Small Dishes

Things we’ve been meaning to talk to you about …

Breaking news is broken  Remember when a standing ovation meant something? Now performers get them for just showing up. There’s a misguided tendency nowadays to overdo things whose power is in their scarcity.

So it is that virtually every day, especially on the cable news networks, an urgent-looking message flashes across the TV screen: “Breaking News.” There was a time when you rarely saw “Breaking News,” and when you did, you knew something dire had happened: war, the death of a world figure, a devastating natural disaster, an international act of terrorism. Now, the phrase’s force has been eroded by the media’s crying wolf. I remember when CNN flashed “Breaking News” to inform us that a recently deceased pop star’s autopsy results were due in four to six weeks.

Those who have been around awhile still react to “Breaking News” with visceral dread. To a young person, I’m afraid, it’s just another cheap attention-getting device. That’s a shame, because there ought to be some such terse graphic to alert viewers when something major is afoot. “Breaking News,” once the perfect option, has been ruined.

College ain’t what it used to be  One of Modesto Junior College’s most successful former students is Jeremy Renner, a Best Actor nominee for his powerful work in The Hurt Locker. A marquee at the college reported the glad tidings: “Former MJC student Jeremy Renner nominated for an Acadamy Award.” Acadamy? Let’s hope the MJC signage department subsequently forged a working relationship with the MJC English department.

And speaking of signs …  The city of Clovis in central California has for decades had quite an eye-catcher right in the middle of town, a vintage Art Deco billboard that reads: “Clovis Gateway to the Sierras.”

Memo to Clovis: Make that “Gateway to the Sierra.” “Sierra means saw-toothed mountain range,” says the Nevada Department of Cultural Affairs. The Sierra Nevada Alliance, a conservation organization, chimes in: “The Sierra Nevada is a single, distinct unit, both geographically and topographically … Strictly speaking, therefore, we should never pluralize the name—such as Sierras, or Sierra Nevadas, or even High Sierras.”

Isn’t this something Clovis would be aware of? It must have come up at some point. Removing that last s from the sign would probably be a simple task. Come on, Clovis. Don’t be bullheaded about this. Such obstinacy sends the wrong message to impressionable young Clovisites.

Posted on Wednesday, March 1, 2017, at 10:37 am

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7 Comments on Small Dishes

7 responses to “Small Dishes”

  1. Kathie Tietze says:

    Are we splitting verb phrases now as well? In the beginning sentence, doesn’t it seem a bit awkward to state that the city of Clovis “has for decades had quite an eye-catcher….” instead of “has had, for decades, quite an eye-catcher….”?
    Further, after decades of referring to the Sierra Nevada as ‘Sierras’, this colloquialism has entered the common language in the plural. Shouldn’t it, therefore, be accepted as the norm rather than try to get people to bow to the will of the linguistic perfectionists?

  2. Fafner says:

    Thank you so much for your words on “Breaking News.” I had thought I must be the only person in the world really bothered by its incessant use today for no good reason.

  3. Kathryn S. says:

    I have always said “As children, my parents drug us all over the Sierras.” If you live in the region, you will find it referenced both ways. At any rate, I equate the Sierra(s) as Heaven. : )

    And then there is drug verses dragged. ; )

    • Yes, there is an ongoing conflict between common usage and formal usage for many words and phrases. Many, perhaps most, people are unaware that the term Sierra Nevada is Spanish for “snow-covered mountain range.”

      Regarding drug vs. dragged, you may want to see our entry in our section on Confusing Words and Homonyms.

  4. Eileen E. says:

    Thank you for your wonderful newsletters.

    In this one I think there is a little mistake. Please correct me if I am wrong.
    In the first line of the 4th paragraph (or the 3rd, if you don’t count that beginning
    one line), we see “awhile.” I think it should be the two-word “a while.”


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