“Frisbie,” the kindly old colonel told me a few months after I joined the Florida National Guard in 1964, “you and I are the last guardians of the printed word in this brigade.”
“Yes sir,” I replied.
A little explanation is appropriate.
I was a junior first lieutenant, holding the lofty title of Administrative Services Division Officer in what was then the 53rd Armored Brigade. In reality, I was in charge of the typing pool.
The “kindly old colonel” probably was in his late 40s, but that would have made him about twice my age.
And “yes sir” is an all purpose response when a junior officer is addressed by a full colonel. It served me well for three decades, even after I became one.
Listening carefully to his explanation for our duty as the last bastion of precision in language, I learned that as No. 2 officer in the 5,000 or so members of the brigade, he drafted most of the headquarters directives. And as No. 1 officer in a section of four or five clerk-typists, I was in charge of ensuring that we typed them correctly.
As a journalist, I still feel a responsibility to use the written word with precision.
Since I only write one article — this column — a week, it doesn’t seem too high an expectation. But to keep things in perspective, I am now nearly twice the age of that “kindly old colonel” of yester-century.
In this task, I am assisted by a small but highly literate group of reviewers who help me watch for misplaced modifiers, puzzling phrases, and out-and-out errors before these words appear in print.
One of them made an observation on last week’s column, in which I declared (unimaginatively) that Florida “dodged the bullet” as Hurricane Dorian skirted the Atlantic Coast after pummeling much of the Bahamas.
“I think the hurricane dodged us,” she suggested.
Try as I might, I could not posit that Florida had moved to get out of the way of Mother Nature’s wrath. It was the storm that blinked.
Another member of the editing team found a possible explanation in a Facebook post for Dorian’s decision to give a wide berth to Central Florida:
Maybe Dorian didn’t want to tangle with Sheriff Grady Judd.
(S. L. Frisbie is retired. He takes a small amount of comfort in the belief that while hurricane names have gone as far afield as Dorian, he does not expect there will ever be a Hurricane Sayer.)