Funny Business | Sojourners

Funny Business

Go West Young Man (Or Is It East ...?)

A number of our ever-alert readers wrote in last month correcting my reference to Billings, Wyoming (Billings, in point of fact, is in Montana), and they went on to make some pretty derogatory comments about the level of my geographic knowledge.

I would like to point out that my mention of that fine Western town was what we sophisticated, big-city journalists call a "casual" or "secondary" reference, as opposed to a "specific" or "official" reference, the latter of which requires a much higher degree of accuracy. For example, had I written, "The people of Billings, Montana have only recently stopped keeping livestock in their garages," I would have been compelled by strict rules of journalistic style to be completely accurate. Had I, however, written something like, "A 46-year-old Billings [WY] man is still wondering why his new electric razor stopped working after he rinsed out the lather with water," then I would merely have had to establish general locale. I could just as appropriately have written Billings, Iowa, or Billings, South Dakota, or, perhaps, Billings, New Mexico. As long as the reader knew it was "somewhere out West."

I realize some of these more subtle journalistic rules might not be known to many of you (particularly those of you who live out West), so I really don't mind taking the time to explain them.

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