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The former editor of the New York Times addresses use of 'illegals'

In his New York Times op-ed column today, the Times' former executive editor Bill Keller addressed readers' objections to his use of the term "illegals" as what he called "shorthand for 'illegal immigrants.' "

Keller writes that he hadn't personally objected to the term, that he used it "only to refer to people who are actually in this country illegally," and that the Times' existing style guide hadn't been much help as guidance. So he turned to Philip B. Corbett, who writes for the Times on grammar, usage and style. Corbett's take? Steer clear.

Keller shared what Corbett wrote to him:

I do think "illegals" as a shorthand noun has an unnecessarily pejorative tone, and it is routinely used by the anti-immigration side. I think it"s wise to steer clear. We also get push back over "illegal immigrant," but to me that"s just factual and neutral. However, I also encourage people to follow the lead of Julia Preston [who covers immigration issues for The Times] and look for more explicit descriptions when appropriate in specific cases, both to avoid formulaic repetition and to provide more information: "who overstayed his visa," "working without a legal permit," "who entered the country illegally," etc., etc.

It might be worth cautioning against "illegals" in the style book entry, though if i do that, I will wait for a decent interval " otherwise some suspicious observer will assume the change is aimed at you.

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