Vol. 24, No. 6: Quotations - Style & Substance

By Anonymous

The stylebook entry on quotations in the news is being amended a bit, primarily to include quoting of email passages. The new entry:

In quoting oral conversation, don’t routinely use abnormal spellings such as gonna and nothin’ in attempts to convey regional dialects or mispronunciations. But such spellings may be appropriate when the usage is relevant or helps to convey a desired impression in a feature article.

Spoken quotations, however, normally should be corrected to avoid the errors in grammar and word usage that can occur unnoticed when someone is speaking but are embarrassing in print.

Printed quotations shouldn’t be changed. Instead, introduce faulty passages from documents, transcripts or emails with a phrase indicating the aberrations appeared in the texts: An email message, including misspellings and grammatical lapses, appeared on the blog Wednesday.

Use sic in brackets after such errors only as a last resort, as after a prominent misspelled word in a short quotation.

Close those shutters

That’s what we said a year ago after an article reported that New York’s MTA had shuttered 570 bus stops.

But we have used the rogue verb 89 times since then, leading Deputy ME Matt Murray to issue a ban: “Henceforth, the word ‘shutter’ is banned from stories on our desks unless it refers to a window covering. Use ‘closed,’ etc.”

The latest citation before the ukase -- “Another key difference is that the banks saw these countries as growth areas, and were loathe to shutter their operations there” -- also misused loathe for loath and had an extraneous comma, causing further shudders.

Calling spades spades

Matt Murray also observes:

“We continue to have too many stories arrive that quote various experts and groups euphemistically, in terms that they use to describe themselves -- for instance a story might use “citizens’ group” instead of “advocacy group,” when an organization is clearly the latter, not the former.

Similarly, we often fail to mention in describing a group or quoting an expert whether it has a particular slant or agenda, when a quick look at its materials or website would answer the question.”

Because it is so easy in this Google era for readers to sniff out any relevant details we have inadvertently omitted, he said, “We need to be extremely vigilant in checking each group and describing it accurately, with the neutrality and balance our readers expect.”

Remedial reminders

Helpful hints, mostly from News Editor Bill Power’s email memos about trip-ups in print:

Wi-Fi is the stylebook short form for a wireless network.

● Idioms such “as a slew of” become popular and then quickly get clichéd and grating through overuse. Slew should be slain.

● Avoid the colloquialism cops for police officers.

● We still prefer closely held to privately held or privately owned.

● Don’t use phrases like “he told CNN's Wolf Blitzer.” … Instead use simply “he told CNN.”

Videogame should be one word, as in the stylebook.

Twitter is uppercase, but tweet is lower

Pimco is the correct style for the bond-management firm, not PIMCO, for an acronym of five letters or more.

OK magazine is our style, rather than OK! Magazine.

● We spell them doughnuts, not donuts.

Longtime, longstanding and highflying are unhyphenated in our style, but co-founder is hyphenated (as a formal noun of “occupation or status.”)

● Numbers with fractions are to be expressed , for example, not six and a half or 6 and a half.

E. coli is the prescribed form for Escherichia coli, the bacterium.

Heads above the rest

● “H&H Bagels Store Lox Its Doors,” by John Seeley.

● “You Say Potato, Scale Says Uh-Oh,” by Leslie Yazel, on the diet dangers of fried potatoes.

● “Mining Fuels Mongol Hoard” by Alex Martin, on a story about nomadic Mongolians accumulating stock in a coal company. An accompanying chart about Mongolian stock market had the heading: “Herders on the Street,” by Dan Kelly.

● “Read Between the Security Lines: Authors Bring Books to Airports, Fans Bring Boarding Passes,” by Matt Oshinsky.

● “A Tournament Won, a Record Equaled, a Pair of Socks Ruined,” by Alex Martin and friend, appearing over a picture of Rafael Nadal as he won the Paris Open on a red-clay tennis court. Including the reference to the socks (discolored by the clay) caused some of us to read on, looking (unsuccessfully) for a reference to the socks. It was worth the read.

● “TV Dinner Theater: Parodies Of Old Sitcoms Draw Blood, Crowds (deck:) Fans Dig ‘Gilligan’s Island…of Death,’ Copyright Owners, Not So Much,” by David Sanford.

Heads below the rest

● “Live-Cattle Prices Surge: Fewer Heads Fattened for Slaughter.” The bovine phrase is Head of Cattle. And “live cattle” strikes us as redundant, since dead ones are beef or carrion, not cattle.

● “Dow Industrials Finish Flat as Energy, Materials Weigh.” How about: “Energy and Materials Weigh on Flat Dow Industrials,” to avoid the intransitive weigh.

Quintessential quiz

Find the flubs in these Journal passages:

  1. Mr. Blagojevich, a famously well-quaffed and verbose father of two who cracked an occasional smile after parrying a question.
  2. A Harvard graduate, Ms. Abramson’s previous roles included deputy bureau chief at The Wall Street Journal.
  3. A couple years ago after he spent more than a week in Iran to cover the elections and the violent aftermath, Mr. Keller said afterward that the “nicest thing about being in Iran is nobody asked me about” the parlous state of the newspaper industry.
  4. When I come home, I eat a whole pizza pie and a box of donuts.
  5. Amid it all stands Mitt Romney, not the high-flying investment lots of Republicans yearned to put their money on.
  6. Another victim was an 18-year-old who was going to graduate high school Thursday.
  7. Mr. Bulger was a former president of the Massachusetts State Senate.
  8. Another other option would use less powerful ordinance, sparing the neighbors in the bombings.
  9. Fraud involving debit cards, PIN numbers and card processing equipment has increased fivefold over the past five years.
  10. Speculation coming from Cuba and Venezuela has focused on the possibility that Mr. Chávez has prostrate cancer, and has had his prostrate removed.


  1. Unless he was inebriated, he was well-coiffed.
  2. Her previous roles were a Harvard graduate? (And it was in Washington where she was a deputy bureau chief, we should have known.)
  3. A couple of years ago comma. … And delete the redundant afterward.
  4. Doughnuts to us.
  5. Highflying.
  6. Just where is this "graduate high school" she was going to go to? Oh, wait. We meant she was going to graduate from high school Thursday.
  7. "Was a former” is redundant for a person who is alive.
  8. And another other thing: Ordnance is in order.
  9. PIN numbers is an avoidable redundancy. Make it PINs.
  10. His prostate has rendered him prostrated and us frustrated (as a correction indicated).

Send questions or comments to Paul Martin.