International style

A former newspaper copy-desk colleague posted a little gem on Facebook today:

Headline writers: A reminder to avoid the desiccated low-hanging fruit.

My worst headlines floated into my head, like restless ghosts from Christmases past. I remembered how clever I felt for writing “This Cyrano a winner by more than a nose” as the headline for an unusually favorable theater review.

And how about “Protester chalks it up to experience” for the article about the demonstrator who was jailed, fined, and then pardoned for writing in chalk on a city sidewalk?

Desiccated low-hanging fruit, indeed. Touché.

In spite of my shame, I was curious to see what other admonitions The Economist might offer. So I turned to their style guide, and specifically to their rules about the use of titles. This paragraph in particular caught my eye:

Take care with foreign titles. Malaysian titles are so confusing that it may be wise to dispense with them altogether. Do not, however, call Tunku Razaleigh Hamzah Mr Razaleigh Hamzah; if you are not giving him his Tunku, refer to him, on each mention, as Razaleigh Hamzah. Avoid, above all, Mr Tunku Razaleigh Hamza.

It would never have occurred to me to take particular care with Malaysian titles. Or to call a baroness a Lady, just as barons should be called Lords. I also learned that all graduates in Italy are conferred the title “Dr.” and that “Ms. is permissible though ugly.”


I have to hand it to The Economist: It’s wonderful to be reminded that I can always improve my writing — and that I have much to learn about the world.

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