Identification of Places in Non-Fiction Writing


5 July 2014

What trumps what when writing place names? Where do we draw the line between redundancy and clarity?

Barry Tarshis's otherwise excellent little guide, How to Be Your Own Best Editor (N.Y.: Three Rivers Press, 1998), p. 109, tells us: "Phrases that begin with a noun followed by the preposition 'of' become redundant when the word that follows 'of' is an obvious example of the word that precedes 'of'."

As an example, he invokes, "the city of St. Louis," which he suggests we render simply as "St. Louis." 

Trimming verbal fat is a great practice, but historical researchers also need precision. St. Louis is both a city and a county. Washington is both a district and a state. Hot Springs is both a city and a township. In our genre of writing, specificity is often more critical than the avoidance of redundancy.

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Submitted bydsliesseon Sat, 07/05/2014 - 16:22

This is exactly why I dislike the practice of omitting "County" or "Parish" in place names.  If all we said was Baltimore, Maryland, it wouldn't be clear whether we meant Baltimore County or Baltimore the independent city.  The only place I know of (which doesn't mean it's the only one!) where there would be no ambiuity is San Francisco, which is officially "The City and County of San Francsico."

I'm referring to San Francisco, California, of course.  There are other localities in this country name San Francisco!