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Public editor: Mistakes in my column. Mea culpa

Sylvia Stead, The Globe and Mail’s public editor, is not immune to error.

Peter Power/The Globe and Mail

When the subject of grammar is raised, get ready to duck. Now that I've read all 500-plus e-mails on readers' grammatical pet peeves, I would like to turn to criticisms about my initial column on grammar.

In it, I referred to readers who sent me notes about such errors in The Globe and Mail over the past year. A few other readers raised excellent points about lapses in that column and also some others in that same day's newspaper. So, mea culpa!

A number of doctors wrote in to say that the patients' or (patient's in the singular) past history is a correct phrase. (I quoted one reader saying "past history" is redundant.)

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Here's one that caught two errors in that statement: "In medical jargon the patient's past history is different than the history of the current illness. So, when taking a history from a patient, the physician will ask about the symptoms and signs in the past week or so that led the patient to seek medical attention. Then the patient will be asked about his or her past history: previous illnesses, surgeries, hospitalizations, etc. And I assume the reader meant the patient's past history rather than the patients' past histories?"

That was kind to suggest that it was the reader's mistake when I should have corrected it.

Here is another good point from a reader about my reference to abbreviations: "I don't mind abbreviations without periods after each letter (depending) but it does bother me when someone calls them acronyms. An acronym is an abbreviation that can be (and usually is) pronounced as a word."

Here is a third reader correcting my column. Yes three. "In 'Fluent in the language of errors,' you quote the Globe and Mail Style Book. You transcribe: 'This in language that also delights the reader raises journalism from a craft to an art, but the craft comes first.' But that sentence is awkward, at best, without the first word of the original McFarlane/Clements sentence: 'Doing this in language that also delights the reader raises journalism from a craft to an art, but the craft comes first.' "

So enough about the imperfections in my piece, what about the rest of that Saturday's paper?

Well there was a mix-up between "hoard" and "horde".

The Globe's Style Book says, "Hoard means to gather and store, and as a noun means that which has been gathered, as in a pirate's hoard. A horde is a multitude, particularly of people. It also means a nomadic tribe, as in the Mongol hordes."

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Another article used "comprised" when it should have said "consisted of" or "composed of".

Again here is the Style Book: "Compose means create, or put together from various parts, or make calm. (After he frantically composed the song, he composed himself.) It can be used in the passive when listing component parts. (The news team is composed of reporters, producers and technical staff.)

"Comprise means include, contain, consist of. It is always the larger thing that does the comprising. (The orchestra comprises strings, brass, reeds and percussion.) It is virtually never encountered in the passive (for which the preposition would have to be comprised by). The component parts do not comprise the whole; they constitute it. (Several types of instruments constitute or make up an orchestra.)"

And finally, this wasn't from January, but last fall there were several references to the PMO's office. Here is what one reader had to say: "PMO's office. Double fault."

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About the Author
Public Editor

Sylvia Stead has been a reporter and editor at the Globe since 1975, after graduating from the University of Western Ontario in Journalism with a minor in Political Science. She won the Board of Governors Award there in 1974. As a reporter, Sylvia covered courts, education and Queen's Park. More


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