It may interest you to know that in 12 years of writing for a Jamaican newspaper, the only time i was censored was when i sent in a column mocking the execrable language used in both print and broadcast media here. That column mysteriously never made it to print and i knew better than to make a fuss about it at the time. There is nothing though to prevent me from publishing it here three years later–just keep in mind that the dates referred to in this piece pertain to the year 2005. Oh and i should mention that i was reminded of the existence of this column when i read the Coffeewallah’s latest post on hoof-in the mouth journalism in Trinidad and Tobago. Coffeewallah! great name that–
What I wanted to talk about this week were the distortions of the English language one frequently hears and reads in local media reports starting with the much abused phrase “pronounced dead”. This term often appears in radio newscasts recounting police shoot outs where “shots were fired”, “the fire was returned” and then “the injured men” (rarely members of the police force) are taken to hospital, where “upon arrival” they are invariably “pronounced dead”.
In fact “reports have revealed” that those lucky enough to somehow survive such encounters are often left “nursing gunshot wounds” while hapless “motorists” in the vicinity “are urged to exercise caution”. In less deadly encounters we hear that a grade 10 student allegedly “traded blows” with her principal; naturally “a tussle ensued”.
I don’t know how many of you have been “pounced upon” by a duppy or a gunman yet but no doubt we have all been exposed to situations where knives are “brought into play”. The best story I ever heard though was actually in a TV newscast some years ago; it seems two cars had collided and the policeman who took the reports was then himself involved in an accident when on leaving “the scene” he was “pounced upon by a number of cows” apparently intent on colliding with his car. Fortunately for the policeman in question his injuries were minor and he escaped being pronounced dead “upon arrival” at a nearby hospital.
Weather reports are little better and we often hear that one island or another is “being lashed by” wind and rain. To make matters worse weather reporters seem to specialize in weird accents so that in the height of the hurricane season I’m sure I heard a headline that said “American Golf Course braces for Category 4 hurricane”. Another one announced that “Hurricane Rita is heading straight for the American Golf Course” while “Part of Spain” was also “preparing for a possible hurricane hit”. Fortunately my Trini friends in Part-of-Spain were spared the worst of that storm…(of course now, three years later, we’re about to be beset by Hurricane Hike).
The newspapers, all three of them, are some of the worst offenders in terms of purveying bad English, not merely circulating quaint or hackneyed language mind you, but the most egregious errors. Let’s start with this paper (Sunday Herald) which on December 4 informed readers that “the case lied dormant for four years…” A columnist in the October 16 edition averred that “In the face of Rita, 20 senior citizens similarly infirmed perished in a bus, as it burned, caught in a gridlock outside Houston caused by those trying to flee the possibility of Katrina par two”.
If you think that’s bad check out these bloopers in the Observer; their proofreader must have called in sick the week of August 14 if one is to judge by the following howlers: “There has been an expulsion in the number of providers of such services over the past 15 years. From the days of one television and two radio stations.” Another column urging people not to distort the facts of the Air Jamaica hub didn’t hesitate to distort the English language. If the airline continued to “loose money” in a period of prosperity asserted the writer it would probably have lost money even under the best management. “It is even more sad that a hotelier who clearly benefited from the extraordinary growth of the airline and more importantly an airline that gained the confidence of the tour operators and travel agents. A hotelier who new first hand that…”
A Gleaner writer, not to be outdone, wondered in a November 6 article why we couldn’t be like Japan,“Why did your ancestors turn a blind eye to the plight of my ancestors and did nothing to help?” he beseeched. Well, probably because the Japanese would commit hara-kiri before allowing a blunder like that into print. The Gleaner’s proofreader was definitely out to lunch that week for in the same edition an article on ‘Ritchie Poo’ Tyndale claimed that the fugitive, considering himself safe in the remote village of Black Shop, “soon adopted to rural life”.
If only the Gleaner and the other papers would adopt a proofreader or two…in all these cases its hard to blame the writers, for depending on the pressure under which stories are written errors are bound to creep in. That is why the humble proofreader exists and for a small fee she or he will keep such errors to a minimum. Proofreading and copy editing are standard practice in newspapers all over the world so it is not clear why the local media is trying to economize in this essential area. One can only hope that this habit of not proofreading the news will soon be pronounced dead. Upon arrival, of course.
PS: The Bitter Bean’s critique of the current Gully mania, Hurricane Gustav and the Politics of Hot Air, is worth reading. Check it out…