September 22, 2008

How do you spell FBI?

  As a newspaper reporter on the police beat, I was once betrayed by a copy editor who thought he was doing me a favor in changing my copy. I'd written a story about a small town cop arresting a man for impersonating an FBI agent.

  The suspect was stopped for speeding. He handed the officer a business card that contained the letters F-I-B penciled in above his name. This so-called federal agent said to the traffic cop, "It's okay, I'm on the job—I'm FBI." The fact that the letters "FBI" were spelled out "F-I-B" had everyone at police headquarters rolling in laughter. What a giant fib the bogus agent was attempting to pass on to the local cops.

  I handed in my story which contained the facts I've just explained. I was careful not to make any spelling errors. The letters "F-I-B" were critical to the humor of the incident, so I used the typographer's code, "CQ," in the margin to indicate the letters "F-I-B" were correct as they were written—no changes, necessary!

  When the newspaper came out the next morning, all reference to the man's bogus business card were printed as: "FBI." The letters "F-I-B" were nowhere to be found in my story. That done, the humor of the incident was forever lost. There was nothing funny about a man claiming to be an FBI agent with a card stating he was, in fact, an FBI agent.

  When I got to work I accused the copy editor of having his sense of humor surgically removed. "Don't get on my case," says he, "you made the mistake—you wrote 'F-I-B.' You're the police reporter, you should know how to spell FBI."

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