Wednesday, May 18, 2011

From the usage trenches: "banned together" and two things from Yagoda

In a story about S.C. wineries in my local paper today was this passage:

Winery owners say they are hopeful state lawmakers will scrap the 50 percent S.C.-fruit law so they can bring in more out-of-state wine grape juice and make the pinot noirs, Rieslings and other wines that more consumers want to drink.
Similar bills have been introduced in the past, only to die on the vine. This time, however, the state’s wineries have banned together and formed an association. They also have worked with those in the alcohol industry who fought past bills. Those opponents, primarily retailers who did not want to compete with wineries selling their own wine, do not oppose this year’s bill.
“There would be just a few more bottles of wine — South Carolina wine — on the shelves,” said Larry Boyleston, assistant commissioner at the state Agriculture Commission. “We’re not talking about a big increase in competition.”
"Have banned together"? Let's try "have banded together." (Is it needed at all? Saying they formed an association would cover it, wouldn't it?)
These kinds of usage illiteracies show up more and more in the paper these days, and while it's tempting to blame it on copy desk cutbacks and more editing done at a North Carolina hub, this sort of thing doesn't take any local knowledge to avoid. It does take some local knowledge, however, to know that South Carolina has an Agriculture Department, not a "commission," although the department is headed by the "agriculture commissioner" (no one said we made this stuff easy to follow down here, but that's what professional journalists get paid for, right). In fact, in a show of editing, why not shorten it entirely to said Larry Boyleston, assistant state agriculture commissioner?

Speaking of language and usage, I might recommend two provocative columns by Ben Yagoda in Slate.
- In the most recent, he takes on punctuation and quotation marks and suggests maybe the British, who put much of their punctuation outside the quotes, are more "logical."
- In an earlier one, he addresses whether and when we should go with the flow and accept newer usages for things like disinterested.

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