Let firsts happen first; the annuals will follow

Event organizers are an optimistic lot. Most of them tack the word annual onto a new event as a matter of routine.

They apparently think it adds credibility or gravitas or permanence – or something – whether the event survives into the second year or not, whether it actually becomes an annual event or not.

Editors, on the other hand, tend to lack that rosy outlook. We lean toward skepticism rather than optimism.

(OK, OK. Using lean to characterize the skepticism of editors is like using breeze to describe a hurricane, but I’m trying to make a polite comparison.)

If an event is truly annual, we’d like to see proof, and something held for the first time hasn’t had a chance to prove its staying power.

Annual means recurring or happening every year. So if something is taking place for the first time, it isn’t annual yet.

That’s why the AP Stylebook, the Chicago Manual of Style and others say to avoid first annual.

If we are writing about an event that organizers call the first annual, we can simply call it the first and say that organizers plan to make it an annual event.

On a scale of grammatical emoticons (smiley versions, please),  first annual ranks somewhere between sleepy eyes and a yawn.

Hey! Now who’s being a cynic? Could I finish? Thank you.

What I was going to say is that even though this isn’t the most exciting grammatical issue (yes, I can hear the titters of oxymoron), it speaks to the need for a careful approach to language. Know what words and phrases mean, and make sure they mean what you want them to say.

That goes along with what is easily the quote of the day, from an AP story about overuse of business jargon.

Michael Sebastian, a Web editor at Ragan Communications of Chicago, tells the AP’s Chip Cutter that you’d never say: “’Hi honey, you really thought outside the box with that dinner — those deliverables with the fresh vegetables were outstanding.’” So why talk that way in the office?

Or anywhere else.

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