Author Topic: Wrong word usage and verbosity in journalism - 3  (Read 19512 times)

Joe Carillo

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Wrong word usage and verbosity in journalism - 3
« on: February 04, 2021, 08:32:40 AM »
To round up this three-part series on major weaknesses of the country’s English-language journalism that I encountered during my online Forum’s 10-year weekly media English watch, I am presenting just three more of the most recurrent and blatant examples of shoddy language, plain untruthfulness or cluelessness, outrageous grammar, and flagrant verbosity committed by the major media outlets.

                                         IMAGE CREDIT: UPPAMPANGAENGLISH.BLOGSPOT.COM
Unintended depreciatory double meaning in a 2012 front-page newsstory


Take this awful case of redundancy in a 2011 lead sentence of a science news story: “MANILA, Philippines - The Philippine government lacks sufficient equipment and facilities to cope with widespread nuclear fallout in the country, an official revealed yesterday.”

That lead sentence obviously fell prey to a very common mistake of rookie news reporters: combining the verb “lack” and the adjective “sufficient” as a modifier. The result is an ugly redundancy—with “sufficient” as the redundancy in the phrase “lacks sufficient equipment and facilities.”

See how smooth that sentence reads when that redundancy is dropped: “The Philippine government lacks equipment and facilities to cope with widespread nuclear fallout in the country, an official revealed yesterday.” Or the copyeditor could have used the more appropriate word “inadequate” to drive home the point better: “The Philippine government has inadequate equipment and facilities to cope with widespread nuclear fallout in the country, an official revealed yesterday.”

The problem becomes even more serious when a news reporter inadvertently puts the cart before the horse, so so speak, as in the case of this 2011 reporting in that same broadsheet: “MANILA, Philippines - The restive Taal volcano in Batangas showed signs of heightened activity anew in the past 24 hours as state seismologists recorded more volcanic earthquakes.”

That lead sentence sounds illogical—even absurd—because it gives the slippery wrong impression that the seismologists’ recording activity was triggering or causing the heightened volcanic activity rather than the other way around, which is that this volcanic activity was what prompted the seismologists to monitor it.

See how that illogic is instantly rectified by just interchanging the position of the two coordinate clauses: “State seismologists recorded more volcanic earthquakes as restive Taal volcano in Batangas showed signs of heightened activity anew in the past 24 hours.”

But of all the problematic reporting that I encountered during my media English watch, I think nothing beats this awfully shoddy business 2009 news story lead:

“Desperate times call for desperate measures.

“That’s why during periods of crisis, all kinds of scams rear their ugly heads, and people desperate to shore up their cash become more likely to fall prey to glib tongues promising to make them rich quick.”

The two-paragraph lead statement above cluelessly mixes metaphors whose internal logic and semantics are contradictory or whose phrasing are semantically flawed: “rear their ugly heads,” “to shore up their cash,” and “to fall prey to glib tongues.”

To begin with, to describe the scams as “rearing their ugly heads” contradicts the premise of the whole statement. The expression that the scams “rear their ugly heads” conveys ugliness that terrifies, but the intent of a scam is not to scare or turn off its intended victim; on the contrary, it aims to entice the victim to fall for its promises of great profit through all sorts of rosy inducements. Indeed, for the scam to work at all, it logically shouldn’t “rear its ugly head” but “suddenly become alluring” or “suddenly become attractive”—a statement not of repulsive ugliness but of irresistible beauty.

Admittedly, I found that embarrassing piece of English reporting not business journalism at all so I never even bothered to rectify it.

I encountered hundreds more of such faulty but instructive English in my 10-year Media English Watch. Those interested in checking out all of them can do so by simply clicking this link to the Forum's Media English Watch board from 2009 to 2019.

Read: Wrong word usage and verbosity in journalism - 1
Read: Wrong word usage and verbosity in journalism - 2   

(Next: How to deal with very long noun phrases)               February 11, 2021   

This essay, 2,031st of the series, appeared in the column “English Plain and Simple” by Jose A. Carillo in the Campus Press section of the February 4, 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 - 3”

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, 07:18:59 PM by Joe Carillo »