February 11th, 2009
Capitalizing Realtor / to shutter / leadership was assessed as having mastered ...?
by Barbara Wallraff
Daniele Cherniak, of Cohoes, N.Y., writes: “My local newspaper capitalizes the word ‘Realtor,’ even in cases where the word is not part of a title or the name of a business or other organization. It does not similarly capitalize the names of other occupations. Is there some reason why ‘Realtor’ would be treated differently?”
Dear Daniele: Yes. “Realtor” isn’t just a job title; it’s also a service mark. A service mark, as the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office explains it, “is the same as a trademark, except that it identifies and distinguishes the source of a service rather than a product.” So in a sense, Realtors are comparable to Coca-Cola or Pepsi. (Sorry, Realtors -- that was flip. I know you have to have been accepted into the National Association of Realtors to qualify.) The term that’s comparable to “cola” is “real-estate agent.”
Jeff Prescott, of La Jolla, Calif., writes: “I doubt if a human being has ever used the verb ‘shutter’ in a sentence. But I see it in newspapers a lot. Please tell me why papers use such language.”
Dear Jeff: Do you mean uses like this one, in a recent headline in The Daily Sound, of Santa Barbara, Calif.: “Oil field north of SB officially shuttered”? That is awfully peculiar, inasmuch as oil fields don’t have shutters. I don’t see how even figuratively they could have shutters. The mental image the headline conjures up is absurd. “Shuttered” means “closed,” and “closed” would have been a much better word there.
John McNair, of Kingston, Ontario, writes: “I am on staff at the Canadian Army Staff College. Our course reports contain statements about our students’ ability in different areas, notably leadership, decision-making skills and communication skills. There are many opinions about the opening sentences of the three relevant paragraphs of the report. For instance: ‘During the course Capt. X’s leadership (or decision-making skills or communication skills) was assessed as having mastered (or exceeded or met) the standard.’ Can one ‘master a standard’? Some claim the sentence is grammatically incorrect.”
Dear John: Yes, that sentence is a mess. The problem isn’t the grammar, though. What it says doesn’t quite make sense. A “standard” is a level of achievement or skill, not the skill itself -- so, no, one can’t master it. “Exceeded” or “met” would be OK. Better yet, because it’s clearer, would be to make Capt. X the subject of the sentence, like this: “During the course, Capt. X was assessed as having met the standard for leadership.”
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