John McIntyre, whom James Wolcott calls "the Dave Brubeck of the art and craft of copy editing," writes on language, editing, journalism, and random topics. Identifying his errors relieves him of the burden of omniscience. Write to firstname.lastname@example.org, befriend at Facebook, or follow at Twitter: @johnemcintyre. The original site, http://weblogs.baltimoresun.com/news/mcintyre/blog/, at www.baltimoresun.com/news/language-blog/, and now at https://www.baltimoresun.com/opinion/columnists/mcintyre/
Wednesday, December 2, 2009
Three volleys and a bugle call
The perfect rows of marble headstones stretching as far as the eye could see. The three rifle volleys followed by a somber rendition of "Taps." The flags, folded tight and handed with care to the parents and sister. ...
Full marks to the writer for saying “three rifle volleys.” The three-volley salute with rifles is a feature of military funerals. The “21-gun salute,” with which it is frequently confused in news reports, is performed with artillery, not rifles, and is typically reserved for heads of state.
Unfortunately, taps is not a song but a bugle call, like reveille, and therefore is not capitalized or italicized or written with quotation marks. Not to be picky — too late? — but calling it “somber” is more than is required. When was it not?