Archive for the ‘Language in the media’ Category

kick-ass news

September 7, 2013

From Ben Zimmer, two instances of ass-avoidance in the news.



September 5, 2013

On the TribLive website (of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review) on August 30th: “Book strives to make journalese crystal clear” by Rob Kyff, about:

journalese — a bland paste of buzzwords, jargon and overused words served up by newspapers, TV stations and websites every day.

Veteran writers Paul Dickson and Robert Skole have collected and defined hundreds of journalistic cliches in their new book “Journalese: A Dictionary for Deciphering the News” (Marion Street Press, $14.95). We read and hear these terms all the time, of course, but “eyeballing” this “laundry list” provides us with “growing evidence” of a “widespread problem.”

As they tell it, Dickson and Skole are out neither to stamp out journalese nor to celebrate it, but merely to document it — though the book veers between extreme attitudes about formulaic language in the media, sometimes mocking it, sometimes noting its utility.


NPR team and the perils of transcription

April 16, 2013

Yesterday on NPR’s Morning Edition, a piece announcing a new NPR feature:

NPR Team Covers Race, Ethnicity And Culture (by David Greene and Gene Demby)

NPR this week is introducing a new team that will cover race, ethnicity and culture. Code Switch is the name of the new blog. Code-switching is the practice of shifting between different languages or different ways of expressing yourself in conversations.

Greene and Demby chat for a while about code-switching, with examples, bringing in linguist Tyler Schnoebelen as a consultant at one point. But if you read the transcript rather than listening to the segment, you might be puzzled.


Timesly taboo avoidance

September 19, 2012

On Language Log this morning, Mark Liberman reported on a characteristic piece of NYT taboo avoidance (on its blogs), with “a vulgar, unprintable phrase” used in place of some vulgarity that the Times considers unprintable. Meanwhile, in the print paper yesterday, we have a man finishing a sentence “with an expletive”. These are reports of taboo vocabulary framed in such a way that the reader cannot be sure what vocabulary was used — only that it was unTimesly.


Follow-up: reporting Eastwood

September 4, 2012

Discussion yesterday on ADS-L about Clint Eastwood at the RNC (on this blog, here), in which Benjamin Barrett noted that

… because it was unsaid, there are necessarily going to be people who don’t get the interpretation of “fuck yourself”

and Joel Berson added (note smiley):

Since there are (allegedly) such people, then shouldn’t papers of record like the NY Times and the Boston Globe have undertaken to explain it?  : – )

I followed up with observations about the practices of newspapers like the Times, and today Larry Horn connected these to the euphemism treadmill, with a quote from Cicero.


Brief mention: writing between the lines 8/30/12

August 30, 2012

From the Economist, “Up to a point, Lord Copper”, about the press in Myanmar, 8/25, p. 32:

To get around this system [of press censorship by the military dictatorship], Mr Soe Thein, like other journamists, finessed the art of “writing between the lines”. He would fox the censors by using metaphors, literary allusions and historical comparisons to disguise commentaries on political events, hoping that his readers would understand the references better.

A strategy of indirection used by speakers about political events probably since people first started talking about them. Always chancy, of course.


The pussy patrol

August 19, 2012

As the Russian punk band Pussy Riot has made the news recently, I was moved to wonder how the New York Times would handle the name, especially in light of the paper’s ostentatious avoidance of the title of the play Cock (reported on here), since pussy and cock both have non-taboo senses that could have allowed their appearance in the Gray Lady’s pages (despite the intentions of the punk band and the playwright Mike Bartlett to allude to taboo senses).

Turns out the Times had only a little trouble with Pussy Riot, so there are some very fine discriminations in verbal offense going on here.


On the taboo/slur watch

August 3, 2012

Many news sources reported the event by quoting the remark as it was spoken, but here’s the NYT version (in Maureen Dowd’s “Gadding Of a Gawky Gowk” on the 1st):

when reporters traveling with Romney mutinied as Mitt left a wreath-laying at a war memorial in Pilsudski Square, pressing to know why he was shutting them out, campaign spokesman Rick Gorka shot back crudely that the press should kiss a part of his anatomy, noting incongrously: “This is a holy site for the Polish people. Show some respect.”

The Times is apparently too modest to allow anatomical ass to appear in its pages (as opposed to on its website, where it occurs in blog entries and comments).

Meanwhile, a little while back, the Buffalo News struggled with nigger and nigga. And the Guardian defended its policy of printing problematic language verbatim and undisguised.


More taboo avoidance in the NYT

July 30, 2012

The Gray Lady continues to allude to taboo vocabulary indirectly, with a series of strategies reported on in Language Log and this blog. Two recent cases:

In “Wash That Blog Out With Soap” by Penelope Green on the 26th, about Emma Koenig:

… Ms. Koenig, who, like her sisters before her, has been channeling her anomie into a contemporary literary form — in her case, a Tumblr blog. While its title begins with a common vulgar interjection, it is nonetheless a sweetly dark look at a life stage, something resembling the HBO series “Girls,” but defanged a bit.

And in an obituary, “Lupe Ontiveros, Who Portrayed Maids and Moms, Dies at 69″, by Mireya Navarro on the 28th:

With characteristic saltiness, Ms. Ontiveros once said, “I’ve made chicken salad” out of chicken manure. But she did not regret playing so many maids, she said, because it allowed for steady work and for portraying working people with dignity.


Lexicon Valley

April 16, 2012

I’ll start by letting Neal Whitman talk. From his blog posting “Podcast Linkfest” of March 20th:

I’ve been enjoying listening to a couple of language-related podcasts recently. First is one from Slate, called Lexicon Valley, hosted by Mike Vuolo and Bob Garfield. In their six episodes to date, they have talked about:

  1. The history of the proscription against ending a sentence with a preposition
  2. The development of faggot as a slur against male homosexuals, with commentary by Arnold Zwicky
  3. Whether between you and I is a case of hypercorrection, or if another rule can describe its distribution.
  4. Black English, with commentary from Walt Wolfram (which they pronounce as “Wolf-Ram”)
  5. What a controversy the publication of Webster’s Third caused in 1961
  6. What insights Scrabble can and cannot give into the nature of English

The episodes are all about half an hour long, and even the ones I didn’t think I’d be too interested in (the dictionary, Scrabble) have turned out to be quite interesting after all. Furthermore, they’re linguistically sound. With all the complaints at Language Log and other places about how news media just can’t be bothered to fact-check anything related to language, I have yet to hear a piece of bad information here.

I’ve been impressed myself, and I’ve gotten great comments on “my” piece.

I really enjoyed working on this. Mike Vuolo interviewed me for about an hour on the phone — we’d set this up ahead of time, so I was prepared with pieces of background information, not just thinking on my feet, so to speak — and then he edited this material down, skillfully.

I’m working on a couple of postings with my faggot material in them, and hope to have some more things to say about between you and I as well.



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