Fact checking: calling things by their right name
As the reality of [R. Allen] Stanford's Ponzi scheme came to light three years ago, watchers and whistleblowers claimed that the Security [read Securities] and Exchange Commission was well aware of potential problems with Stanford's business. (Editorial, "The Stanford verdict," Houston Chronicle, March 7, 2012)
This mistake had to go through at least one writer and one editor, neither of whom was sufficiently familiar with the 78-year-old SEC to know its proper name. It's bad journalism, of course, but also faintly ironic: A newspaper that promotes big government should at least bother to keep up with the names of the many agencies it loves, even when, as here, one proves unworthy.
I'll get my way even if I have to put the entire process in a straight jacket [read straitjacket]! (Nick Anderson, editorial cartoon about City Council member Helena Brown, Houston Chronicle, March 4, 2012)
Garner: "The strait in this word means 'close-fitting.' Straightjacket is a common but undesirable variant for straitjacket."
Notice that Mr. Anderson not only got straight/strait wrong but also incorrectly split the compound word -- straight jacket instead of straightjacket. These mistakes disappeared when the cartoon migrated from chron.com to the printed newspaper, but as I write the version on chron.com is still wrong.
I'll leave it to the Chronicle's high sheriff of civility to sort out the propriety of using mental illness as a descriptive category for a disfavored politician. And the logic of applying that label to a lone conservative when the left provides such a target-rich environment of candidates for the honor.
All writers need help. Careful writers need it most because they understand the difficulties. To Garner, Chicago, and the other standards, add The Economist Style Guide. It's $50 at the Economist's Web site; less than $20 at amazon.com. The newspaper -- as the Economist calls itself -- also has a delicious blog on matters of style and usage. Here is a righteous takedown of Rush Limbaugh's apology to Sandra Fluke. The February 25 issue of the print version of the Economist said the stylebook was online at economist.com/stylebook. As I write, it's not there. Maybe the posting has been delayed.