Six Colors
Six Colors

by Jason Snell & Dan Moren

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The weird grammar of American newswriting

In quoting Mark Gurman’s piece about AirPods yesterday, I noticed (and actually removed) some of the cruft that clogs his work now that he’s at Bloomberg and working with Bloomberg’s copy desk. I didn’t mention it, but Charles Arthur did, and his take is delightful:

Note in passing all the fol-de-rol of formal American newswriting: the amazingly dull headline, the requirement to describe Apple as “the Cupertino-based technology giant”, in case you were trying to find them on a map; the inability to just say “my sources”; the strangulated “as soon as this year” instead of “perhaps this year”. It’s like a weird grammar of its own.

Gurman’s writing was far clearer when he was at 9to5 Mac. But at Bloomberg he’s subject to its stylebook. Apparently Bloomberg requires a boilerplate mention of a company’s hometown so you don’t confuse the world’s largest technology firm with a local apple-picking farm. The Bloomberg style quirk that always gets me is the construction “the people,” which is how Bloomberg likes to refer to anonymous sources (“people familiar with the matter”) after they’ve been introduced. To quote the AirPods story:

The Cupertino, California-based technology giant is working on a new version for release as soon as this year with an upgraded wireless chip, the people said.

Style guides get infested with bizarre quirks not because a sadistic copy editor likes messing with writers and readers alike, but because providing clarity and consistency across a large news organization is a good idea. But over time, the original reasons some rules were created will vanish over the horizon, leaving nothing but a rule to be followed because Rules Are Made To Be Followed. Even if the result is, as Arthur says, “fol-de-rol.”

Anyway, Mark Gurman’s an excellent reporter. No matter what “the people” said.

—Linked by Jason Snell

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