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Roy Reed writes:

“I just finished reading this sentence in the Times: ‘She joins 16 other siblings, all with names beginning with the letter J and including a couple brothers old enough to be her father.' When (and why on earth) did your newspaper decide to stop saying ‘a couple of brothers'? I see this construction every day in one paper or another. Was there a big meeting of editors somewhere when the decision was made to stop using ‘of'' after couple? I'm the last to hear anything.”

The meeting was at Rupert Murdoch's place, and essentially he said that unless everybody stopped using “of” after “couple,” he'd buy up all the newspapers and make them all carry “Mallard Fillmore” and “George Will.” People caved in pretty quickly after that.

Were we not under duress, of course the Times wouldn't say “a couple brothers.” We remember what Bryan A. Garner said in his Dictionary of Modern American Usage:

“Omitting the of is slipshod in such a construction as this: ‘Is a used toilet seat worth $1 million? Or even a couple [read couple of] hundred thousand dollars?' … In other words, using couple not as a noun but as an adjective is poor usage: instead of a couple days ago, say a couple of days ago.”

n Mike Watts writes:

“A column about the possible new duties of the mayor referred to ‘filling vacancies on lessor boards and commissions … ‘ I didn't realize that we had a bunch of city entities dealing with landlords and other owners of leased property.”

As a former tenant, I think a commission regulating landlords would be a good idea.

n “ Fujita had an even more daunting critic to appease: his lovely wife, Jaclyn … ‘As soon as she heard the word “waterslide,” she called me a jacka**,' Fujita said.”

Words once confined to army barracks are now heard on prime-time television, yet some editor balked at jackass. Whether pinned on “a male donkey” or “a contemptibly foolish or stupid person,” jackass is acceptable even in politer society.

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