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Thursday, July 11, 2013

Dubious Moments in Editing

I was struck, yesterday, by this sentence in an article about a rare genetic mutation that, by lowering "bad cholesterol" levels to virtual non-existence, provides major protection against heart disease:

"A $70 million, four-story factory in West Warwick, R.I., is like something out of Brobdingnag in 'Gulliver’s Travels,' a land populated by giants."

Colorful, certainly, but essentially just a fancy way of saying the factory is really, really big--disproportionately big, if you want to be more formal.  I don't object to the writer Gina Kolata's attempt to enliven her article with an apt literary reference. It would have worked better, though, if Kolata had simply described the factory as "Brobdingnagian." Indeed, I'd like to think that's what she did in some earlier draft.  The sentence as published smacks of editorial overcautiousness.  After all, this is the Times we're talking about; the editors should have more faith in their audience's background knowledge.

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