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One Writer's Ravings:
A Logophile's Blog
for Language Lovers

Should We Capitalize "Black" and "White"?

The Associated Press and many newspapers have recently decided to capitalize "Black" because of all the protests and the increased attention to Black Lives Matter, but there is still no accord on what to do with "white." The AP recommends capitalizing both words, but in The New York Times and other publications I have seen uppercase "Black" paired with lowercase "white." My local paper, The San Diego Union-Tribune, is capitalizing both, which makes best sense to me because I like consistency in style.


I have to confess, though, that the whole thing seems like an after-the-fact, white-guilt stylistic handout, a self-conscious and, as my kids would say, "privileged" way of conferring some sort of status and dignity with the stroke of a pen. "Whoops — sorry we haven't been nice enough to you in the past, so now we're going to give you a big 'B,' which should make you feel better." And as far as I can tell, there wasn't any pressure from black people to do this; it was a "White" ruling-class editorial decision. What I can't figure out yet is, what's the point? Is it supposed to confer dignity or assuage white guilt?


Consider the now-ancient ambivalence over "Negro/negro" and "Colored/colored," not to mention "Afro-American" and "African-American," and you have to ask, Is this just another typographical gesture engineered by progressives to exonerate themselves? Styling it "Black" and "white" is clearly stupid because it says we're faking or forcing an obsequious nod to those we've always forced to be obsequious, while "Black" and "White," though less noxious, show only that, as Trump once disgustingly put it, "There are very fine people on both sides." So my vote is for continuing to style them both lowercase and getting on with the "good trouble, necessary trouble" that the late, great, fearless John Lewis advocated.

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How Do You Feel? Good or Well?

A person identifying herself as "Nerdy Superfan Excited to Ask You Something the First Time," who listens to me on the Mandy Connell Show on KOA Denver (see the Events page for dates and times), wrote me recently with a complaint about how people use the word good.

"It drives me nuts when I ask someone 'How are you?' and they say good," she said. "The correct answer is well: 'You’re doing well! Superman does good!' One person I mentioned this to responded, 'I think if you ask "How are you?" then good can be acceptable, but if you ask "How are you DOING?" then it must be well.' I would love your thoughts." This was my response: Read More 

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A Pronouncement on the Pronunciation of "Pro Tempore"

Yesterday, California State Senator Toni Atkins was the first woman and the first gay person to be sworn in as president pro tempore of the state senate. It was a thrilling moment in California history, but it was marred somewhat by the continual mispronunciation, by various speakers on the floor, of the honorific "pro tempore." Perhaps misremembering their high school Latin, or simply fudging it, they said proh-tem-POR-ee or proh-tem-POR-ay. Both those variants are egregiously wrong.  Read More 
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These Ones or Those Ones?

People like to come up with grammar stuff to complain about, and I have certainly been among those complainers. But sometimes the complaint is sensible and sometimes it's just groundless complaining. On the Mandy Connell Show on KOA Denver today, I fielded a complaint about using "ones" with the plural pronouns "these" and "those."  Read More 
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What Kind of Internet Reviewer Are You?

Today I tweeted this message:

"Friends: Please think before you vomit a review on Yelp, Amazon, or whatever. Remember that the people you are talking about are also people, with feelings, whose livelihoods may be adversely affected by your offhand words, which on the internet NEVER go away." Read More 
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If It Ain't Hard to Do, You're Not Doing It Right

"I've been working hard to improve my writing skills," writes a fan and aspiring writer. "But the harder I work at it, the harder it gets, and the more I realize how arduous it is to write one good sentence. It is as if I cannot write well without exerting myself. And that exertion sometimes stifles my thought and causes me to quit. Is this how it's supposed to be, Charlie? Does every writer struggle to write well?" Read More 
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Should Everyone Get Their Lunch?

"Hello, Charlie," writes Roman, a fan of my Verbal Advantage. "Throughout the program you use the noun person with such possessive pronouns as his or her depending on the context. I was wondering if it wouldn't be better to use their instead?

That's not an easy question to answer, I replied.  Read More 

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Why No "Be" Verbs in Broadcast News?

Why do broadcast news journalists, especially on TV, scrupulously avoid any form of the verb to "be"? And why do they use present participles (the -ing form of verbs, as in "She was running"), or gerunds (the -ing form of a verb that functions as a noun, as in "She liked running"), to accomplish that avoidance? A curious question becoming a big problem: newscasters sounding like headlines. That not good, as this excellent article shows:  Read More 
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Talk Is the Enemy of Writing

Some time ago I received this query from a reader: "Recently, I made my brother mad advocating that I don't use words in my writing if I don't use them comfortably in my conversation. I was following William Zinsser's plea from his book On Writing Well. However, in Glenda Winders' feature on your book The Accidents of Style you said that 'too many writers think they are supposed to write the way they speak, and what happens is they come out sounding silly, lazy, and full of accidents of style.' I'm confused."

This was my answer:  Read More 
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Think Global(ly), Act Local(ly)? Some Adverbial Advice

"To you alone can I turn, Mr. Elster," writes Andrew Chaveriat of New York City, adding — as is always prudent when asking for free advice — a bit of welcome flattery: "But first let me thank you for your excellent and matchless Verbal Advantage . . . which I greatly esteem.

"I was wondering if you have a moment to shed some light on the title to a business magazine article published by my bank,” he went on. “The article is about retail banking and is entitled 'Think global, act local.' I informed the editor of our fine magazine that this was nonstandard usage and that the adverbial version of the phrase should have been used: 'Think globally, act locally.' Read More 
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