Copy That: Stylizing my hometown

Monday, January 15, 2018 - 8:24pm

.

Illustration by Hannah Myers

 

My flight ticket didn’t show the boarding gate, and “St. Louis” didn’t appear anywhere on the blue departure screens. I was panicking, but I didn’t want anyone to know I was panicking. This was my first solo flight, and I was determined to solve this on my own. So I stood in front of the departure screens until I felt security shooting me weird looks, and then I picked up my bag and started confidently walking in a random direction.

I must have walked the entire length of the airport three times until it finally occurred to me St. Louis could also be spelled Saint Louis. Instead of looking for flights starting with “S-T,” I should’ve been looking for flights starting with “S-A.”

Standardization is everything at copy desk. It’s necessary in order to avoid confusion and promote uniformity. But to be consistent, you have to have great attention to detail and to know the correct way to stylize. The “Saint” in St. Louis, for example, should always be abbreviated, and seeing my hometown spelled out Saint Louis makes me weirdly uncomfortable.  

But I’ve learned not only at the airport, but almost everywhere I’ve traveled, that facts about my hometown aren’t as widely recognized as I’ve assumed. It’s always interesting to hear outside opinions of your city, or perhaps a lack of opinion because many people don’t know where St. Louis is. However, in the copy desk spirit of consistency, I’m here to clean up these misunderstandings.

First, St. Louis is pronounced “Lewis,” not “Louie.” Since it was named after King Louis IX of France, it may be more accurate to use the French articulation “Louie” — however, Dr. Seuss is also technically supposed to be pronounced “Soice,” but I don’t think any of us are going to change how we say that anytime soon.

Second, St. Louis is in the Midwest. It is not part of the South, to the surprise of many. It’s also not in the West, though it’s called the “Gateway to the West.”  It’s Midwest in the extreme.

Much of St. Louis is actually in St. Louis County, but the county is more rural than urban. My neighborhood is surrounded by farmland. The bus ride to middle school involved passing horse pastures and misty cornfields, which my friend and I always speculated would be the best place for a horror movie scene: a murderer appearing from the fog, framed between the fence and dilapidated barn. You drive a little farther and you reach miles and miles of open space, huge fields of wheat stubble and hay bales.

Finally, St. Louis is fighting, but it has not capitulated. Often, when people hear I’m from St. Louis, they ask me about the Ferguson protests and Michael Brown, an unarmed Black man who was shot by a white police officer in 2014. The rage is still very palpable in my city as protests continue to turn violent and questions continue to remain unanswered. This is something that weighs heavily on my soul because these national discussions have happened right in my backyard. Yet, it appears these discussions may be having a positive effect. The city has elected a new mayor. A newly formed citizen advisory committee helped select the city’s current chief of police. This may be a turning point my city needs, and an example my country can look to for a more just future.

As copy chief this semester, I’ve done my fair share of correcting small mistakes. Accuracy is important, even for airport staff. The problems within my city are deep and evident, but I’d like to think under closer inspection, one can notice change is occurring.