Up until now, I have been sitting back, attempting to ignore something that really bothers me. For years, I have been content to simply vent my frustrations by yelling at the TV whenever I hear it, but no more. I can’t take it any more. It is time to speak up and be heard.
My plea to the News departments of the world is, “Please stop the slaughtering of the English language on your daily Television News programs.”
I do not consider myself to be a stuffy intellectual. Personally, I dreaded every, single moment spent studying grammar in school but apparently the very people who sought out a profession where they would be in the public eye where a touch of class might be important chose to skip those classes entirely. As a population we are ever so cautious about being “politically correct” in every thing we say and write. However, judging from what I heard during TV interviews with accident/fire scene witnesses and the not-so-occasional public official, the typical American couldn’t identify the correct verb tense in a Police lineup. But what troubles me the most is that, sadly, some of those on the other side of the microphone do not do much better. Daily, I hear major grammatical mistakes that ring in my ears like a chunk of steel plate dropped 10 feet onto a concrete floor.
TV newscasters have, apparently, elected themselves “In Loco Parentis”. Day after day they admonish us to: “Wash our hands.” “Use sun-screen in the sun.” “Dress in layers in the cold.” “Don’t stand under a tree in a lightning storm.” But they manage to forget that people who cannot effectively communicate cannot begin to understand or operate today’s complex world. If TV news is really trying to be “the parent” here, then they should be responsible parents and attempt to use proper English in all of their news broadcasts. They claim to be “professional speakers,” so they should prove it.
To demonstrate my position, here is a list of recent verbal infractions perpetrated by anonymous TV newspersons in just the past few weeks:
The use of the word "Busted”
To the best of my knowledge, the word “bust” used in any other way than to describe the upper portion of the human anatomy as rendered in marble, is considered slang. So, I was quite disturbed to hear a reporter say recently that a water main “was busted open”.
OK, I will accept that “bust”, as used to describe the capture of a fleeing felon, is now a generally excepted term. But let’s try to exhibit a little bit of class and use “burst”, “ruptured” or even “broke” to describe water mains, and restrict the use of “busted” for criminal arrests.
Newspaper headlines have always been terse. It is part of their mystique. These catchy phrases grab people’s attention and conserve print space, but television headlines are typically spoken and don't need not be so choppy. Newscasters should stop sounding like Tonto and try sounding a little more like Walter Cronkite.
When presenting a news story, is it too much at ask that they try to get the verb tenses right or, at the very least, make those in one sentence agree. Recently, one of the on-the-scene, field reporters announced that a man was “thrown” (past tense) from his car and the car “lands” (present tense) on top of him. I’m sure that this is, in part, a throw back to the headline legacy where newspapers tried to make the story seem more current than it was by using the present tense to make it seem as if it were happening in right front of the reader. But the point is that the language doesn’t make any sense. “OK”, you say, “It was 6 AM, the reporter had been in the field all night and just made a mistake.” I can understand and can accept that. My point is I really don’t need an “absolutely, right-now” live report. The report is only a minute or two long, so just do it over, with grammar is corrected and then air the corrected report. They re-tape for other reasons; why not to do it for grammar.
“Countable” Nouns vs. “Non-countable” Nouns
This next one I can’t really blame on the news media, but the news media could help correct the situation by using the expressions correctly. The word “amount” should only be used in situations where the items in question cannot be counted. If the items can be counted then a word like “number” should be used instead. It is the “amount of money” or “the number of people”. You wouldn’t say the “number of money”, so why would you say “the amount of people”?
And don’t get me started on “less” vs. “fewer”.
There! I'm feeling much better now:-)