From the Editor

Drescher: Why Barry Saunders hates Duke (P.S. He doesn’t really)

jdrescher@newsobserver.comMarch 28, 2014 

You feisty readers have blistered me with emails recently, including asking why columnist Barry Saunders hates Duke. Who knows why Barry writes what he does? But I’ll do my best to answer that question and others.

In his Monday column, Saunders addressed comments from former Duke basketball star Grant Hill about why so many fans despised Duke players, especially some of the white players, such as Bobby Hurley and Christian Laettner. Saunders wrote that there were plenty of reasons to hate Duke players, but race wasn’t one of them.

That prompted a 40-year subscriber to write to me with a long-simmering complaint. “Mr. Saunders’ continued disdain and disrespect for Duke University should not be allowed to be a part of The News & Observer,” he wrote. “The absolute gall of this man to use the term ‘Dookie’ instead of ‘Dukie’ is beyond reprehensible. … Mr. Saunders owes those of us who love Duke a sincere apology.”

I urged the reader not to take too seriously Saunders’ professed hatred of Duke. That “hatred” is mostly a comedic device, similar to David Letterman’s “Top 10” lists or Stephen Colbert’s character on “The Colbert Report.” It’s a way to get people to laugh or to frown.

In the column in question, Saunders made fun of how irrational it is for fans of one university to dislike players of another university. He pointed out that if Hill and another former Duke star, Danny Ferry, had gone to UNC, they would have been beloved by Carolina fans (such as Saunders).

Saunders essentially was making fun of himself. I assured the reader that if Duke were to bestow upon him an honorary degree or name him Columnist of the Year, he would accept with pride.

The reader, not impressed by my explanation, responded: “Shame on the N&O!”

Odd hyphenation

Another reader wanted to know why hyphens often were in the wrong place. In a letter attached to a pile of stapled articles, she wrote: “The enclosed clippings are marked with words that have been divided in ways that astound me. It seems like no rules were observed at all!”

She’s correct in that no rules were observed – at least not any rules one would find in a guide to grammar and punctuation. Apparently, computer programmers follow their own set of rules. The N&O, like most newspapers, typically fills a line all the way to the far right of the column. The newsroom computer system automatically breaks longer words so that part of the word finishes on the following line.

The word should break after a syllable. But our computers often break words in odd places. The reader highlighted words such as “suggestion” and “powerfully” that were hyphenated in the middle of a syllable. We are working with our computer gurus to fix this.

Splitting infinitives

In last week’s column, I wrote that a reader had chided me for splitting an infinitive. I referred to John B. Bremner’s book, “Words on Words,” which says, “Go ahead and split if you want.”

I heard from Don Wildman, a retired English teacher at Wake Tech who sometimes leads training sessions at The N&O. “You are absolutely right on your use of the split infinitive,” Wildman wrote. But Wildman said we had erred in the headline, which said, “I split a verb, lived to tell about it.”

“An infinitive is not a verb,” Wildman wrote. “It’s a verbal. A verbal is derived from a verb, but it does not function as a verb in a sentence. Verbals function as nouns, adjectives and adverbs. The three kinds of verbals are gerunds, participles and infinitives.”

Thanks, Don. We’ll do better next time.

Drescher: 919-829-4515 or

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