LOCKE BOWMAN: In This Age, What's a Proofreader to Do?
In a recent ShopTalk column, Editor Steve Bouser discussed how our newsroom staff is guided by The Associated Press Stylebook as we compose each issue of The Pilot.
He said that failures to do so will cause Locke Bowman, as proofreader, to "give hell" to the offenders. Actually, I would be much more likely just to reprove any miscreant gently. I'm not good at exercising stronger measures, nor do I claim the authority to do so.
Sometimes I fulminate against the stylebook. It is even more arbitrary at times than my Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, the pages of which are now dog-eared from daily use. I've been known to exclaim, "These AP arbiters of journalistic style are dumbing down the English language, and I hate it!"
Writers and editors in my generation were trained (drilled) to use nominative pronouns after the verbs "is," "are," and "am," not only in writing but also in speech. Often I overhear questions about the identity of someone in a photograph. "Is that John?" Reply: "Yeah, that's him." I want to scream, "No, no, that's he!"
It pleases me no end when writers are careful to match singular subjects with singular relative pronouns and plural subjects with plural pronouns. I sigh in despair when I read, "Everyone (singular) should take care of their (plural) health."
Even The New York Times has succumbed to this bad habit, as in a sentence like this: "A presidential candidate has to choose their words with care." Writing "his/her" all the time is tedious and annoying. What the language needs and does not have is a good, healthy set of neuter pronouns.
It should be acknowledged that rules change sometimes, then change back again. Example: al-Qaida and al-Qaeda. Four years ago I persuaded Steve to overrule the stylebook and let us spell it with an "e" because every paper I could check was doing so. Suddenly, we all shifted back, and I have no clue as to why.
Meanwhile, I watch over a passel of apostrophes:
Lowe's Home Improvement has an apostrophe, but Lowes Foods does not.
It's Applebee's and McDonald's. We use Beefeater's because they have the apostrophe on their business cards and printed menus. But their handsome green-and-gold signs outside say Beefeaters. When the nightclub Mint Julep's opened, that apostrophe painted on the outside wall was jarring (to me, anyway). So I now change it always to Mint Juleps. So far, not a single complaint.
Bojangles' is correct. The original Mr. Bo Jangles was a tapdancer (Bill Robinson) who died penniless and is remembered sadly as a subservient black man willing to do anything people asked of him. It would be entirely wrong to write Bojangle's.
It's Talbots store, not Talbot's. And Belk is correct, not Belk's.
Consider also this puzzling example:
Someone in the dim past insisted that the Pinehurst Member's Club should always have the apostrophe before the "s." Perhaps the logic of it was that each member should consider the club to be his or hers. But would it not be more inclusive to call it the Members' Club (plural)? Maybe when the new building is dedicated, that apostrophe will be moved.
We must be watchful in referring to our Sunrise Theater, always spelled the American way. But up in Sanford, Temple Theatre insists on the British style. So do the Sunset Theatre in Asheboro and our own Sandhills Theatre Company, now dissolved.
Then there's the ampersand (&). It's part of the copyrighted name of The News & Observer of Raleigh. We use it for the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Sandhills and for several other well-established firms and groups. But when we can eliminate it from The Pilot, we do so. It may have been used many years ago to simplify typesetting, but no more. "And" looks much better.
Another stylistic issue is when to use The. We always do it for The Country Bookshop, our prize on Broad Street. We also honor The Village Chapel in Pinehurst with the upper case "T." The AP stylebook helps us decide when to use The with a newspaper title. It is always The New York Times.
And finally (I promise), there's the word "ambience." That is the preferred spelling in both the stylebook and the dictionary. But "ambiance" is steadily creeping in, and it isn't wrong. Because the AP and Webster's tell us to, we always spell it with an "e."
If I didn't have all these traps for catching our reporters (and editors), I wouldn't have the gleeful pleasure of using my blue pen on stacks of proofs that keep coming across my desk.
Locke Bowman, a retired Episcopal priest, is a copy editor with The Pilot.
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