Sunday, June 24, 2018
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When in Doubt. . .
Walter Salm, Editor
One day several months ago — or years ago, I forget which — I was asked by someone on our staff about my insistence on changing all percent symbols (%) in the text to the spelled-out word "percent". "Is this a rule of grammar?" I was asked, and replied, "No, it's a matter of style," I replied, "my personal style. I happen to hate percent symbols." So while I will leave those symbols in place in tables and charts (the only place where they really belong), they will never appear in the body of text if that text has traveled through my computer, and 99.9 percent of all editorial text has to make that voyage.

I suppose you could say this is being eccentric, and truth to tell, it is, but I feel that it is one of the perks that comes with old age and also being the editor. As you may have guessed, I have a number of other eccentricities when it comes to the text that runs in U.S. Tech. For example, the word "features" used as a verb is so over-used by just about every marketing person in the world, that I have resolved to never use it. Instead, I substitute words like "has, uses, incorporates". I also eschew the use of "ideal", another over-used word. Instead, I will use words like "suitable" or "excellent".

I also replace words like "unparalleled, unsurpassed, unequalled" as being too self-serving and too subjective. "Unique" is another one that gets replaced by "new". Nothing in this world is truly unique; a "unique" new product may be released by more than one company at the same time. It happens every day. Coincidence? No. The world needed that new product, and more than one company had been working on it at the same time. But inevitably, by the time the patent is granted and the product has been on the market for a few weeks, exact copies of it will appear from sources in the Far East. So the word "unique" has lost its uniqueness.

Another no-no is "modern". Something is modern at the moment of its being described in a new product press release, and then it gets old very quickly. The word conjures up visions of "Thoroughly Modern Millie", a 1967 musical about a 1922 flapper, or the very "modern" first Trans-Atlantic Cable laid in 1858 — not really modern at all. Instead of "modern", I use "cutting-edge, up-to-the minute," or "latest" to convey the author's true meaning.

"In mind" is another one: "keeping versatility in mind" implies that they were thinking about it but didn't really do it. This gets deleted instantly.

And there are also some extraordinary bloopers. My First Prize for the year 2012 was "vestal" instead of "versatile". The text in no way related to Vestal Virgins. Are these people still following the ancient Roman Priestess Vesta, the keeper of the hearth?

And there are common, apparently acceptable and widely used phrases that I absolutely cannot countenance, such as "Out of" (indicating geographical location). This should say "in, based in, from". Either you're there or not. If you are "out of", a place, then where are you really? "I'm out of here." Another one that I hate is "across the globe". How about using "around the globe", since it was round the last time I checked.

Then there are acronyms, which are created in vast profusion in just about every press release, and they drive me nuts. All acronyms should be followed by the meaning in parenthesis the first time they appear in the text. You may know what the acronym means, but the editor and many readers may not. If the editor thinks the acronym is inappropriate or meaningless, he or she will edit. Example: FPD means flat panel display, front panel display, Ferndale Police Department, and at least 200 other things and police departments. I keep a personal acronym dictionary in my computer, and I add new entries to it almost every day.

And finally, there is the editor's golden rule: "When in doubt, leave it out." Some statements are so patently unclear or obfuscated, that rather than waste several days trying to find out what was meant (always right before deadline), I will simply leave it out. That way, I can't get into trouble. Maybe.  

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