Author Topic: Wrong word usage and verbosity in journalism - 1  (Read 11304 times)

Joe Carillo

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Wrong word usage and verbosity in journalism - 1
« on: January 21, 2021, 08:57:23 AM »
I’ll say right off that I’ve always had a soft spot for good English in journalism. Good writing that only needs a little tweaking delights me, whether already published or still in manuscript form that I’m asked to edit. Conversely, however, my line of work has developed in me a strong aversion toward shoddy language, plain untruthfulness or cluelessness, outrageous grammar, and flagrant verbosity in journalism.

My familiarity with the journalistic writing terrain was further heightened when I started my online English-usage Forum’s weekly Media Watch in 2009. It monitored poor writing, reporting, and editing as well as embarrassing information gaffes in major news outlets. It was an initially exhilarating but increasingly unpalatable effort that I was able to sustain for almost 10 years. But hunting down, dissecting, and rectifying flawed  journalistic writing like the ones that I’m now presenting in retrospect eventually taxed my patience too much that I ultimately decided to pursue other ways of promoting good writing.

                                     IMAGE CREDIT: GRAMMARCHECK.NET
For starters, look at this terribly garbled sentence that gawked at readers from the front page of a Metro Manila daily in 2011: “A Visayan lawmaker Thursday sought to penalize the ‘hostage-taking’ practice of some hospitals, morgues and funeral parlors of remains of deceased persons due to unpaid medical or funeral services.” It’s tough to make heads and tails of that sentence owing to the “stranding” of the object of the preposition—the noun phrase “remains of deceased persons due to unpaid medical or funeral services”—by as many as eight words from its antecedent verb phrase “sought to penalize the ‘hostage-taking’ practice.”

See how that lead sentence suddenly makes sense when that object of the preposition is placed adjacent to its antecedent verb phrase: “A Visayan lawmaker Thursday sought to penalize the “hostage-taking” of the remains of deceased persons by some hospitals, morgues and funeral parlors due to unpaid medical or funeral services.” 

Then take this awfully wrong flash headline broadcast by a Metro Manila TV news channel in June of 2016: “State of Emergency sa Orange Country sa Florida, Idineklara.” That headline about that heinous massacre of 49 LGBTs kept on running uncorrected for most of the day. But there’s really no such thing as “Orange Country” in Florida or anywhere else in North America. The correct word is “County”—no “r” between the “t” and “y”—and it stands for the largest territorial division for local government within a state in the United States.

An even more recurrent but no less awful error in journalism is wrong verb choice and wrong conjugation. Look at this lead sentence in another Metro Manila daily in 2017: “(The incoming agriculture official) bore his plan for the country’s food security during his visit on Tuesday as part of his nationwide tour dubbed ‘BiyahengBukid’. ” A fellow newspaper columnist jocularly commented on Twitter: “Gad, it must have been awfully heavy, or boring.” It’s because that sentence stupendously misapplied the past tense of the verb “bear”—“bore,” meaning gave birth or produced—for the past tense of the verb ““bare”—“bared,” meaning disclosed or announced. Harrowing!

Another thing: reporters and editors definitely should take decisive action when the personalities they interview get too wordy, like the candidate for high office who said shortly before the May 9, 2016 elections that she believed she can move people to back her programs, adding with a flourish: “I feel that I think I can be able to do that.”

Had they been more alert to her extemporaneous verbosity, they could have boiled that down to any of these succinct quotes without causing that candidate to take offense:

“I feel I can do that.”

“I think I can do that.”

“I’ll be able to do that.”

“I can do that.”

Yes, that short and simple.

(Next: Wrong word usage and verbosity in journalism - 2)            January 28, 2021   

This essay, 2,029th  of the series, appeared in the column “English Plain and Simple” by Jose A. Carillo in the Campus Press section of the January 21, 2021 Internet edition of The Manila Times, ©2021 by the Manila Times Publishing Corp. All rights reserved.

Read this article online in The Manila Times:
“Wrong word usage and verbosity in journalism - 1”

To listen to the audio version of this article, click the encircled double triangle logo in its online posting in The Manila Times.
« Last Edit: September 12, 2022, 06:12:27 PM by Joe Carillo »