Above left: Operation Overlord. Above right: An overloaded truck. (I’ll explain later. I promise.)
By Joe Diorio
As America celebrates the 243rd anniversary of its independence (“Happy Treason Day, colonists” as they jokingly say in the U.K.), I’m reminded of a brilliant piece of writing by none other than Dr. Benjamin Franklin.
The framers of the Constitution were squabbling over how best to decide who gets to vote in a popular election. One side argued that only men who owned property should vote. Franklin’s side opposed this and offered a lengthy and verbose explanation supporting their argument. I’m afraid our over reliance on Google searches and consequent short attention span prevents me from sharing their long-winded argument. Instead, here is Dr. Franklin’s brilliant summation of why property ownership should not determine who gets to vote.
To require property of voters leads us to this dilemma: I own a jackass; I can vote. The jackass dies; I cannot vote. Therefore, the vote represents not me but the jackass.*
Brevity is beautiful, isn’t it?
* That may be a shorter version of his actual quote. Go easy on me.
The votes are in, y’all
“Y’all” is either plural or both singular and plural, so says the readers of this newsletter. And it ain’t singular, y’hear?
Last month I polled readers asking if “y’all” is singular or plural, and whether it’s OK to use the word if you live north of the Mason-Dixon Line. Respondents weren’t shy in offering an opinion.
52% said it is plural, and 42% said both. Only 6% said singular. “Y’all can be singular or plural,” one respondent wrote. “’All, y’all’ is always plural.”
Also, 59% of the respondents said it’s OK to use “y’all” if you live up north. “It should not be used by conscious decision,” one reader said. “Rather unconsciously as a result of being submerged in the Southern culture for a period of time that results in an unconscious use of the term. For me, it took about 20 years.”
Anybody up for a survey about “ya’s” (singular) and “youse” (plural)?
Dial pound … wait what?
A national litigation law firm uses the following phrase in its advertising: “Dial pound (number), that’s all.”
Who dials a number anymore? And how the heck can you dial the pound sign? AND will anyone know what you are talking about when you use said terminology?
“If you ask a millennial then for sure it’s outdated. Ask someone my age and they’d know exactly what you mean,” says Linda Barlow, a freelance writer in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. She points out that, for millennials, it’s not a pound sign but a hashtag. And neither can be found on the dial of a rotary phone.
Barlow does a lot of work for Comcast, so writing “dial a number” is definitely verboten. “Perhaps younger people just aren’t [this law firm’s] target market,” she says.
“I think there are phrases that have entered colloquial speech that we don’t necessarily have to know the original meaning to know the intent,” says Char Vandermeer, a freelance writer in Nashville. She points out that “drop a dime” is an example of an obsolete phone-related phrase that (quite likely) only devoted readers of noir literature would understand.
“Plus ‘drop a dime’ is a wonderfully loaded expression,” she says. “It’s more than simply making a call; specifically it refers to the act of calling the police or someone in power to rat someone out.”
Notice that I did not mention the law firm by name. I’m not “diming” them.
Facts matter, so we need to get them right
Last month marked the 75th Anniversary of D-Day, the allied invasion of Nazi occupied France. While reporting the anniversary, a young television news anchor in Nashville referred to the event as “Operation Overload.”
She was soooo close to being right. The correct name was “Operation Overlord,” which was the code name for the battle of Normandy. The amphibious operation to bring the 150,000-plus troops ashore to fight said battle was code named “Operation Neptune.” Together, they took place on D-Day, June 6, 1944.
If you are rolling your eyes after reading the above paragraphs, then please stop. These facts matter. Presenting readers or listeners with precise and careful erudition is the crux of good writing. Getting even small details wrong leads to accusations of fake news or worse. That’s why I always conclude every issue of this newsletter with the same admonition:
Let’s write carefully out there, people.
Joe Diorio is a writer living in Nashville. He wouldn’t mind if you told your friends and colleagues about him.