Prior restraint

Larry Sommers
of the Public Affairs Office, Wisconsin Department of Military Affairs,
shares three of his pet peeves:

  • “Prior to” – Military memo writers never say “before” when they can say “prior to.” It’s always something like, “Be sure to move your vehicles from the north parking lot prior to 1600 hours, when
    the night crew will be be plowing.” This manner of writing creeps
    into military journalism, e.g.: “Sgt. Kevlar is seen here polishing
    his boots prior to reporting for duty.”
  • “Tragic death” – On both local and national television,
    and in quite a few newspapers as well, it seems death = tragedy. We
    know, of course, that only a few deaths (Oedipus, Hamlet, Buddy Holly)
    are actually tragic; some deaths (Gauguin, Chuckles the Clown) are
    banal; some (Osama bin Laden, the Crocodile Hunter) might be satisfying;
    and ALL THE REST – roughly 99.9 percent of all human deaths – are
    just deaths, no adjectives need apply.
  • “Yada-yada-yada,” So-and-so added/ noted/ explained/ commented/ remarked/ pointed out. Fortunately, more typical of
    student journalists than of professionals. More than nine times out
    of ten, “said” is the better choice. It is the exception to the rule
    that we should look for more lively verbs. One would usually prefer
    the smack and tang of the quote itself to draw the reader’s attention,
    without being upstaged by some fancy-schmancy verb-of-assertion hovering
    just beyond the quotation marks. Of course, that assumes the writer
    has been able to discover an interesting and relevant quote somewhere
    amid the speaker’s ruminations.
  • Comments are closed.