Rob Ford Sweats the Big Stuff; Copy Editors Sweat the Small Stuff

I wasn’t going to do it, but as a Torontonian it’s about time I blogged (however tangentially!) about our fearless — or should I say feckless — mayor. Yeah, that’s a pretty tame way of describing him. He has a lot to deal with, and I wish him luck.

In today’s National Post, The Blatch bemoaned the fact that the Star paid $5000 for the video of Ford — a video that has no context and brings nothing new to the ongoing civic saga — that is currently being shown everywhere. She wrote the following:

“The petulant shouted question to Mayor Ford Thursday (‘Why won’t you just go away?’) and the slavering mob of reporters turning up at his house and on duty outside the glass doors to his office — little of that is in the public interest.”

The integrity of today’s journalism is worthy of debate, but as a copy editor I’m bemoaning the confusion that a poorly edited paper can cause for its readership.

In the above sentence, Mayor Ford Thursday is strung together, giving the appearance that “Ford Thursday” is the mayor’s name. Newspapers place a premium on space and omit all unnecessary words and punctuation, and it could be argued that no one is going to misinterpret the mayor’s name — especially in a paragraph well into the article. Fair enough, but I always err on the side of making things as clear as possible for the reader, so I would add the preposition “on” before Thursday.

Also, when I first read the sentence I assumed that petulant was being used as an adverb and was misspelled: “petulantly shouted” would have been correct in this instance. That is, the slavering mob of reporters sounded like whiny children when they asked the mayor why he won’t go away. But I’m betting that the mob gathered around the mayor said these words emphatically — defiantly, even. It’s not that the question was said petulantly, it’s that the question per se was petulant. A comma between petulant and shouted would make this distinction. (Also recall that coordinate adjectives should be separated by commas.)

You can argue that I’m being pedantic, but don’t underestimate the confusion that can be created for readers when writing is not well structured.

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1 Comment

Filed under comma use, coordinate and noncoordinate adjectives, editing and writing, punctuation, the royal order of adjectives, Uncategorized

One response to “Rob Ford Sweats the Big Stuff; Copy Editors Sweat the Small Stuff

  1. I thought that “petulant” was being used as a noun and that there was some word missing between “shouted” and “question,” like maybe “shouted a question.” Just goes to show you how many ways ambiguous writing can be interpreted.

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