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Rosie Right

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A Brewing Battle

What happens when a word escapes its home?

Our obsession with coffee gives us a good example: Italian Andrea Illy's family claimed to have invented espresso in the 1930s -- both the word and the espresso maker. They now run the company Illy caffè. According to The New York Times, Illy has tried to copyright the word espresso to be used only by his coffee company.

This is a perfect example of someone coming into a game when it's almost over. It's difficult to imagine how anyone could stop the use of espresso, and if it actually was invented in Italy at one coffee company, it illustrates the power of the perfect word.

Interestingly, the Oxford English Dictionary does not have a reference to espresso earlier than 1945, and so far, the courts have refused to honor the copyright. Just as, so far, Google has not been able to halt the rapid transformation of the company name into a generic verb as in "I googled the question and found …"



Quizzed on Details

All over the world huge political decisions are being made. Copy editors, thank goodness, don't have to make them. We worry about details that become very important to us. As an example, here's the quiz from the October-November issue of Copy Editor newsletter (reprinted with permission):



How many mistakes does this sentence contain?

"ebrary has added a twist to their business model, now offering almost 9,000 electronic titles for direct purchase by libraries."

Answer: The sentence contains two mistakes:

1. Although the company styles itself "ebrary," the rules of punctuation hold the trump card here: You must capitalize the first letter of the first word in a sentence (with the exception of occasions when a lowercase letter represents a concept distinct from an uppercase one, as in some mathematical formulas). While your house style may allow you to follow the preferred spelling of a company or product within reason (eBay, iTunes), it is not acceptable to use the lowercase initial letter at the beginning of a sentence, nor is it a violation of the entity's trademark to do so.

2. The use of the plural their to refer to a company is not yet acceptable in American English. In our sentence, the fact that we in the U.S. still perceive a company as a singular entity is underscored by the use of the singular for the main verb, has. Its should be used instead of their — at least until we're comfortable with "Ebrary have added twist."



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