Monday, August 30, 2010


Where did Charlottesville Daily Progress reporter Brian McNeill learn how to count?

In his August 21 piece on the move-in of first-year students at the University of Virginia this year, McNeill has this lede:
The University of Virginia was abuzz with activity Saturday as roughly 3,246 students and their families descended upon Grounds for move-in weekend.
Roughly 3,246?

That is a precise number. It is not a "rough estimate" or approximation.

He could have said "roughly 3,200" or even "roughly 3,250." But there is nothing "rough" or indeterminate about "3,246."

Where was McNeill's copy editor?

Turning Japanese

In an otherwise unobjectionable article about the decline of a business providing English-to-Japanese translations in last Saturday's Washington Post, we find this paragraph:
One morning last week, Karol Zipple, the company's only American employee, made a small pile of clips: news stories on increased Japanese demand for American wine, food-borne illnesses and the women's golf tour. Compared with coverage in previous years, it was a depressingly slim product. "We used to be buried in newsprint" before U.S. newspapers began cutting back coverage as a result of the recession and the decline of print journalism, Zipple said.
I did a double-take when I read that first sentence. Why, I wondered, was there "increased Japanese demand for ... food-borne illnesses and the women's golf tour"?

Then I realized that this was a series of separate items defined by "news stories on" rather than "increased Japanese demand for."

The ambiguity could have been avoided by rearranging the objects, like this: "news stories on food-borne illnesses, the women's golf tour, and increased Japanese demand for American wine."

Simple, isn't it?

This might also be a good time to urge the Washington Post to reinstate the serial comma in its style book. It never should have been removed in the first place.