Sunday, August 8, 2010

Grammar hammer

Dear [editors],

I'm glad to have begun writing on a freelance basis for The Pilot. I've been assigned interesting stories and the pay, if not princely, is always prompt.

I particularly enjoyed writing about Sandhills Farm to Table, a movement that in both principle and practice exemplifies so much of what I love about our community.

When I read the first installment of this series this morning, I was disappointed to find that two mistakes had been inserted into my copy. As mistakes go, they're minor -- an ill-advised apostrophe and a questionable capital letter. But it's always disheartening when copy editing, which is meant to guard against errors large and small, and above all should do no harm, does just that.

My main quarrel is with the addition of an apostrophe in the following sentence: “What this does is guarantee the farmers’ purchase of their produce,” McAllister says. This apostrophe makes "farmers" possessive, as if they themselves will be purchasing their produce. Which, of course, makes no sense.

I also noticed the capitalization of "the" in the following sentence: "The hope, adds McAllister, who oversees distribution at The Village Chapel location, is to create a win-win situation in which 'every Moore County resident has secure access to sufficient local farm and food products.'" The Village Chapel's proper name does include "The," so its capitalization in a given sentence is a question of style as much as of technical correctness.

The closest AP style opinion I could find was this: "The definite article is generally lowercase in AP news stories about universities, professional organizations and the like." But Bill Walsh, a copy editor at The Washington Post (or, a Washington Post copy editor), addressed the question on his blog,

"Don't go capitalizing 'the' in something like 'the Hague-based International Court of Justice,' even if you normally cap 'The Hague.' In that instance, 'the' goes with 'International Court of Justice,' not with 'Hague,'" he wrote.

Likewise, in my article, "the" goes with "location," not with "Village Chapel."

Again, as mistakes go, these are small, and few readers will notice them. But they're still mistakes. And taking care with details like punctuation and capitalization implies you're also committed to accuracy with the facts. Inversely, sloppiness in the details can cast doubt on the credibility of the content, not to mention the writer and the publication.

Print being print, it's too late to change the hard copy. But could you please correct the online version of this article?

Thanks so much.

1 comment:

Sonya said...

This is too funny. I am going to be really self-conscious about sending you emails now that I know you're editing them all as you read them.