Friday, January 04, 2013

First, biggest, only

Just a reminder that your double-naught copy-editing license allows you to stop and frisk any claim that some person or event is the first, or tallest, or loudest, or longest. As in:

An obituary on Wednesday about Beate Sirota Gordon, who helped write the Constitution of post-World War II Japan, erroneously attributed a distinction to her. She was one of the last living members of the team that wrote Japan’s Constitution — not the last. (At least one other member, Milton J. Esman, is still alive.)

An obituary on Wednesday about the actor Harry Carey Jr. erroneously attributed a distinction to him. He was one of the last surviving members of “a group known informally in Hollywood as the John Ford stock company” — actors whom the director John Ford cast frequently in his films; he was not the last. (At least two other actors who often worked for Ford, Maureen O’Hara and Patrick Wayne, are still alive.)

As a general rule, there is a first and there is a biggest; sometimes there's an only. One time-tested way of keeping errors out of the paper is asking writers to provide a score sheet and a list of runners-up whenever they make such a claim.

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