The Name Is Not the Thing

By Mark Nichol

Writers sometimes have difficulty differentiating in their syntax between something and its name. Here are some examples of this type of error, with explanations and solutions.

1. “The cartoon series is so inspired by the city that all characters are local street names.”
Here, the writer attempts to explain that names in the cast of characters of a television series were selected by going through a list of streets located in the city in which the series is set; this decision exemplifies the extent to which the city inspired the program. This can be stated more simply with just a slight correction of the original sentence: “The cartoon series is so inspired by the city that all characters are named after local streets.” The following variation is even closer to the writer’s wording but is repetitive and less elegant: “The cartoon series is so inspired by the city that all characters’ names are local street names.”

2. “What is a BNP? This relatively new blood test, which stands for ‘b-type natriuretic peptide serum,’ measures the level of a hormone released when the heart chambers stretch larger than normal.”
This writer makes the mistake of implying that the blood test is an abbreviation for “b-type natriuretic peptide serum.” But it is BNP, the preceding initialism for the test, not the test itself, that represents the full name, and that distinction must be explicit: “What is a BNP? This relatively new blood test, the initials for which stand for “b-type natriuretic peptide serum,” measures the level of a hormone released when the heart chambers stretch larger than normal.”

3. “They created an Advisory Committee on the Protection and Use of Sandy Point.”
This wording implies that creation of advisory committees on the protection and use of Sandy Point is a regular occurrence, and that this was just another instance of that commonplace event. The sentence should avoid this minor but distracting confusion by referring to creation of a generic entity that is then named: “They created a body called the Advisory Committee on the Protection and Use of Sandy Point.” Alternatively, assuming that the revision fits the context, the sentence might read something like, “To that end, they created the Advisory Committee on the Protection and Use of Sandy Point.”

Click here to get access to 800+ interactive grammar exercises!


Share


8 Responses to “The Name Is Not the Thing”

  • Steve M

    Could the second one also be written:

    The b-type natriuretic peptide serum test is a relatively new blood test. The BNP measures the level of a hormone released when the heart chambers stretch larger than normal.

    The reason that I ask is that the AP Stylebook normally suggests the full name at first mention, and then it allows the acronym or initials to be used after that first occurrence. Since this is a type of news item, would that be the better form?
    Steve

  • ApK

    In example two, the ‘which’clause sounds cumbersome.
    Breaking into an additional sentence would probable read better, but in the format given, I might have opted for:
    “What is a BNP? “B-type natriuretic peptide serum,” a relatively new blood test that measures the level of a hormone released when the heart chambers stretch larger than normal.”

    In example 3, are you just saying the writer should have used “the” rather than “an?”

    ApK

  • Mark Nichol

    ApK:

    In the third example, I much prefer the first revision, which correctly associates an with the generic word body, rather than the specific name of the body.

  • Toby

    In example two, I’d revise it be more direct:

    “BNP (B-type natriuretic peptide serum) is a relatively new blood test that measures the level of a hormone released when the heart chambers stretch larger than normal.”

  • Mark Nichol

    Steve:

    Your revision is fine — and, yes, it adheres to AP style. However, the sentence was from a book, which was edited according to Chicago style.

  • Lena

    @Mark – Before using the initials, Steve must have mentioned them in brackets.

    The b-type natriuretic peptide serum (BNP) test is a relatively new blood test. The BNP measures the level of a hormone released when the heart chambers stretch larger than normal.

  • Baska

    I know it is off the point of the overall “tip” (which is excellent), but can you “stretch larger than normal”? Shouldn’t it be “stretch more than normal”?

  • Laura

    I agree with Baska, that “stretch larger” does not seem right–it bothered me when I read it, and if editing, I would query it.

    In example 2, I think the following wording is a bit clunky: ” the initials for which stand for…” I don’t think that defining an initialism or acronym needs to mention that it is such and the “for which stand for” sticks in my craw a bit.

Leave a comment: