Average Joe: Copy editors are to blame for Buckeyes run amok

Once upon a time, copy editors roamed the earth, rescuing the written word from evil newspaper reporters’ relentless assault on grammar, spelling and punctuation.

It’s rare in this era to find someone still employed under that title. Back in the day, however, we copy editors were journalism’s equivalent of a special ops force. In order to shed a little light on my tour of duty, I’m going to have to talk about my comrades in arms. I’ll only divulge their code names, though, so as not to completely blow their covers. But we were word soldiers once, and young.

“Fraze” was our stern but fair leader. Among her cadre of faithful lieutenants was tough-as-nails “Dwerb,” who could make a dangling participle pee its pants with his cold and steely stare. There was “Puff Kavvy,” who brought a red pen to every duel and never blinked once before his challengers whimpered away. I worked in the copy desk trenches alongside “Kimbalaya,” “Debla,” “Moniker” and “Sue” — veritable Associated Press Stylebook ninjas, all. “Chasm” placed traps for every extraneous keystroke he could find, scarily delighting in each banishment. “Mark J.” worked wonders with headlines and left stories cleaner than Buckingham Palace’s finest dinnerware. “Other Joe” knew how to convert financial babble into actual literary currency. We even had a “Wilson,” who was, you guessed it, really just a volleyball embossed with a bloody handprint — but still a better copy editor than your typical volleyball.

There were many others over the years — too many to list here. Sadly, some have died. Others have worked themselves seamlessly back into the world at large, still putting their skills to use covertly whether they’re working in public libraries, selling real estate or scorekeeping for professional baseball teams. And some of us are still fighting the good fight in newsrooms.

A club so secret that even its members had no idea

During my time alongside these fine folks, a shadowy organization formed. It was dubbed Society for Prevention of The. You read that correctly. Society for Prevention of The.

This group was so secretive, so underground that its well-meaning founder may actually have failed to notify other potential members of its very existence. Organizing efforts hit a snag right out of the gate, with its leadership realizing that the acronym SFPOT sounded more like a Bay Area cannabis group.

SFPOT’s stated mission would be to remove every unnecessary use of the word “the” that its members could find, formally recognizing a practice that we copy editors had been employing all along. That seemingly harmless little article had a nasty habit of bogging down headlines and gobbling up precious column inches back when print was king. Strangely enough, 99.9% of the time that we removed it, nobody seemed to notice that “the” was missing. You could fill Ohio Stadium to the brim with every unnecessary “the” instance that we discarded in a typical year.

In fact, I am fully convinced that Ohio Stadium was exactly where our castaway “thes” landed. And instead of hauling them up to Ann Arbor and dumping them there like good little Buckeyes, our scarlet and gray friends went and weaponized the word, taking full advantage of a new day where it's the wild West all over again without those pesky, uptight copy editors keeping the peace throughout the land.

Baffling trademark decision opens 'the' floodgate

In June, a trademark for “the” was awarded to The Ohio State University (henceforth to be known as TOSU on second reference, I suppose) after a three-year fight. While I used to grouse about this as a perfectly useless pursuit, I’ve begun to see the light. What if there’s a land grab for articles across the 14 schools in the Big Ten Conference or the 10 schools in the Big 12 conference? Since the conferences clearly can’t count, their members have got to cling to something else for legitimacy. Kudos to TOSU for having the vision to beat the Wolverines to the punch and gobble up the most popular definite article in the English language. If those neighbors to the north want to trademark a capitalized article of their own, they’ll have to settle for something like A University of Michigan. Hey Hoosiers, An Indiana University is yours for the taking! Here’s looking at That University of Iowa.

Could it be that maybe, just maybe, we copy editors were a little too zealous in our prevention of “the”? Consider TOSU’s world-famous marching band. The Best Damn Band In The Land would just be BDBIL without its trademark double-dose of “the.” (Think about how silly that would look on a bumper sticker. “Hey Dad, what does BDBIL mean?” “I dunno. Maybe ‘big doofus brother-in-law’?”)

But if you’re going to go the whole nine yards to secure “the,” you might as well truly own it. Hey, TBDBITL, we know you’re all about dotting your ‘i,” in Script Ohio. But it’s time for you to up your game and cross your “t” as well. We triple dog dare you to troll your detractors with Script The™ while playing “This is the Day” or some other tune by British alt-rock band The The. (Super extra bonus points if you incorporate the trademark symbol as well!)

Accept the challenge and I promise to officially dissolve Society for Prevention of The. If you decline, hey, there’s just no telling what kind of cloak-and-dagger grammatical skullduggery will be sworn out by the scattered vestiges of the copy editing underworld against your tiny little word friend. Don’t make me summon Dwerb.

When he isn’t toiling away as the Beacon Journal metro editor, you can occasionally find Joe Thomas musing about everyday life as the Average Joe. Reach him at jthomas@thebeaconjournal.com

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This article originally appeared on Akron Beacon Journal: Average Joe: Copy editors get punk'd by puzzling trademark decision