Saturday, January 14, 2012

Williams. Vaughan Williams.

I've been using a "Luther King" hed from the Times for a couple years now to illustrate the hazards of random style guesses. Observations from closer at hand are welcome, but what I expect is happening is that the subs are taking a handy shortcut: Anybody who uses three names on first reference uses the last two on second reference.

The hed has since been tweaked (it's now "King statue quote 'to be changed'," with the claim quotes intact), and the story appears to have been updated recently, so I can't tell if the original text also used "King" for "Martin Luther King" on second reference. Still, it's a useful reminder of how easy it is to put a foot wrong in a shortcut.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Brits also often get confused by Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald, calling him "Scott Fitzgerald" on second reference as if "Scott" were part of his family name. I think in both cases the confusion is enhanced by the fact that "Luther" and "Scott" are both plausible -- indeed, well-known -- family names.

11:47 PM, January 14, 2012  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I see that the Beeb also gets the name of the National Park Service wrong in the usual way. (BrE has more tolerance for, if not outright prefers, plurals used attributively.)

It should have taken a sub-editor all of five seconds to look up the correct name (it could hardly be more obvious on, but even a Google search would have given them the right answer).

12:01 AM, January 15, 2012  
Anonymous Picky said...

Part of the problem is that 'Luther King' – while admittedly incorrect – is immediately identifiable, whereas King is not: we are infested with statues of varying kings over here.

3:24 AM, January 15, 2012  
Anonymous Ed Latham said...

I think the influence of two different traditions in nomenclature is also coming into play here. In Britain, stuffed with aristocracy as we are, double-barrelled (and sometimes triple-barrelled) surnames are common – this is the land of Isabella Anstruther-Gough-Calthorpe, after all – and some don't have hyphens: Ralph Vaughan Williams's surname, for example, is Vaughan Williams, not Williams.

Contrarily, the use of a middle name or a middle initial as an everyday identifier (Joe Don Baker, Billy Ray Cyrus etc) is much less common in Britain than it is in the US. So I think British subs are subconsciously inclined to interpret (or misinterpret) three-part names as having two-part surnames.

12:26 PM, January 15, 2012  
Anonymous Ed Latham said...

Er, on re-reading, I now see that my news about Vaughan Williams may not have come as a complete surprise to anyone who read the headline of the blogpost...

12:31 PM, January 15, 2012  
Anonymous Ed Latham said...

On the subject of the claim quotes, these are what I think of as ultra-cautious 'BBC quotes' - yes, it's a 'claim', in that it's a report of a report rather than something that's been double-sourced and verified to the BBC's exacting standards, but really, if the Post has got direct quotes from the US secretary of the interior, can there really be any doubt? Claim quotes are really for contentious single-source claims about which there may be dispute, not for saving yourself the bother of ringing Mr Salazar's office to check things out.

12:39 PM, January 15, 2012  
Blogger fev said...

I hadn't thought of distinguishing BBC claim quotes from standard claim quotes. Sounds like a topic for future research.

I have seen US journalists (mostly students) doing a similar two name/three name thing with women who use both family name and married name on first reference. Using the two names on second reference seems to be read like another secret handshake of style: something you have to know if you're an initiate.

Being from the Jim Ed/Billy Ray part of the country myself, I can only wonder how Ralph Vaughan Williams would be greeted at teh weekly jam: "Hey, Ralph Vaughan!"

5:31 PM, January 15, 2012  
Blogger The Ridger, FCD said...

Ian Baker Finch says that when he first played a tournament in Texas he was called "Ian Baker" by friendly locals...

6:48 PM, January 17, 2012  
Anonymous Ed Latham said...

Heaven knows what they'd make of Sir Ranulph Twistleton-Wykeham-Fiennes.

6:15 PM, January 18, 2012  

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