How to Resolve Awkward Identifying Descriptions

By Mark Nichol

Writers often fail to note that a phrase they have constructed to describe a person, place, or thing—one that involves two parallel components, or one component subordinate to another, in sequence—can result in unwieldy strings of nouns functioning as adjectives leading up to a key noun. In each of the following sentences, following a discussion of the problem, such a train of stacked adjectives is uncoupled and rearranged for improved readability in one or more revisions.

1. “Our idea and concept was to build a small place to entertain our friends and to have some foodies and chef friends around to create new and imaginative dishes,” co-owner chef Stefan Stiller said in a statement.

The conjunction and should separate two disparate identifying words or phrases associated with a person’s name: “‘Our idea and concept was to build a small place to entertain our friends and to have some foodies and chef friends around to create new and imaginative dishes,’ co-owner and chef Stefan Stiller said in a statement.” (A solidus, or slash, could be inserted to separate the terms, but this symbol should be avoided in formal writing.)

An alternative is to use the person’s name to divide the identifying terms: “‘Our idea and concept was to build a small place to entertain our friends and to have some foodies and chef friends around to create new and imaginative dishes,’ co-owner Stefan Stiller, a chef, said in a statement,” However, it would be more appropriate to identify the speaker first as a chef and then as a co-owner.

2. FBI Criminal Investigation Division Deputy Assistant Director John Smith emphasized the potential for both the industry and regulators to benefit by improving collaboration.

When a name is preceded by a cumbersome job title, and especially if that is preceded by a reference to the entity by which the person is employed, the information is easier to read if it follows the name and the train of terms is relaxed by beginning with the job title, followed by “of the” and the entity’s name: “John Smith, deputy assistant director of the FBI’s Criminal Investigation Division, emphasized the potential for both the industry and regulators to benefit by improving collaboration.” (Note that the job title is not capitalized when it does not precede the person’s name.)

3. The Association of Certified Anti-Money Laundering Specialists Fifteenth Annual Anti-Money Laundering and Financial Crime Conference begins on April 1.

The same approach is appropriate when the name of a component of an entity or an event presented by an entity is combined with the name of the entity: “The fifteenth annual Anti-Money Laundering and Financial Crime Conference of the Association of Certified Anti-Money Laundering Specialists begins on April 1.” (Note that a reference to how many of these events have been held at regular intervals, such as “fifteenth annual,” is seldom part of an event’s official designation and therefore is usually not capitalized.)

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3 Responses to “How to Resolve Awkward Identifying Descriptions”

  • Dale A. Wood

    From my understanding of it, for a few places there are more than one acceptable demonyms /adjectives. One set of these is Nepalese or Nepali. (Is the same true for Naplese, Naplesi, or Napalian? I will have to go eat some delicious, spicy Naplese food and think about it.)
    Of course, there is a big difference between Roman and Romanian.

  • Dale A. Wood

    The phrase “said in a statement” is ghastly, wordy, and unnecessary. It should be discouraged VERY strongly. The simple verb “stated” says the same thing. To be more precise, “issued a press release about” is needed, or “issued a written statement about”. I think that “stated” is sufficient.

  • Dale A. Wood

    Note “nouns functioning as adjectives leading up to a key noun”.
    This should be an offense that is cause for corporeal punishment, such as the thumbscrews, head shavings, or whippings in the courthouse square at high noon.
    In most languages, nouns are nouns and adjectives are adjectives, and it ought to be maintained that way in English. As it is now, people in responsible positions have forgotten the Adjectival Forms of many words. For example, I have even seen such writing by members of the AP as “a Mexico man”. Of course, that should be “a Mexican man”, or simply, “a Mexican”. From the point-of-view of the USA, Mexico is not even some obscure place like Albania, Estonia, Rio Ifni, Oman, Uganda, or the Central African Republic.
    For so many places, the adjectival form is so easy to form, merely by adding {ean, ian, n, an, i, ese }, such as in Argentinean, Brazilian, Bolivian, Cuban, Chilean, Mexican, Omani, and Japanese. It places little strain on the brain.
    Words like Peruvian, Paraguayan, Uruguayan, and Honduran, might take a little more thought. (Why not “Paraguaian”, “Paraguian”, “Uruguaian”, or “Uruguian”, some may ask.)
    For a lot of Britons, the word “Argentinean” does not compute, so they use something else. Here in the USA, we are accustomed to “Tennessean”, and the people who are versed in the Bible should know about “Chaldean”, who weren’t very nice people, as weren’t the Hittites, either. (For such ancient times, I am fond of Cyrenaican, Parthian, Pythian, Scythian, Lycian, and Mesopotamian. I have always like the phrase, “a Parthian shot”.)

    “Said in a statement”

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