John McIntyre, whom James Wolcott calls "the Dave Brubeck of the art and craft of copy editing," writes on language, editing, journalism, and other manifestations of human frailty. Comments welcome. Identifying his errors relieves him of the burden of omniscience. Write to firstname.lastname@example.org, befriend at Facebook, or follow at Twitter: @johnemcintyre. Back 2009-2012 at the original site, http://weblogs.baltimoresun.com/news/mcintyre/blog/ and now at www.baltimoresun.com/news/language-blog/.
Thursday, June 11, 2009
Newspapers have no sex
The Associated Press has long been wary of personifications, ruling specifically in its stylebook that hurricanes and ships are neuter, not female.
The Chicago Manual of Style says simply, "The poetic device of giving abstractions the attributes of persons, and hence capitalizing them, is rare in today's writing." (We’ve lost something there, as in Samuel Johnson’s lament that teaching involves such demands of patience “to recall vagrant inattention, to stimulate sluggish indifference, and to rectify absurd misapprehension.”)
It is more common today in American English to write that a committee has issued its report than to write their report, even though committees comprise purportedly human beings. I am dubious about personifying nations, governments, universities, corporations, organizations, clubs, committees, or other groups, as if they possessed discrete identities.
At the same time, it is commonplace to write that a report, which has no voice, says something. Told, in the example cited, is something that I would shy away from on the ground that a news organization does not speak with a single voice, while recognizing that most readers would take the word in stride.
You clicked on this post just because of sex in the title, didn’t you? Grow up.