Sunday, January 11, 2015

The virtue of consistency

Is consistency overstated as an editing virtue? No, but it might be misstated in some cases. It's consistent -- at least, with the stylebook's rules -- to abbreviate "street" in one sentence (as long as it occurs with a specific address) and spell it out in the next one (as long as it doesn't), or to spell out "road" but abbreviate "avenue" in the same sentence. Readers might be impressed by how closely we follow the rules if they knew and valued the rules; I'm not entirely convinced they can tell hairsplitting in those cases from the simple inability to remember what we did five seconds earlier.

Which seems to be the problem in this 1A selection: Does "decades of inbreeding" take a plural or a singular verb? I kind of lean toward the singular, with the decades as one chunk of time, but if you wanted to stick up for the idea that "decades" here actually means several chunks of time -- hey, it's a big language, and it's probably suffering greater indignities on the sports page even as we speak.

What we shouldn't do, though, is do it both ways within the same column-inch or so: "has" in the cutline, "have" in the text. That looks like we really can't make up our minds.



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