Times deputy editor and stylebook guru Philip B. Corbett is the very special host of this week's Talk to the Newsroom feature, and the Q&A has been pretty entertaining if you're a total nerd for grammar and usage. (The Life in Hell-ish "banned" phrase list is pretty great.) It's also been full of questions that the Times has answered before—in one case, quite literally! Also? Now that everyone can read nearly everything the Times has ever printed for free, there's really no reason for people to keep asking the exact same "Mr. Loaf" question.
The legend is that the Times once referred to Meatloaf as "Mr. Loaf" in a hilarious example of their stodginess or something. And yes, they did do this! Once, in 1991, in a jokey film review headline.
We learned about this by looking up a 1995 Wiliam Safire column that's also about how the Times uses the word "famously" too much, the subject of another complaint answered by Mr. Corbett.
But this is the worst. From Corbett's Q&A:
Q. Hello! As a 50-year Times reader now living in Florida, I have always been confused about what appears to be a policy of always using the middle name of a person (as in Daniel Patrick Moynihan) and not with another (as in Al Gore). Can you clear this up for me? Thanks.And Associate Managing Editor Charles Strum's Ask the Newsroom column from two weeks ago:
— Philip Monger, Miami
A. In handling names, we try to be as consistent as possible, but we also have to consider a person's preference (it's his name, after all) and what will seem familiar to our readers.
For most people, the standard reference is first name, middle initial, last name. That's in keeping with the tone we strive for in the news columns: not starchy but traditional. We don't try for a chatty style peppered with nicknames, slang or faddish expressions.
But if a well-known person prefers to use a nickname or short form, we do so: Bill Clinton, Al Gore. And if someone is regularly referred to with a full middle name, we will reflect that, as with Daniel Patrick Moynihan. (We haven't been entirely consistent with him, though: a quick check of our archives reveals 5,507 references to Daniel Patrick Moynihan, but 325 to Daniel P. Moynihan).
Q. I have been wanting to ask this question for years. You must have a general knowledge of the Time's policy about how people's names are written, namely, when a person's middle name is (always) included or not. My classic example is "Daniel Patrick Moynahan" (RIP).. Why always the "Patrick"? Because he asked for it to be that way? Beacuse somebody else asked for it that way? Was there another prominent "Patrick Moynahan"? Another Senator Moynahan? If I asked for "Demuth" to always be included in my name, would you agree or not? Why?Strum answers the question too, and at slightly greater length, but it's clear that Philip (Demuth) Monger, 50, of Miami, formerly of New York, just loves seeing his name in the Times and will continue asking this question of everyone. We'd like to see Clyde Haberman and Alex Kuczynski tackle it next.
— Philip (Demuth) Monger, Miami (formerly of Manhattan)
Talk to the Newsroom:
Deputy News Editor Philip B. Corbett [NYT]
Talk to the Newsroom:
Associate Managing Editor Charles Strum [NYT]
Review/Film; Is He Called Just Plain Meat Or Should It Be Mr. Loaf? [NYT]
On Language; Famously [NYT]