Gourmet vanilla extract

McCormick  markets gourmet premium pure organic vanilla extract. They tout its quality by telling us that the hand-picked vanilla beans “are left on the vine for up to 9 months to ensure vanilla flavor the way it was intended to be.”

So then, what does “up to 9 months” on the vine mean? Does it mean that some of the beans stay on the vine for only one month? Does it in fact mean that only a token number of beans remain on the vine for a full nine months?

My curmudgeonly take on writing hardened by reading American journalist Theodore M. Bernstein (1904–1979). He was the assistant managing editor of The New York Times from 1951 to 1969.

Among his several books, he wrote Watch Your Language: A Lively, Informal Guide to Better Writing, Emanating from the News Room of the New York Times  (1958). (My copy is still boxed up from my move ten months ago.)

So how am I doing in the writing department? Do I write better after hot tea with sugar? Of course, you wouldn’t know.

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See Theodore M. Bernstein papers, Manuscripts and Archives Division, The New York Public Library.

A pungent captain

An arrogant lieutenant joins the cavalry of a pungent captain at an outpost in the middle of the desert surrounded by Comanche and Apache Indians.

Summary of the film A Thunder of Drums from MGM (1961)

as broadcast by the GRIT television network (May 2018)

Help! What is a pungent captain?

Besides this, to be pedantic, is a question: Is the outpost surrounded by Indians, or is the desert surrounded by Indians?

To create again or not to

Mariela Castaneda, a spokesperson for the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), explained the closure of a parcel of public land. The open desert area in Arizona had become a popular spot for illegal target shooting. Unfortunately, a stray bullet killed a pregnant woman in January 2018.

Castaneda said, “While the BLM understands the temporary closure will impact recreational opportunities in the … area, it is necessary for the safety of the recreating public and those conducting power line repair and fiber optic line burial.”

From the Scottsdale Republic, “Feds close BLM land after stray-bullet death,” Friday, February 23, 2018, section SR, Z8, pp. 16-17.

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What we say can become ambiguous when it appears in writing.