Every writer has pet peeves. They’re the little things that drive us up the wall when we see other writers. A friend of mine hates adverbs and cringes whenever he reads them. He has never read the Harry Potter series because of J.K. Rowlings use of adverbs.
One of my biggest pet peeves is the use of “allegedly” by reporters. No one seems to get it right. Just last week a reporter on CBS Radio in New York improperly used the word. The report stated something like, “A man allegedly beat the woman and took her purse.” Wow, he allegedly did that? We’re not talking a specific person here, so either someone beat the woman and took her purse or not. Now if the report said “John Smith allegedly beat the woman and took her purse,” that would be fine. But the report stated that there is some question if this incident actually happened by using “allegedly.”
Safe bet is to use “police said” or “according to police” to get around using allegedly. Best not to use it since everyone gets it wrong.
Another of mine is wordiness. I know not everyone is trained to write tight when trying to break a story, but it doesn’t stop me from being annoyed seeing long sentences that could have words removed to make it clearer.
It’s taken me years to get where I use less words with the help of many editors, but what annoys me even more is when I see a reporters wordy passage make it past an editor.
At my new job some days I work on posting breaking news online. I like the assignment because it injects me into the news process. Others probably think it’s a nuisance. I make people laugh, though, when I start complaining about the stories that are passed along for breaking news. I don’t dare change them, though, since they already went through an editor. But why are editors allowing their reporters to say “police officials said”? Using “police said” does the trick just as well.
Instead of changing the sentences, I just bitch. And apparently it makes others laugh.
The point of this exercise into exposing my pet peeves is to explain how they actually make me and others better writers.
I’m sure it can get annoying listening to someone bitch about adverbs, allegedly or wordiness, but the conversations that can pop out of them cause us to write well. There has to be a reason why those things grate on our nerves, right? It’s because with changes the writing can be better.
And there are interesting conversations that arise out of the pet peeves. The reporters and editors together discuss style and grammar, and only good can come from it.
At WestportNow, for example, Gordon and I would get into lengthy debates about style and grammar. He is a stickler for style, which I have no problem with because it has helped me become a better writer. Plus my wordiness pet peeve? It started because as an editor at WN and working for Gordon I developed a better skill to write tight.
One of our biggest ongoing debates was over hyphens. Who the heck argues over hyphens? Most often it was over a compound adjective, most specifically ribbon-cutting ceremony. Note I used the hyphen. I had always learned and been pushed in the direction of using a hyphen for all compound adjectives.
Gordon, however, would point out AP Style states there should be no hyphens. “Ribbon-cutting ceremony” became “ribbon cutting ceremony.”
I bent to AP Style, but I still maintain the hyphen should be there. I also learned recently one of my current co-workers agrees. I should probably ask my new boss since I’ve been told he too is a stickler for proper grammar and style.
But having these long debates and conversations (and sometimes even jokes with each other) lead us to be better writers. We’re focused on the writing and doing it better when we have these conversations. Only good can come from it.