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Words Dec. 1

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Tired of being totaled:

A reader asks why newspapers employ sentences such as “A total of 60 police and protesters were injured in the scuffles …” and “A total of 143 nations joined in approving two resolutions challenging the closing of the observer mission …”

“ ‘A total of’ seems clumsy and unnecessary,” he There’s an old rule in journalism that says, “Don’t start a sentence with a numeral. Spell out the numeral or recast the sentence.” The only explanation I’ve heard for the rule is that a numeral at the beginning of a sentence looks funny. There’s also a bias against spelling out large numerals, because of the amount of valuable space that would be required and because the spelled-out versions can be hard to read. “Sixty” wouldn’t be a problem, but “One hundred forty-three” would be something less than ideal.

So journalists often choose to re

What about our Redbugs, our Sand Lizards, our Little Johns:

Looking up nimrod the other day, after U.S. Rep. Marion Berry said a colleague was one, I learned there’s a high school football team in Watersmeet, Mich., called the Nimrods, and that this name was once listed by ESPN as the third-best team nickname among American high schools. Syrupmakers, of Cairo, Ga., was first on the list, followed by, in order, Beetdiggers (Brush, Colo.), Nimrods, Imps (Cary, N.C.), Atomsmashers (Johnson Prep in Savannah, Ga.), Angoras (Clarkston, Ga.), Flivvers (Kingsford, Mich.), Squirrels (Winslow, Ariz.) (sic), Peglegs (Stuyvesant in New York City) and Dots (Poca, W. Va.).

The Squirrels entry is sicced because it’s erroneous. The Squirrels took the field not in Winslow, Arizona, but in Winslow, Arkansas. Not any more, sadly. School consolidation has made the Squirrels extinct.



And another one in your soup:

Bob Lancaster spotted “There’s one flaw in your ointment …”




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