Sunday, October 25, 2009

Make up your mind

Is "couple" singular or plural? The AP stylebook, wisely, says it depends. But letting it be both in the same clause is a little excessive:

Now, the Zarbs and an Ypsilanti cou­ple, who also was stuck with an out­standing $113,266 loan on an RV they traded in last year, are suing Walt Mi­chal in Wayne County Circuit Court in an uphill battle to force him to pay off the debts.

You can tell that there's a lot of work going on here. It isn't always very careful or very relevant work. The Freep, as usual, is obsessed with not splitting verbs -- hence the "also was stuck" here, but also the "now is out of business" in the preceding graf, where there isn't a compound verb to split. The cutlines zealously follow Freep style in identifying the actors by name, age and hometown, but they can't decide whether the guy should be "Bob Zarb, 51, of Waterford" or "Robert Zarb, 51, of Waterford.

The biggest waste of effort is one you can't see in the online version. The redesign's no-jump policy carries over to inside stories as well. In print, the story starts on 9A and finishes on 15A, and since each one is self-contained, it starts and finishes twice. That's worse than 1A billboarding, in which a three-graf story on the front signals a whole story inside,* because each of the inside stories is the centerpiece of its page. There's nothing in the first iteration that isn't in the second, except that you see the couple outside the RV rather than inside it.

Time is a zero-sum game. If we have so little of it, should we be trying to use it a little more smartly?

* If you read the Freep every day, you know better than to start with the front if you're looking for news anyway.


Blogger The Ridger, FCD said...

The use of "they" is the least troubling thing in that sentence, if you ask me.

1:16 PM, October 25, 2009  
Blogger fev said...

I'll grant you that, but I have a nagging feeling the it/they issue is the only one that would have set off a debate around the desk.

(Regular visitors will want to visit The Greenbelt and read Ridge's thoughts on attribution in crime coverage, if they haven't already.)

6:45 PM, October 25, 2009  
Blogger John Cowan said...

It's more than a little difficult to know what pronoun to refer to couple with, when it means two human beings. It savors too strongly of the inanimate, whereas they is open to the objection you've just raised.

I think it best to lump couple with the indefinite forms (someone, anyone, etc.) that have stood as referents of they in the language for many centuries, despite the ranting and roaring of all the world's prescriptivists.

7:03 PM, October 25, 2009  
Blogger The Ridger, FCD said...

I'm guessing Fred doesn't mind "they" with "couple", but was thinking it should have been "a couple who were stuck...", as with "a pair".

8:12 PM, October 25, 2009  
Blogger fev said...

And in fairness to the much-maligned AP stylebook, that's where its entry is headed: what to do with "each couple was asked to give $10" vs. "the couple were married and left on their honeymoon." I think "each couple were asked to give ..." would be standard in Britain, but we're still stuck with squishy "couple" here.

8:59 PM, October 25, 2009  

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