Why does The Post refer to military decorations as being ‘won’?

October 18, 2011

We saw the following question from commenter ikins in last week’s Q&A thread.

Q: Why does the Post refer to military decorations as being “won” instead of “received”?


A close up view of the Medal of Honor (Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post)

We passed ikins’s question along to Anne Ferguson-Rohrer, The Post’s multiplatform editing chief, and military reporter, Greg Jaffe. We’ve posted both of their responses below.

A: from Anne Ferguson-Rohrer, multiplatform copy editing chief

The copy editors are very sensitive to these distinctions. We have a couple of stylebook entries on this. We take the distinctions further than simply acknowledging that medals or decorations aren’t “won”; we also talk about “earn” vs. “awarded” (as in, no one particularly aspires to “earn” a medal for being wounded in action, so the Purple Heart is awarded, etc.).

There is no denying that with our expanded content, more things slip through the cracks, especially when people who don’t necessarily have extensive experience as editors are writing display type on our web and mobile platforms. We strive to hold all Post content to the same high standards, but the simple fact is that the sheer volume makes it impossible — not that we don’t keep trying. Anything that isn’t quite right and is brought to our attention, we work to fix quickly — and spread the word so the same mistake isn’t made.

A: from Greg Jaffe, military reporter

We have made this mistake in a headline once that I can remember. (I think the word “won” is a easier word to cram into a headline than “earn.”) But we are very sensitive to it at the reporter level. We briefly had it in an online headline the last time a Medal of Honor was awarded but changed it within 30 minutes.

So the writer is correct that we shouldn’t use the word “won.” But I honestly don’t think we do. If someone notices, let us know and we’ll change it.

I’ve covered the military full time for 12 years now. I am pretty sensitive to military culture.

Have questions for Post editors? Submit them here or on Twitter using the hash tag #askthepost .

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