More Banned Words and Other Atrocities
The South Austin sky was clear last night during the 6 o’clock news. Perfect weather for watching the space shuttle docked with the orbiting space station. It zoomed overhead at 17,000 miles per hour in what we call “space”. We incorporate “space” into terms like a “space walk” (Hold on to that tool bag.), and everyone understands.
“Space” however, is resulting in another outburst on the topic of “Banned Words …” Once again, it is driven by our friends in the play-by-play booth. How many times have you heard it since the beginning of football season—“He’s at his best when he’s operating ‘in space’.” Holy Smoke! T.O. is in “space”? Maybe T.O. is from outer space? Is T.O. an alien? Is he documented? Yes, he’s well-documented. This overused descriptive is now bleeding over to basketball.
Another now hackneyed phrase that keeps cropping up again and again comes from former colleague Nancy Miller Barton after my first screed on banned words. You’ve heard it: “We have reporters on the ground.” Holy Cow! Where else would they be—in space with T.O.?
Nancy also reminded me of my tirades on the subject of “whether or not”. What’s wrong with “whether or not”? It is redundant. All you need to say is “whether”, as in “I don’t know whether I’m using the English language well.” As in all good writing, economy of words is usually the goal, unless you happen to writing legislation.
Want another constantly-used redundancy? This one comes from another former colleague Shane Deitert, now managing editor of the Fox station in Little Rock: “ATM machine”.
Another reason why journalists should write the way that people talk is the constantly used question, “Where’s it at?” My mother was an elementary school teacher. This is one of the first things she pounded into my preschool brain. If I were to say, “Where’s it at?” My mom would answer, “Between the A and the T!” I came to hate dangled prepositions. All was well in our household if I were to ask simply, “Where is it?”
All these should be added to the newsroom white board as banned words and phrases. Want some more?
> “Fewer vs. Less.” Fewer people use this adjective properly nowadays; it is becoming less and less prevalent. These words are not interchangeable. Generally, use “less” with mass nouns and “fewer” with plural count nouns. For example, “less employment, fewer jobs.” (The Columbia Guide to Standard American English)
> “Farther” vs. “Further.” Again, these are not interchangeable. “Farther” pertains to distance and “further” has to do with depth of understanding or additional information. And, “father” is what I am, and my son grew weary with these examples as he grew up.
> “It’s” vs. “Its.” It’s is a contraction for “It is” while “Its” is a possessive pronoun. Most people know this. It’s a typo more often than not.
> And finally, “Lie” vs. “Lay”. Basically, living beings lie and inanimate objects lay. After that, one gets into verb tenses, and we do not want to go there.
Again, send me your peeves. And, as I said before, feel free to make a sentence out of as many of these atrocities as space permits. And, we all know that “space” is vast.
Now that I have vented again about use of our language, I may get back to local journalism next time.
© Jim McNabb, 2008