Numbers: 9/11/ground zero

September 12, 2002: Issue 35

SIM STYLE: How should references to the September 11 terrorist attacks be treated in SIM copy?
Granted, we don’t deal with this often. But with Americans’ emphasis on home and family in the last year, references to the attacks will continue to creep into our magazines. These situations are best dealt with on a case-by-case basis, but here are some guidelines to keep in mind:
• Evaluate whether any reference is necessary to begin with. If so, make sure it’s clearly pertinent and could not be seen as trivial, given the subject matter of our magazines.
• Keep references general. Readers need no reminder of the details. A simple “9/11” or “the attacks,” or even “recent events,” will usually suffice.
• If you must be specific, avoid references to only the World Trade Center if you’re really talking about all the attacks.

Also note: No mainstream stylebook accepts “9/11” when referring to a date, yet the term is now standard usage in most American newspapers and magazines. That’s because it has come to refer to the events of the day, rather than the date itself. It probably always will. “D day” is technically a generic term, but to most it now refers specifically to June 6, 1944. In the same way, the date will come and go in future years, but “9/11” will likely hereafter refer specifically to the events of September 11, 2001.

GRAMMAR: Ground zero: Leave it to history
In the past, the term “ground zero” might have been perfectly acceptable as a casual reference to a chaotic decorating, building, or landscaping project, or even to describe an especially messy teen’s bedroom. But no more. The term was redefined by 9/11 and has now become synonymous with the World Trade Center grounds in New York City. It’s hard to imagine “ground zero” ever again being used in any other context than referring to the WTC or an equally catastrophic human tragedy.

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