A copy editor sent this note:
I've been running into this kind of thing in
AP stories, and I find it irritating:
He opened the session by
on hymns at the piano and concluded it by
accompanying a sing-along on the guitar. In
between, he delivered a compelling account of his
unlikely conversion from atheism to evangelical
I didn't think he was a traveling revivalist;
was the writer trying to trick me into thinking
he was, so he could surprise me?
The lanky, amiable platform personality wasn’t
some traveling revivalist but one of the world’s
Writers who try to mislead the reader in the lead
must not realize that the headline, photos and
cutlines will already have revealed
the "surprise" before the reader even gets to the
This was in another AP religion story the other
The arena crowd was on its feet,
in the air, dancing to the lively beat. Colored
lights flashed on the performers, who belted out
some of their most popular songs.
How surprising! People besides teenagers go to
But these fans weren’t teenagers, and the
attraction wasn’t a hot pop act. Two of the four
performers, in high-wedge platform sandals and
trendy but modest outfits, were obviously
pregnant. And many fans were middle-aged
The copy editor is right. This sort of writing is
tiresome. It is tiresome not only because of the
I-fooled-you gimmickry, but also because of the
clichés and because of the empty phrases that the
writers assume are descriptive.
Politically correct nonsense
The other day I heard a radio announcer refer to
the composer Samuel Coleridge-Taylor as
an “African-American.” I didn’t think the man was
an American, so I looked him up.
He was born in England.
The announcer just couldn’t bring himself to say
that Coleridge-Taylor was of mixed race, the son
of a white woman and a black man.
Timid writers make the same sort of error.
They would do well to heed this thought from
Bryan Garner: “In the end, euphemisms leave a
linguistic garbage-heap in their wake: once they
become standard, they lose their euphemistic
quality and must be replaced by newer
That quotation comes from Mr. Garner’s e-mail
newsletter, Garner’s Usage Tip of the
, for Oxford University Press.