By John E. McIntyre
The Baltimore Sun
5:35 PM EST, January 27, 2013
Last year at the American Copy Editors Society's conference in New Orleans, David Minthorn and Darrell Christian of the Associated Press Stylebook announced some revisions of the stylebook, among them a relaxation of the prohibition on hopefully as a sentence adverb. This was greeted with excitement.*
ACES is meeting in St. Louis in April, and there is still time to make good on some necessary changes to stun and excite this year's audience I [cough] have a couple of suggestions.
Split verb: Weary as I am of dealing with people who continue to move adverbs before the auxiliary verb, instead of between the auxiliary and the main verb, WHERE GOD AND THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE INTENDED THEM TO FALL, I would welcome a revision of the split verbs entry to reinforce that in English the adverb naturally and confidently falls between the auxiliary and the main. The example of awkwardness in the current edition, There stood the wagon that we had early last autumn left by the barn, is a monstrosity that, great Fowler's ghost, no native speaker of English other than a journalist would have ever attempted. (D'you see where the adverb falls in the preceding sentence?)
Suspect: Cops use suspect to mean perpetrator, but that becomes nonsense when they say that they have no suspects. They know someone did it. You need, to keep journalists from unthinkingly echoing copspeak, to produce an entry that specifies that suspect is used when some named person has been identified. Otherwise, shooter, gunman, attacker, assailant, or some other appropriate noun is preferable.
Singular they: You reflect what your publications use; publications reflect, sometimes, what you advise. Break the cycle. Singular they for the epicene pronoun has been in use in English since Chaucer was in grammar school, by many reputable writers. It is commonplace in British English and increasingly commonplace in American English. Be bold, brave, and resolute. Don't cower to sticklers and peevers. If you want to say that singular they is acceptable in all but the most formal English, that should do for just about everything in journalism. Step up, for Fowler's sake.**
I could offer you more, but this should be enough for your plate.
*By the only people who are excited by the Associated Press Stylebook.
**Never mind that Fowler was not fond of singular they. He's dead.
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