It’s the little things.
It’s not major blunders, which are easily spotted and quickly fixed. It’s the daily barrage of annoying little tics of language, irritating to see and tedious to clean up—if time is even available to clean them up. It’s grit that never gets surrounded by a pearl.
Take the people who do not know where things go in sentences. They write President Joe Biden Thursday announced. First, the reader confronted by that series of capitalizations may be momentarily left with an impression that the president of the United States is Joe Biden Thursday. Second, the writer has been conditioned in some journalism class to ignore the patterns of idiomatic English, in which the sentence would begin President Joe Biden announced Thursday.
Or the ones who would write John McIntyre seethed in the basement of his Hamilton home while writing a post. John McIntyre has a home in Hamilton. He does not have a home in Tuscany or the Scottish Highlands or Provence that has to be distinguished from a modest red-brick ranch house in Northeast Baltimore.
Those who would write that might also mention John McIntyre’s 1982 marriage to Kathleen Capcara, presumably to distinguish the one in 1982 from his other marriages to Kathleen. (And yes, reporters have been known to come up with constructions like his March 15 death.)
Dated journalese will not slink away to die. Reporters call a killing or homicide at slaying, as if they were Walter Winchell, dead this half-century, reporting on a gangland slaying. (A reporter, whom I will not name, once filed a story in which the first sentence referred to a suspect fingered in the heist.) Let 1930 go.
Dramatic, prestigious, iconic, and the other empty adjectives are easily enough deleted, but the hand on the mouse grows weary.
They will insist on writing taps for chooses, names, picks, or appoints. The word comes from the tap on the shoulder to invite a new member into a fraternity, and the Merriam-Webster entry “to elect to membership (as in a fraternity)” plainly indicates the smell of frat life that the word carries.
And don’t get me started on the copspeak in stories—you know, unit block Carey Street instead of first block of Carey Street—in which the writer has merely put in the language of the police report verbatim. You know how I get.
No matter how informed, enlightened or indulgent, every editor has a set of pissy little personal dislikes.