Swing and a miss

Last week I was editing a sports story when I saw this paragraph:
An awful sound, something like a broken plastic bat hitting a Whiffle ball, echoed throughout RFK Stadium when Rajai Davis made contact against starter Tim Redding in the second inning.
I am all for capitalizing proper nouns, but Whiffle ball, as the story has it, is not the name of the perforated plastic ball. The trademarked name is Wiffle ball.

The generic name for it is whiffle ball, so it may be lowercased.

So what could you call an error like that? A whiff?


Zach Everson said...

I had to cause to look up that information a few weeks ago and was surprised that "ball" isn't capitalized either.

Peter said...

I'm encouraged that you recognize and acknowledge that "whiffle ball" is a generic term. My newspaper and, I think, many others, labor under the delusion that their interests are the same as those of trademark lawyers and that trademark lawyers are the arbiters of how language evolves and what rules are to be followed.

In my paper's case, this leads to a rule that dumpster, which very clearly has come to be a generic term for a large trash bin, should nonetheless be capitalized.

This leads to the further idiocy of dumpster being changed to Dumpster even where the reporter and copy editor have no idea about the brand name of the trash bin in question.

An article in the Economist in, I think, 1997 made a clear case that journalists need not be bound by trademark lawyers' rules. (For one thing, journalists are not in competition with the trademarks' holders. If I manufacture a big trash bin and call it a "dumpster," I am infringing on Dumpster's trademark and should be forced to desist. If I refer to a trash bin as a "dumpster," I am infringing on nothing.)

In broader terms, I find it disturbing that a newspaper, that bastion of free and independent opinion, slavishly prostitutes itself to corporate interests in matters of style.
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TootsNYC said...

the sound made by the impact of those two objects wouldn't "echo throughout" much of anywhere.

Also, usually it's a plastic bat and a broken whiffle ball.

TootsNYC said...

also, M-W defines "whiff" as "strikeout"--I NEVER used it to mean that, back when I played softball.

We used "whiff" to mean a swinging strike (not a called one), esp. one that makes you look sort of silly. It's onomatopoeic (meaning 2, and vaguely meaning 1).

A *single* swinging strike, not an entire three-strike strikeout. (bcs you can strike out on called strikes, and there's no "whiffing"

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Anonymous said...

I was struggling with this issue just today while editing a story about a local whiffle ball field, a replica of Fenway Park. The story originally used "Wiffle ball," but I made it lowercase after finding this blog. (AP Stylebook makes no mention of either, unfortunately.)
- Jim

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