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Team up with me in My Media English Watch!

I am inviting Forum members to team up with me in doing My Media English Watch. This way, we can further widen this Forum’s dragnet for bad or questionable English usage in both the print media and broadcast media, thus giving more teeth to our campaign to encourage them to continuously improve their English. All you need to do is pinpoint every serious English misuse you encounter while reading your favorite newspaper or viewing your favorite network or cable TV programs. Just tell me about the English misuse and I will do a grammar critique of it.

Read the guidelines and house rules for joining My Media English Watch!

“Upfront” just isn’t the same as “affront” no matter who says it

This December, despite the usual Christmas season hassles and the vicious political infighting in the Philippine government that’s unseasonably poisoning the atmosphere, the major Metro Manila broadsheets and TV network news websites have admirably kept their English reporting free from serious grammar and usage errors. All I found worthy of being critiqued in My Media English Watch this week are these four problems with language: a flagrantly wrong word usage, a jaw-dropping erroneous inflection of a verb, a commonplace yet very distracting dangling place modifier, and a hasty generalization that borders on illogic.

Here they are:

(1) The Philippine Star: “Upfront” is by no means the same as “affront”

Judges declare court holiday

MANILA, Philippines - Several trial courts nationwide suspended sessions today as the judicial community show support to embattled Chief Justice Renato Corona…

Presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda reiterated in a television interview this afternoon that the impeachment complaints filed against Corona should not be perceived by the judicial community as an “upfront to the judiciary.”

Lacierda said that the complaint against Corona is valid as the chief justice’s “close relationship with former president [Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo] has affected his integrity.”

The second paragraph in the news passage above quotes Presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda as saying in a TV interview that the impeachment complaints against Supreme Court chief Justice Renato Corona shouldn’t be viewed as an “upfront to the judiciary.” I myself was listening to that TV interview and heard him enunciate precisely that phrase but definitely not in the sense that the Star reported it. Lacierda obviously meant to say “affront to the judiciary,” which means to insult the judiciary especially to the face by behavior or language, not the similarly pronounced but vastly different “upfront to the judiciary,” which means “in or at the front of the judiciary” in a purely physical sense (Lacierda’s usage) or “frankly or forthrightly” in the figurative sense (the sense of that word in this passage from a Sun Star news report last August: “Opposition lawmakers earlier asked the President to be upfront with the results of the MILF meeting, saying keeping it as a secret contradicts Aquino’s bid for transparency.”).

In the breakneck speed of reporting required by breaking news like that, it’s understandable for a news reporter to mistype “upfront” for “affront” with his word processor. But it’s rather careless and totally unbecoming for that paper’s desk editor to overlook such a serious language faux pas on such an important news story as the impeachment of the country’s chief justice.

(I must also mention for the record that both the single-word “upfront” and the two-word “up front” are officially accepted spellings of that tricky word. My preference is “up front.”)

(2) Manila Bulletin: Wrong past tense for the verb “bear”

Hydropower plants up in Butuan

BUTUAN CITY, Philippines – The effort of the city government here and the local business group on public-private-partnership finally bared fruit Wednesday afternoon when a Japanese firm and three local business firms inked a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to construct run-to-river mini-hydropower plants in this region’s frontier and capital city in the Caraga Region.

The setting up of multi-million-peso run-to-river hydropower plants in this city will be a big boost to the national government’s Mindanao power generation program for 2012 and beyond, business analysts here said.

I must admit that my jaw dropped when I read the phrase “finally bared fruit” in the lead sentence above. This is horrendously wrong grammar that shouldn’t see print in a respectable newspaper! The verb used in that phrase is actually “bear” in the sense of “to produce as yield,”and it’s an irregular verb that inflects to “bore” in the past tense. In contrast, “bared” is the past tense of the verb “bare” in the sense of “to make or lay bare,” or to “uncover” for short, as in “Lady Godiva bared herself in public, riding naked on horseback to protest the oppressive taxation imposed by her husband on his tenants.”

