“To Grammar’s House” is a regular column by the Boston Globe copy desk on the style and language used in the newspaper.
Editors were buzzing at the recent news that a Rhode Island woman had gone to a store in search of rainbow sherbet, wound up buying a lottery ticket worth $336.4 million -- and put her winnings into an account labeled The Rainbow Sherbert Trust.
The editors mused about whether they should correct her spelling, or whether an alternate spelling for “sherbet” existed that they could use to match hers. The answers, of course, were no and no. In the end, both spellings coexisted peacefully, with no word of complaint.
For the copy editor, the little episode was a reminder of a larger principle: People are free to affix whatever labels they want, but we don’t have to adopt the words for our own use.
A current example comes from the Republican campaign, in which rivals of the former Massachusetts governor commonly criticize “Romneycare” and all take their swings at “Obamacare.” The copy editor makes sure that these derisive labels appear only within quotation marks, and that we use such neutral language as “the Massachusetts health care law” and “President Obama’s health care overhaul.”
Longer-standing and more passionate labels involve the battles over abortion. Individuals and organizations proudly call themselves “prolife” or “prochoice,” but the Globe stylebook warns that such references “are fraught with difficulty and should be avoided.” (Indeed, to call someone prolife might suggest that the person on the other side of the debate is antilife.) The copy editor puts aside these labels and refers, with no fear of objection, to “abortion opponents” and “abortion-rights advocates.”
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