Friday, March 27, 2009

Who's who?

A steadfast commitment to teaching, concern for disadvantaged people and the relentless pursuit of world peace were driving forces that guided Sister Rita Mary Olszewski during her vocation with the Sisters of Mercy.

The member of the religious order for more than four decades died of cancer Saturday at Flower Hospital in Sylvania, Ohio. The Detroit resident was 60.

It's pretty common (and not necessarily offputting) for news writing to keep the factoid-per-sentence count high through the judicious use of epithets: "That ain't my style," the portly portsider added. When you run two together in the same graf, though, you're starting to get a pretty crowded obit. Readers have reason to ask: Who's on first? (Or, worse: Can't anybody here play this game?)

Rather than two different noun phrases (one of them 11 words long, with two prepositional phrases) for the same person, just use her name and a pronoun:

Sister Olszewki, 60, a Detroit resident, died of cancer Saturday at Flower Hospital in Sylvania, Ohio. She had been a member of the religious order for more than four decades.

The title on second reference is a common exception for obits, but it does point toward one of those interesting quirks of traditional news style: What sort of professions get courtesy titles on first reference, and why?

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4 Comments:

Blogger Strayhorn said...

The only courtesy rule I can remember offhand is: Never call a man 'doctor' unless he can set a broken leg. Never call him 'professor' unless he's selling snake oil off the back of a wagon.

Seems as true now as it did with Samuel Clemens was a cub reporter.

3:34 PM, March 27, 2009  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'd take issue with your "Sister Olszewski" there. "Sister" should always be used with a first name, and is never correct with a family name. (Likewise "Brother", "Mother", and "Pope", and unlike "Bishop" and "Cardinal".) In many religious orders, the first name is a chosen, rather than given name. (And AIUI in some orders, the first name as used may actually be a second or third name -- unless they've changed since I was in school, all Sisters of Mercy officially have the first name "Mary".)

8:43 PM, March 27, 2009  
Blogger fev said...

Tnx for the observations. "Sister Olszewski" was actually the paper's usage (on a later ref) in this case. If I recall it correctly, Freep style on religious orders calls for following the person's preference on 2nd refs (after determining it from the person or someone close). That may have been the preference that was expressed, or it may be the result of a series of guesses, inferences and strange applications of hosue obit style.

AP style on the matter has evolved a goood bit over the years, too. And aside from the occasional brush with the Little Sisters of Hoboken, that's about as far as my direct knowledge goes.

9:14 PM, March 27, 2009  
Blogger The Ridger, FCD said...

Why are we so eager to keep up the pretense that medical doctors are so damned special? Godlike beings dispensing healing from on high, and the only ones entitled to recognition of their schooling?

10:42 AM, March 28, 2009  

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