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The ‘Wire’ Copyediting Scandal: David Simon Responds!

Courtesy of HBO

So how did it slip into the show? David Simon's nostalgia, apparently. Last night we got an e-mail from the Baltimore impresario, who apparently isn't as busy as we thought.

So how did it slip into the show? David Simon's nostalgia, apparently. Last night we got an e-mail from the Baltimore impresario, who apparently isn't as busy as we thought.

At the Baltimore Sun in my day, I was chastised by the great Jay Spry, rewrite man to the world, for evacuating people in my report of a downtown gas leak. I plead guilty to an anachronism if indeed that is what it now is. However, I would argue that since the evacuation of people can in fact mean giving them enemas, the use of such a phrase should be discouraged by editors, given that the alternate phrase in which a given locale is evacuated is better and unequivocal. When a word has two meanings, find another word.


I could not resist having the fake Jay Spry deliver the real Jay Spry's admonition to Alma, much as he delivered it to me. Plain and simple, it was homage to a wonderful newspaper character and one of my earliest memories of my time at the Sun.

When we complained yesterday about a curmudgeonly copy editor's opinions on the proper use of the word "evacuate" in the Wire premiere, we never in our wildest dreams imagined the response we would get — not only from Merriam-Webster's editor-at-large, but from David Simon himself! Merriam-Webster's Peter Sokolowski, using the handle "MERRIAM_WEBSTER" (heh), commented on our post, pointing us to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary of English Usage's article on this very subject. Summarizes Sokolowski: "This was indeed a usage controversy until about WWII, by which time the 'remove (people)' sense had taken firm hold. According the MWDEU: 'The respectability of this sense is no longer subject to question.'"

Earlier: The ‘Wire’ Backlash Begins: We Disagree With David Simon's Usage of ‘Evacuate’