News reporters, especially young rookies, may occasionally bare their ignorance of tense inflections of irregular verbs, but when this happens, their editors bear the responsibility of rectifying their grammar errors so they won’t see print.

(3) The Philippine Star:  Misplaced place modifier

10 arrested for illegal gecko trade

MANILA, Philippines - The Southern Police District arrested 10 people on Thursday for the illegal trade of geckos (tuko) in Parañaque City.

Chief Inspector Jenny Tecson said 10 boxes containing 43 pieces of the endangered animal were seized from the suspects. He said the suspects will be charged while the geckos will be turned over to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).

In the lead sentence above, the phrase “in Parañaque City” is a misplaced modifier. In that position, it erroneously modifies the noun phrase “the illegal trade of geckos (tuko),” thus giving the wrong sense that this offense is outlawed particularly in Parañaque City. The fact is, of course, that the trading of geckos is outlawed not only in Parañaque City but all over the Philippines.

The correct sense will come through if “in Parañaque City” is positioned in that sentence to modify the phrase “arrested 10 people” instead, as follows:

“The Southern Police District arrested 10 people in Parañaque City on Thursday for the illegal trade of geckos (tuko).”

(4) Manila Bulletin: A hasty generalization that borders on illogic

How fashion and food come together

MANILA, Philippines — Blog surfing is something most of us do on a daily basis. And that keeps up the pressure on bloggers to produce more exciting material for their readers. One blog that has positively touched the lives of its readers is by Jenni Epperson. More than her regular posts on style and trend updates, she reveals another side of her life as a loving mom and wife who makes easy-to-cook, gourmet-looking entrees for her family. She tops it off by sharing food styling and table setting tips to make family meal times extra meaningful.

I know for a fact that a newspaper’s features section gives much more leeway to writers in the use of language, particularly figurative language and literary writing. But I think features section editors should draw a line between literary license and outright breaches of logic and fallacious reasoning.

Take the case of the lead paragraph above. Its first sentence, “Blog surfing is something most of us do on a daily basis,” is highly questionable from both the semantic and logical standpoint. Its use of the phrase “most of us” to refer to the readers of that newspaper is an unsupportable and ultimately false generalization. The majority of those paper’s readers certainly couldn’t possibly do much blog surfing, much less on a daily basis; I would even venture to say that a substantial number of them are not even Internet-savvy enough to be able to surf at all.

This is why I suggest that newspaper editors should advise their young or novice writers to go slow on the use of such words as “most,” “majority,” and “all,” for these are qualifiers that often give a false note to feature reporting. See how that first sentence gets shorn of exaggeration and becomes more credible by simply replacing the word “most” with the more modest, more truthful, and more specific “many”: “Blog surfing is something many of us do on a daily basis.” Now that’s a level-headed, more accurate, and I daresay indisputable statement!

I must also point out that this second sentence of that lead paragraph, “And that keeps up the pressure on bloggers to produce more exciting material for their readers,” is a non sequitur, a statement that doesn’t follow logically from or is not clearly related to what was said in the first sentence. Just because blog surfing is something many people do doesn’t necessarily put pressure on bloggers to produce more exciting material for them. It’s such a far-out logical stretch to make that connection, for in reality, so many other forces are at work in that chain of causality. 

Had a little more logical thinking been done by the writer, she might have come up with this more precise and more plausible chain of causality for that lead:

“Blog surfing is something a lot of us do. To make us glued to a particular blog and entice us to visit it regularly thus puts great pressure on bloggers to produce more exciting material for us.”

I won’t discuss anymore how the three other sentences in that problematic lead paragraph don’t follow or correlate at all with the first two sentences, whether in their original version or in the suggested revision above. I’ll leave that matter as food for thought for fanciers of expository writing among the Forum members and for newspaper and magazine feature editors who just might happen to read this.

Merry Christmas!

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Page last modified: 19 December, 2011, 3:45 p.m.