Heard, Read, Gagged
“Strictly Speaking/Will America be the Death of English” is a former #1 best seller by former NBC correspondent Edwin Newman. What we do to the language now is as abominable as it was in 1974 when Newman finished his book.
What follows was written, seen, or said in local and national media within the past few weeks.
The name of the place in England where they play tennis is Wimbledon, not WimbleTon. How many times have you heard the “T”? It is close kin to the mispronunciation of that cathedral in London called Westminster, not Westminister. Sigh.
Brian Williams last month said the retired shuttle “suffered wing damage.” No. Things do not suffer. People suffer. The living suffer. Things are damaged, yes. If you must, things can incur or sustain damage, but they don’t suffer.
Appearing on MSNBC, former GOP chief Michael Steele uttered the phrase, “centered around.” No. It is impossible for something to be centered around. It can be centered on, however.
A local Austin new reporter got a statement from a source. He read it saying, “Quote: Blah, blah, blah …” Any broadcast journalism course will tell you to lose the word “Quote”. After all, the statement is on the screen in quotation marks.
A City of Austin staffer appearing before the City Council stated that something was further away. No. It is farther away, meaning distance. Further has a different definition. Weathercasters say this one wrong often also.
In an NBC Nightly News story on education the reporter said the phrase, “whether or not.” What’s wrong with that, you say? It is redundant. Just say “whether”. For example, I don’t know whether it will rain.
NBC’s medical expert Dr. Nancy Snyderman in a June 11th report confused “fewer” with “less”. Many do. Even the New York Times slipped up and ran an explanation: “The basic rule for precise use of ‘less’ and ‘fewer’ is simple (though we slip often). Use ‘fewer’ with countable, individual things, and ‘less’ with uncountable amounts, volumes, etc. So: ‘I should drink less coffee,’ but ‘I should eat fewer doughnuts.’” (NYT, Philip B. Corbett, March 1, 2011)
“Amount” and “number” are similar. A local Austin reporter got them confused recently. “Use the word amount with quantities that cannot be counted and number with quantities that could be counted one-by-one.” (EnglishPlus.com)
A friend and former newspaper copy editor wonders why people put an apostrophe after the plural of things like CDs, DVDs, or RVs. People wrongly make it look like a possessive by writing “CD’s”, etc. Lose the apostrophe.
Shouldn’t a crime reporter know the difference between a robbery and a burglary? They are not interchangeable.
On MSNBC’s web site, someone wrote that a victim was “electrocuted and died.” Hmmm. Electrocuted indicates death, otherwise they would have been simply shocked. It’s just like saying someone drowned and died. They drowned.
Finally, style books recommend writing news in the active voice rather than passive. For example, copy should say, “Many witnesses saw the accident,” rather than “The accident was seen by many witnesses.” Dadgummit! Write in the active voice.
Further, lose the past perfect and present perfect tenses. The Associated Press wrote July 3, 2012, “Andy Griffith, whose homespun mix of humor and wisdom made ‘The Andy Griffith Show’ an enduring TV favorite, has died.” So, an Austin anchor read, “… Andy Griffith has died.” No. Write and say something like, “Tonight reports out of North Carolina say Andy Griffith is dead. Or it could be, “Beloved actor Andy Griffith died today. All producers and copy editors should pause and think before using the past or present perfect tense of a verb.
It all actually starts on a personal level. You ask someone, “How are you doing?” “Good,” They answer. Hmmm. You know they are a good person, but how are they doing? The answer should be, “I’m well.”
We’re talking mainly about usage here. Grammar? Well, that is another post for another time.
Picky? Perhaps. But, there are there are, oh, so many, many more. Maybe we can clean up this mess one sentence at a time.
© Jim McNabb, 2012