Meme O’ The Week: Action Figures
Couldda Been 2: Raised Catholic

About Writing 3: The Stylebook in My Head

(Length Warning)

There are many writing stylebooks; too many to mention.

But there is only one I was simultaneously paid and ordered to memorize, and chastised severely and publicly for failure to follow: the AP/UPI Joint Stylebook, circa 1975.

For example, (I may have mentioned this before): there is almost no sentence in which the word “that” cannot be removed. “He said he remembered that he had done it,” is shorter and means the same if it is “He said he remembered he had done it.” I have spent four decades pruning the word “that” out of my copy and that (oops!) of others.

“Only buses and trains are due,” said my UPI boss. “The company failed due to management incompetence,” a frequently recurring trope, should be expressed as, “The company failed because of management incompetence.”

Never imply causation. “Meanwhile, elsewhere in Boston,” was almost always intended to imply causation or connection. If you can prove either of those things, explain WHY you have added the “elsewhere” information. Or be more direct: “As a result of the fire, trains were stopped.”

On the more informal radio wire, you could say “Jones said the budget was over three million dollars in the red.” But on the more formal newspaper wire, “There was a deficit of more than $2.97 million,  according to Jones.” Now, even the New York Times has given in, and allows “over” as a synonym for “more than.”

 UPI’s Don Davis must be rolling in his grave, picturing a bag of money floating in the air, an image he frequently invoked when chiding writers for violating the rule.


Clark Smith

So I guess your column below should be renamed "This And". I've actually been struggling with some double that constructions I can't seem to talk myself out of. "Researchers discovered that that was the optimum strategy." Help me out here.

Paul Schindler

Instead of that that substitute a term that describes the research

researchers discovered locomotion was…

Robert E. Malchman

I always took the "meanwhile, elsewhere" as signaling complete *unconnectedness.* Like, "Meanwhile, hundreds of miles away, Charles Macintosh was waterproofing fabric with a coal-tar derivative."

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