKO FIX: She is a teacher at Los Cerritos high school, which offers classes in seven foreign languages.
THE SLOT SPEAKS: It's either a name or it isn't. There are some conventions that occupy that middle ground -- Time magazine, Washington state -- but "Los Cerritos high school" is just plain ugly. The fix that requires the fewest keystrokes isn't always the best route. As they say on the infomercials, There's got to be a better way!
THE FINE-POINT VERSION: She is a teacher at Los Cerritos, a high school that offers classes in seven foreign languages.
EPILOGUE: See? There was a better way.

*

THE RAW COPY: His next campaign stops are in Sandusky and Cleveland, Ohio.
THE CATCH: "Silly backwards writer! Everybody knows Cleveland stands alone but Sandusky requires the state!"
THE EL MARKO FIX: His next campaign stops are in Sandusky, Ohio, and Cleveland.
THE SLOT SPEAKS: Give me a ____ing break. The way it was written is the only sensible way to write such a thing. If that's a stylebook violation, then the stylebook is a ass.
THE FINE-POINT VERSION: See "raw copy."
EPILOGUE: You're trying to get me to take early retirement, aren't you?

*

THE RAW COPY: The group, which backed the confirmations of Supreme Court Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., objected to the commentary.
THE CATCH: He's the chief justice of the United States, not the chief justice of the Supreme Court.
THE EL MARKO FIX: The group, which backed the confirmations of Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Supreme Court Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., objected to the commentary.
THE SLOT SPEAKS: Good point, bad "fix." The chief justice is on the Supreme Court, and there's a way to reflect that and avoid sounding idiotic.
THE FINE-POINT VERSION: The group, which backed the Supreme Court confirmations of Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., objected to the commentary.
EPILOGUE: Was that so hard? Think, people, think!

10 comments:

Jesse said...

This is just me, but couldn't it be "Cleveland and Sandusky, Ohio?" That seems to clear out the confusion, and even helps out the two people in the world who don't know what state Cleveland is in.

Amber said...

I was thinking the same thing. That would be ideal if the candidate were going to Cleveland first, but I'm guessing that wasn't the situation.

Bill said...

Right: There is a chronological imperative here.

There is a good reason to get all nervous about the dateline-cities business if you're writing about Madison Heights or Chandler (Huh? Where?). But we need to lighten up a little bit about, say, leaving the "Okla." off "Tulsa" in a list in which in which it's the only non-dateline city. Better "Detroit, Pittsburgh, Seattle, Tulsa and Washington" than "Detroit; Pittsburgh; Seattle; Tulsa, Okla.; and Washington."

Sandy Lavendale said...

How about saving another character with the following? "She is a teacher at a Los Cerritos high school that offers classes in seven foreign languages."

Bill said...

"A Los Cerritos high school" would be "a high school in a place called Los Cerritos, and we refuse to tell you which one." Los Cerritos is the name of the high school, not (necessarily) the name of the community.

Bill Bennett said...

My UK English newspaper background would tighten still further to:

"She is a teacher at Los Cerritos, a high school offering classes in seven foreign languages."

Is there any reason why you don't use this form?

Jeff said...

A verbal jousting I thought you could appreciate:

http://themonkeyboylovescheese.mu.nu/archives/178560.php

Doug Fisher said...

Bill:
Primo stuff. I will unabashedly crib it for my classes.

nusratt said...

Why does no one object to the extraneous characterization of "foreign" languages?
What statistically likely ambiguity would result from writing "classes in seven languages"?

Bill said...

"Seven languages"? Well, it would be odd that a high school wouldn't offer classes in the native language.