Before a piece of journalism is published in a magazine or newspaper, it usually undergoes one or several rounds of edits, designed to make its arguments more forceful, its narrative more compelling, its language more unified, or its spelling and grammar more accurate. Occasionally, due to some small ignorance or misunderstanding about a writer’s meaning, an editor will make a change that has precisely the opposite of this clarifying effect. If you’ve read the headline on this post and know anything about the standard versus metric systems of measurement, you may already know where I’m going with this.
Yesterday, the website for Maclean’s, a popular Canadian weekly magazine, published a report entitled “Hillary Clinton limps to the finish line,” about an event the candidate held in New Jersey on Wednesday. It includes the following passage about a local high-school band that performed at the rally:
Inside the coliseum, which serves as the athletic centre for the inner-city satellite campus of the state university of the Garden State, there was a high-school marching band performing in 38-litre hats and white boots, and cheerleaders in gold lamé hot pants.
Allen Abel, the reporter, presumably wrote “10-gallon hats,” a colloquial term for the large cowboy-style headwear pictured above. His editor, perhaps a Canadian national who is used to measuring liquid in liters, may have made the change to make the phrase more legible to his or her countrymen. Or maybe the Maclean’s style guide mandates use of the metric system, as is generally accepted in Canada.
Whatever happened, “38-litre hats” is a hell of a phrase, and I’m glad it made it into the article. As of the publication of this post, it has not yet been edited.