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February 7th, 2007

More on co- / among other vs. among several

by Barbara Wallraff

Clyde MacDonald, of Hampden, Maine, writes: “I am a former aide to Senator George Mitchell. I question your recent contention that it is unnecessary or redundant to refer to representatives who endorse bills as ‘co-sponsors.’ The ‘sponsor’ is the originator of a bill and deserves to be recognized. The hard work of drawing up a bill falls mainly to the sponsor. When other legislators recognize the merits of the idea, they sign onto a bill not as ‘sponsors’ but as ‘co-sponsors.’ It is useful for voters to know who originated the idea and attempted to see it through.”

Dear Clyde: I stand corrected. I never realized that those in the know think of “co-sponsors” of a bill as different from “sponsors.” Reading news accounts about the push in Congress to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases, I see why I didn’t. An article in the San Francisco Chronicle made your distinction, with the phrase “Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., who is a co-sponsor of McCain’s bill.” But the Associated Press, covering the same story, reported that “McCain and Obama are co-sponsors of a bill aimed to cut emissions by two-thirds.”

In my business, no such distinction exists. “Co-authors” are collaborating authors, period. But come to think of it, there are other realms in which, properly speaking, whatevers outrank co-whatevers. For instance, movies typically have a producer plus co-producers. Again, I stand corrected. Thanks.

John Scott, of East Lansing, Mich., writes: “In a recent column you offered as a correct sentence ‘James Garner starred in “Maverick,” among other TV shows.’ Bad Barbara. The ‘among other things’ template is very popular, but very wrong because very inaccurate. A thing cannot be a member of the group ‘other things’; ‘other’ means ‘excluding this thing.’ I’ve had to train myself to say ‘among several things,’ to satisfy my Inner Stickler.

“Also, strictly speaking, your sentence is inaccurate. As you wrote, Garner starred in only one other TV show, so there weren’t ‘others’ – there was only the one other.”

Dear John: I think you need to have a talk with your Inner Stickler and remind him he’s not the boss of the whole world. Yes, “other” means “not this one.” But “among” lets “other” off the hook. The relationship it describes isn’t specific. Webster’s New World Dictionary gives eight meanings for it, including “in the company of; surrounded by.” Of course someone or something can be in the company of or surrounded by “others.” So there’s nothing illogical about writing “‘Maverick,’ among other TV shows.”
Even if it were illogical – well, sometimes English is. If a phrase is idiomatic, widely understood and accepted by published language authorities, objecting to it is pointless. I checked usage manuals for you to see whether “among other things” is controversial. It is not. And I checked Google News to see how often “among other things” appears in edited media compared with “among several things.” “Among other things” won 8,884 to 2.
As for your second point (sorry – you started this!), I did not say that Garner starred in only one other TV show. I said “James Garner’s only other big hit on television was ‘The Rockford Files.’” He actually starred – or co-starred – in at least half a dozen series, though none of the others made it big.

© Copyright 2003 by Barbara Wallraff. Reprints require prior permission. All rights reserved.

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