The Washington Post

Reader Meter: A surname and the grammar police

It’s no surprise that the story the entire country is focused on is the topic on which we received the most amount of e-mail this past week.

Though the incident occurred on Feb. 26, the death of Trayvon Martin and the role of neighborhood watch member George Zimmerman in the shooting have only recently exploded in the media, inciting controversy, creating confusion and stirring up a variety of emotions.

The Post has written several stories about the case, but it was the March 23 piece by Manuel Roig-Franzia, Tom Jackman and Darryl Fears and their opening sentence regarding Zimmerman’s surname that really motivated readers to get in touch with the ombudsman’s office.

Nearly every e-mail we received was similar: Readers rejected the assumption that someone’s last name automatically determines his or her religion or ethnicity and proceeded to cite examples — both personal and of public figures — of people whose last names fail to match their perceived identities.

The ombudsman addressed this issue in a Monday post on the Omblog, which you can read here.

And then there’s a case for the grammar police: a March 28 headline that . . . well . . . “majorly” upset a handful of readers, one of whom used to work here:

“[I] can’t believe the Post’s phalanx of editors let the A4 headline get past them: ‘Gingrich to majorly scale back campaign.’ As an old former WashPost assistant national editor myself, I am majorly bummed out. One, it’s an invented word. To misquote Daniel Patrick Moynihan: We are all entitled to our opinions on the words, but we are not entitled to our own words. Two, it’s an ADVERB! And as Mark Twain did say, ‘If you see an adverb, kill it.’

“Please ask the guilty party to burn the page in public or at least in the newsroom. Or as s/he might put it, to publicly my-bad this majorly embarrassing blooper.”

-Joanne Omang

This could very well be a Post Roast from the ombudsman, but we think you get the point.


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