Usage and Grammar

Q. I see inconsistent usage in “she is a friend of Bill” versus “she is a friend of Bill's.” We say “a friend of his,” not “a friend of him,” so should the possessive control here?

Q. A coworker insists “protests against” is never correct because “protests” normally implies someone is against something. I think it depends on context, because one can protest for, say, human rights. Is “protests against” ever correct? I wrote: “A farmer sleeps at a protest against the World Trade Organization in New Delhi.”

Q. Is the word “how” necessary in sentences such as “Learn how to bake breads and cakes”? In some cases, it sounds better with the word “how,” but it seems unnecessary in this case.

Q. Is it “happy medium” or “happy median”? The author writes: “We would all be much better served as stewards of finite public funds if we could find that happy median where trust reigns supreme . . .” Thanks!

Q. Do you have a problem (as I do) with the phrase “the fact that,” and if so, what alternatives do you offer?

Q. Curriculum vitae or vita? According to Merriam-Webster vitae is the plural of vita, but another source indicates that vitae means the “course of one’s life” and vita means “a short biographical sketch.” If these definitions are accurate, it would make sense to use vitae, as the course of one’s life is made up of many singular events or sketches.

Q. I often see initialisms such as EPA and FDA appear without “the.” For example, “One of FDA’s regulations prohibits this.” This comes up particularly often in technical and legal writing and strikes me as pompous. And, yes, these people also speak this way. Please tell me I’m right.

Q. Hello there, I am usually pretty confident about sorting out punctuation, but recently I encountered some information set out as follows.

Title: xxx
Date: xxx
Ref. no.: xxx

I know the colon and the period look silly next to each other, but I guess I just need to know which one to remove and why.

Q. I read a lot and have been working on a novel of my own for a while now. In most of the materials I read the authors use “had had” and “that that” quite often. For example: “He had had the dog for twelve years and everyone knew that that was the real reason he didn’t want Animal Control to take it.” I doubt there is any actual rule against this, but I find it to be unattractive on a purely aesthetic basis and try to avoid it like the plague when writing. Is there anything to this or am I just weird?

Q. Do footnotes have to start with number 1? Can I start my first footnote with number 2? Is that considered wrong?