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Sometimes an it is a they

Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad notwithstanding, most of us do not think of corporations as persons. Goldman Sachs is an it, not a they. The same convention applies in journalism to words like team and family.

Never underestimate the tendency of journalists to apply rules mechanically in ways that make little sense.

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I offer you this recent bulletin from CNN: "NBC crew that worked with cameraman who has Ebola ordered into quarantine after it violated self-confinement, health officials say."

Corporations and government agencies are made up of people (or so we are told) but are thought of as faceless and impersonal. Referring to them as it makes sense. But when we have words like crew or family or human couple, identifying discrete individuals, something rebels at the neuter singular.

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In the CNN bulletin in particular, that it could be initially construed as referring back to Ebola, which I am confident should be an it. On that crew, they violated self-confinement, as individual persons acting separately.

Even the Associated Press Stylebook has the sense to say that when we are writing about a human couple, we have to look at context to see whether the word should be understood as a singular it or a plural they.

It would make sense to give words like crewteam, and family the same consideration.

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