Thursday, March 18, 2010

Break out the clue bat

How do copy editors -- paragons of virtue that we are -- manage to get a reputation as the Inspectors Clouseau of the Grammar Police? Probably because we do stuff like this (page 16A of today's Freep, if you're scoring along at home):

Today, there are just more than 2,300 housing units in Ramat Shlomo. Israel’s approval of 1,600 more has triggered the worst feud in decades between Israel and the U.S.

So you've already guessed what the AP wrote, right?

Today, there are just over 2,300 housing units in Ramat Shlomo. Israel's approval of 1,600 more has triggered the worst feud in decades between Israel and the U.S.

We must have a lot of time on our hands, mustn't we? So much that we could ignore this lede on the biz front:

Ford’s stock price zoomed passed $14 per share for the first time in five years Wednes­day and could go higher.

"Zoomed passed" is just an out-and-out error. Whether it's a writer in a hurry or a careless editor leaving a scalpel in the patient, we don't know, but one has to admit it does sort of jump out at one. I don't like the lede for other reasons; if we're trying to coordinate stuff that happened Wednesday with stuff that might (or might not, ahem) happen at some unspecified future time, I'd rather have separate clauses than a compound predicate, but that's an ear question. We can deal with that after fixing the (kaff kaff) blindingly obvious.

The "over" vs. "more than" question is firmly fixed in news practice, however shaky its foundation in real life. In its straightforward form, editors don't seem ready to reject it; last summer's grammar survey* found that only about 21% of print editors thought "Over 100 people were arrested ..." was fine as it stood, with about a third calling it wrong and about half going for "OK but not preferred." The idiomatic "just over" or "just under," though, is a different creature. "Just more than half of participants" just sends fingernails down the blackboard of my spine. Prosewise, these are trying times I find it hard to take any such writing seriously.

The bottom line, alas, is the bottom line. If the copydesk is making the wire copy worse while ignoring flaws in the staff copy, it shouldn't expect much of a sympathetic ear the next time it has to justify its existence to the higher-ups.

* Thanks to those who have written inquiring about the progress about this thing, by the way. It got sidetracked last fall, but I'm writing it now, hopefully** for summer presentation.
** Gotcha!

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Blogger Strayhorn said...

That first screw-up almost looks like a search-n-replace error. Almost.

2:50 PM, March 18, 2010  
Blogger The Ridger, FCD said...

Automated copy editing: as great as automated anything else to do with language!

8:06 PM, March 18, 2010  

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