Rosie Right 

Our language and how it works.

We the Persons

A friend has asked me to address the question of when and how to use persons and people. He was taught that when you spoke of people with a number it actually should be persons. People is a collective and persons refers to numbers of individuals.

Webster's Dictionary of English Usage tells us that this distinction began at the end of the 19th century. At that time, using "people for persons went on the 'Don't List' of the New York Herald." This lasted for a time, but the Dictionary of Usage says that "recent handbooks and style books will now allow you to use people as Chaucer did nearly 600 years ago. …" (a thousand people).

For those of us here at Style who are looking for a rule, we, thank goodness, have the AP Style Book that is firm in its dictate: "The word people is preferred to persons in all plural uses. … Persons should be used only when it is in a direct quote or part of a title as in Bureau of Missing Persons.

"People also is a collective noun that takes a plural verb when used to refer to a single race or nation, The American people are united. …"

Talk the Talk

Means migration — the move of highly skilled educated and wealthy Americans to cities where there are many others of the same sort. According to Richard Florida who is quoted in the October Atlantic, this is happening more and more, and the middle and lower economic classes are being squeezed out of the cities that are benefiting from this migration. According to Florida, you can tell if you live in one of the lucky cities if the price of housing is still going up.

Ego ramp — "a proscenium, catwalk, runway, or stage spur that extends into or over an audience. Source: The Official Dictionary of Unofficial English by Grant Barrett.

Tweaked — high on methamphetamine or a similar drug. Tweaker A habitual user of methamphetamine or a similar drug. Source: Dictionary Update, Copy Editor Newsletter, November 2005.

Let Rosie hear from you by mail (1707 Summit Ave., Suite 201, Richmond, VA 23230); by e-mail (; or by telephone (358-0825).

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