Some words for us language nerds | SummitDaily.com
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Some words for us language nerds

Whitney Childers

Damn, the English language. I’ve heard – though, I’m no linguist – that English is one of the most difficult languages to learn, or, for that matter, to write.

We struggle with it on a daily basis at a newspaper where grammar and style are part of our livelihood. We often argue about a paragraph’s purpose, which word is correct and what verb phrase or sentence structure is more appropriate.

And we do this in less time than it takes most people to draft a letter to a friend.

WARNING! If you don’t get excited about grammar and style, don’t bother reading furtherS

We also get a little help from readers. Sometimes they’re right. Sometimes they’re wrong.

On Monday’s front page, the headline contained the word “canceled.” It was spelled with one “l” in the headline and throughout the story. Early Monday morning, we received a phone call from a woman who wanted to let us know the word was spelled incorrectly.

While newspapers – including us – have been known to misspell words or include typos, that was not the case in this instance.

In Webster’s dictionary, “canceled” with one “l” is the preferred spelling. “Cancelled” with two “l’s” is acceptable, but not preferred.

Journalists also follow industry standards for writing, outlined in the “AP stylebook,” a “bible” of sorts published by the Associated Press.

Maybe it’s our own brand of an English language soapbox, but we follow it nonetheless. Its purpose is consistency.

“Canceled” is preferred in that book, too.

Just last week we spelled “cancelled” with two “l’s” in a headline. Was it technically incorrect? Nope. But we broke our own rule. It’s all about consistency.

OK, bored yet? Let me kick it up a notch. (Isn’t English fun?)

In Sunday’s paper, the front page headline contained the word, “trusties.” We received some ribbing from our Summit County commissioners for this one. You see, the story was about Sheriff’s Office trusties cleaning up a squatter’s residence.

The word trusty in this instance means, “a convict granted special privileges as a trustworthy person.” And, in our story, there was more than one trusty, which makes it plural. That makes the spelling “trusties.”

I think our buddies at the county thought the word was supposed to be “trustee,” which carries a completely different meaning.

I receive this kind of feedback on a weekly basis. And, many times, I can argue about a phrase or word until the cows come home. Again, sometimes we’re right and sometimes we’re wrong.

The English language can seem schizophrenic at times. I’m constantly at odds with it, though a strict grammarian would tell me there’s the “correct” way and the “incorrect” way to use our beloved tongue.

I’m sure I’ve broken 18 rules already in this column.

Semantics get in the way, too.

In an editor’s note on the opinion page last week, I said Frisco isn’t “planning” a golf course. I was trying to make it clear to readers they shouldn’t expect to wake up the next morning and hear bulldozers on the peninsula.

Well, I received a fax from an irritated reader (also an anti-golf course activist) that said I was blatantly misleading readers. He sent me about four stories we had written about the peninsula and circled the word “plan” every time it was written in a story.

One sentence said the words, “master planning,” and he circled “plan” in “planning.”

While I was impressed with the attention to detail, I wasn’t impressed with the spin game. Sometimes, it just takes a little common sense with the English language and a tolerance for semantics.

I’m sure by now I’ve lost 95 percent of readers who started this column and gave up after just two sentences. This isn’t exactly a hot topic. In fact, to most readers, it’s quite boring.

While I will always ask for readers to give us the benefit of the doubt when they believe a word or verb phrase is incorrect, I certainly understand and appreciate the feedback.

If it weren’t for people who love English, we’d all be speaking and writing the caveman language. And what would our world be like without gerunds?

Whitney Childers is the editor of the Summit Daily News and is not a self-proclaimed grammarian, just a crusty editor.

She may be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 227 or wchilders@summitdailynews.com


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