Notes from the newsroom on grammar, usage and style. (Some frequently asked questions are here.)
In 1990, the phrase “bona fides” appeared four times in The Times, according to our archive: three times in editorials and once in Sports. Last year we used the term — a Latin phrase meaning “good faith” — 93 times, and we’re on a similar pace this year, with 36 uses so far.
It’s been a steady increase over all, but with a spike in 2008 and another starting last year, which may provide one clue to the term’s popularity. In the sense of “genuineness” or “valid credentials,” it seems to have become a political buzzword — candidates in the Republican primaries were constantly showing their “conservative bona fides.”
That seems like a lot of use for a Latin term that many of us might have trouble saying out loud (BOH-na FIE-deez is the usual pronunciation in English). Be wary of overuse, and consider some perfectly serviceable English alternatives. Depending on the context, “good faith,” “sincerity” or even just “credentials” might do the job.
Another problem is illustrated here:
Its literary bona fides are certainly in order, and the filmmakers’ affection for the boozy, wanton world of mid-19th-century print culture — for the inky swamp of sensationalistic newspapers and scurrilous magazines from which American literature sprouted — is very much in evidence.
As some Latin-loving readers will surely know, “bona fides” is singular, not plural. But “bona fides is …” is also likely to sound wrong to many readers. Better to find an alternative.
More Bright Passages
A few quick additions to our recent sampling of sparkling prose:
Roundly praised, intermittently censored and occasionally eaten, Mr. Sendak’s books were essential ingredients of childhood for the generation born after 1960 or thereabouts, and in turn…