Sometimes three innocuous little letters can convey meaning to a reader, even if the writer didn't intend it that way.

That's what emailer Dale E. Coy pointed out to me in a story today about President Barack Obama's choice of Sally Jewell as secretary of the interior. A longer version of the print edition's story is here.

My emailer pointed to two sentences: "Jewell is an outdoor enthusiast with a conservation background. But she has a mechanical engineering degree, and worked for Mobil Oil, now Exxon Mobil, in Oklahoma and Colorado for three years after college."

"The word 'but' is clearly unnecessary and potentially offensive, unless (reporter Sean) Cockerham is implying that there is some potential conflict of interest between prior employment with Mobil and being secretary of interior - or that it's incongruous for a mechanical engineer to be an outdoor enthusiast, or ..." he wrote (ellipsis his).

"Yes, this is a minor point, but it struck me immediately."