Spelling or usage distinctions sometimes become shibboleths for copyeditors and pedants, no longer useful and therefore no longer worth worrying about. Witness the Associated Press Stylebook’s abandonment last year of keeping over for spatial relationship and more than for quantities.
“I have nothing but contempt for anyone who can spell a word only one way,” is one of those great things Thomas Jefferson never said but we sure wish he did. We do tend to insist on single spellings, more so than we did during Jefferson’s time, except to allow for the American variations handed down by the reform-minded Noah Webster.
I changed another comprised of to composed of in an editing assignment yesterday, not because the word doesn’t have a well-established second meaning, but because it’s one of those things sticklers love to stickle.
Copyeditors know that the whole comprises the parts, that comprises means iscomposed of. Comprised of is considered poor usage. So is saying parts comprise the whole, which is a common usage that could cause confusion.
Part of the debate around our reactions to the death of Freddie Gray and the subsequent protesting and rioting in Baltimore is the language used. Are the rioters thugs? Are the protestors rioting? Are the rioters actually protesting or just destroying things?