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Clamping down on "freeSpeech"

Posted by Jan Freeman, keep until April  September 8, 2006 11:24 PM

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Good news: It turns out that the CBS News logo I complained about the other day – "freeSpeech," with the quotation marks included – is not the official name of the broadcast's new commentary segment, just the whimsy of an overcaffeinated graphic designer. The preseason press releases called the feature "Free Speech," presumably intending those quote marks to be the usual, detachable kind.

Better news: Of the 150 mentions of the "Free Speech" segment in the Nexis news database this week – not counting CBS's own transcripts -- 118 ignored the idiosyncratic style, calling it simply "Free Speech." And of the 32 that did print it as "FreeSpeech" or "freeSpeech," several made fun of its "oddCapitalization."

Journalists sometimes forget that there's no reason to style the PBS show as "NOVA," or the restaurant as dante, or the musical as "Oklahoma!" – and good reasons, like reader comfort, to ignore most stylistic quirks. It's not illegal to capitalize k.d. lang and bell hooks, and nobody stopped the presses till they could find a way to reproduce that symbol Prince tried to substitute for his name.

I could go on, but I don't have to: Bill Walsh,chief of the Washington Post business copy desk, has wrestled the weird-orthography monster to the ground, and he covers both theory and practice in his 2000 book, "Lapsing Into a Comma," and (more briefly) in an entry at his website. A taste:

"You might be hard pressed to find a consumer product or show-biz title whose packaging or publicity doesn't take liberties with the rules of capitalization. But does that mean we have to write THREE'S COMPANY or KRAFT Macaroni and Cheese DINNER? Of course not."

Of course not. Let's stamp out "freeSpeech" before it spreads.

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About brainiac Brainiac is the daily blog of the Globe's Sunday Ideas section, covering news and delights from the worlds of art, science, literature, history, design, and more. You can follow us on Twitter @GlobeIdeas.
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Guest blogger Joshua Glenn is a Boston-based writer, publisher, and freelance semiotician. He was the original Brainiac blogger, and is currently editor of the blog HiLobrow, publisher of a series of Radium Age science fiction novels, and co-author/co-editor of several books, including the story collection "Significant Objects" and the kids' field guide to life "Unbored."

Guest blogger Ruth Graham is a freelance journalist in New Hampshire, and a frequent Ideas contributor. She is a former features editor for the New York Sun, and has written for publications including Slate and the Wall Street Journal.

Joshua Rothman is a graduate student and Teaching Fellow in the Harvard English department, and an Instructor in Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. He teaches novels and political writing.


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