List: TCB style questions

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by Jordan Green

Po-boys or po’ boys

Not everyone knows this, but the editorial department at Triad City Beat is a hive of strongly felt belief about points of grammatical style. We all fantasize about the pure vocation of copy editing were we not also reporters, assignment editors, publicists, distribution drivers and business owners. When Editor in Chief Brian Clarey declared just a moment ago, “I believe po-boy is spelled with a hyphen,” our intern Anthony Harrison had the temerity to suggest, “Isn’t it spelled with an apostrophe?”

Abuse of the em dash

For the past couple days, I’ve been waging a quiet campaign to minimize the use of the em dash. Otherwise known as the long dash, it sets apart phrases within a sentence that otherwise wouldn’t fit together. In many cases, a colon or semicolon provides a preferable alternative to the em dash, I suggested this morning, to mixed reaction in the office. I argue this point with conviction despite Ginsburg and Clarey’s proclivities: The colon sets up the next phrase; the semicolon brings together two phrases with equal weight that don’t quite stand on their own. See?

Proper use of the comma

Back at the other shop, Clarey made a speech during the first week or so about how he has a drawer full of commas because he’s taken so many out of the copy of incompetent freelancers over the year. I agree with Clarey’s ban on the serial comma, which comes before the word and in a list. Where I part ways with him is that I think a comma is useful when the last item on the list is a clause. I also find myself adding commas to copy to set apart the word too and to set apart independent clauses.

Capitalization of articles

Back at the old shop, I made it known that I could not countenance capitalizing the article the when it comes before a proper noun such as a musical group and does not come at the beginning of a sentence (e.g. the Beatles, not The Beatles). Clarey agreed, and used the precedent to apply the same rule to countries. Hence, el Salvador, as opposed to El Salvador. This used to drive Associate Editor Eric Ginsburg and I crazy. Although el Salvador looks funny to me, I had to admit that it’s consistent with the Netherlands. I hate having to admit someone else is right.

Dangling participles

I’m at war against them. Nuff said.

Civil Rights Movement

We’ve been capitalizing Civil Rights Movement. I tend to reflexively oppose capitalization as unnecessary and pretentious. I think Clarey and Ginsburg favor capitalizing Civil Rights Movement because it lends dignity to a period of history that was formative in the development of our region and important to our concept of our cities as vibrant and diverse. We used to capitalize Tea Party and Occupy, too, but now I don’t think we do. I ask: Where do you draw the line? What about the art deco movement or the antiracist movement? Ultimately, these are not battles over which any of us are likely to walk out. The larger questions at the heart of our enterprise are journalistic. We’ve got a paper to put out, people!