Sunday, September 28, 2008

Two countries separated
by more than a common language

Here's reviewing last Friday's edition (September 27th) of the Economist:
An editorial supports Henry Paulson and Ben Bernanke's $700 billion bailout as "a plan that could work." By providing banks with much-needed capital, the plan would restore "transparent prices, [and] would at last encourage investors to come in and repair the financial system." For this reason, "the economics of Mr[.] Paulson's plan are broadly correct, [but] the politics are fiendish"—if the bailout succeeds, Wall Street will return to raking in millions while the average American "will scarcely notice a depression that never happened."
The original of that read in part (this is the eighth of ten closely-argued paragraphs):
If the economics of Mr Paulson’s plan are broadly correct, the politics are fiendish. You are lavishing money on the people who got you into this mess. Sensible intervention cannot even buy long-term relief: the plan cannot stop house prices falling and the bloated financial sector shrinking. Although the economic risk is that the plan fails, the political risk is that the plan succeeds. Voters will scarcely notice a depression that never happened. But even as they lose their houses and their jobs, they will see Wall Street once again making millions.
If Malcolm were still putting work in front of students, he might be tempted to throw both efforts out for scrutiny and comment.

Yet what attracted Malcolm's interest was the discord over the use of a stop after "Mr", which felt needed correction.

Malcolm prefers, and not just for nationalistic reasons, the Economist style.

He learned that the stop after an abbreviation indicated that the latter letters had been omitted. Since "Mr" is "M(aste)r" or "M(iste)r", there is nothing removed from the end of the abbreviation. It might, just might still be possible to do an eighteenth-century "M'r", but that seems over-cooked. Furthermore the "Mr." usage creates an ugly extra space in the text.

The clincher is the OED:
Since the 17th cent. it has been the customary courteous prefix to the name of any man below the rank of knight. It is customary not to use the prefix when Esquire is appended to the name, and it is now omitted after ‘The Hon.’ and ‘The Rev.’ In less formal use, however, ‘Mr’ may often be substituted for these titles. It is customary in Britain (and South Africa, and predominantly in Australia and New Zealand) for surgeons to be styled ‘Mr’ rather than ‘Dr’.
Now that would have been on the table as well, for those aspiring students of that version of the English language which the computer-programs insist on terming "International English". Sphere: Related Content

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