Media Watch



What better way to begin a Media Watch column than with headlines? Here are two recent ones that got our attention:

• “Bacteria has sickened more than 100.”
• “Foreclosure crisis makes taught thriller.”

“Bacteria has sickened” is incorrect because has is singular and bacteria is the plural of bacterium. If the headline writer balked at “bacteria have sickened” or “bacterium has sickened,” we can sympathize, sort of—but why not instead write “Germ has sickened more than 100”?

As for that second headline, who confuses taught with taut? This looks like the work of a distracted multitasker.

• “Hundreds packed the stands, looking for a chance to relish in a sense of community.”

You can revel in a sense of community, or you can relish a sense of community, but “relish in” is nonsense.

• “A completely new species of rat was discovered.”

This sentence gives adverbs a bad name. What does “completely” add, except flab?

• “He was forbidden from giving his name.”

Handy rule: Use to, not from, with forbid: “He was forbidden to give his name.”

• “The CEO receives nearly 2,000 times the compensation as an employee.”

Where did “as an employee” come from? It doesn’t fit. Did a prankster sneak in and write it? Make it “The CEO receives nearly 2,000 times the compensation that an employee receives.”

• “Her rivals tried to emulate her.”

Delete “tried to” and make it “Her rivals emulated her.” One does not “try to emulate.” To emulate means “to try to be as good or successful as.” So when we emulate, we’re already trying. The original sentence is gibberish: Her rivals tried to try to be as good as she was.

• “Stainless steel appliances await whomever inhabits the chef’s kitchen next.”

The whomever is incorrect. The writer would argue that whomever was required as the object of “await.” But then the verb “inhabits” would have no subject, because whomever is always an object. You can’t have a verb without a subject, and objects can’t also be subjects, so it has to be “Stainless steel appliances await whoever inhabits the chef’s kitchen next.”

• “He was clutching the leash of his dog, who was also shot.”
• “This is about political influence by a public utility who spends a lot of money in Sacramento.”

The pronoun who applies only to humans. The writer of the first sentence balked at using “which” for the dog. The writer of the second sentence decided that corporations are people. They’re not, at least not grammatically. The fix is easy: “a public utility that spends a lot of money in Sacramento.”

 

Pop Quiz

The following are sentences recently heard over the airwaves. See if you can make them better. Answers are at the bottom of the newsletter.

1. “Neither her mother or the police believed his denial.”
2. “He is one of the men they can most afford not to lose.”
3. “I see you nodding your head no.”
4. “A cable from he himself established that.”
5. “I am one of many people that are trying to advance the art form.”

 

Pop Quiz Answers

1. “Neither her mother nor the police believed his denial.”
2. “He is one of the men they can least afford to lose.”
3. “I see you shaking your head no.”
4. “A cable from him himself established that.” (Correct grammar isn’t always pretty.)
5. “I am one of many people that are trying to advance the art form.” CORRECT

Posted on Tuesday, November 3, 2015, at 10:51 pm

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13 Comments on Media Watch

13 responses to “Media Watch”

  1. Warren J. says:

    Is there such a thing as newspaper rules? There are many practices in newspaper writing that can’t be justified by the rules that most of us use. Unfortunately, I can’t think of the most common ones at the moment, but I thought of this when I saw the following this morning:
    “Build a wall on the border? No thanks, says San Diego.”

    Maybe I should have said “headline rules”. In any event, what’s the story? What are we supposed to think of grammar and punctuation in newspapers that seems okay because we have seen it so many times, but that is not what we were taught in school? Could it be that they are paving the way for a brighter, simpler, more logical future?

    PS: Just in case you’re wondering what I am talking about, it’s the absence of quotation marks around “No thanks.”

    • Those of us who have worked on newspapers can tell you that headlines must be given a lot of leeway, for strictly pragmatic reasons. They are severely challenged by space considerations, so short cuts must be found in many cases. In your example, just the addition of quotation marks would have probably required a complete rewrite.

    • G. M. Jones says:

      Are grammar and punctuation considered a unit, therefore singular, justifying seems?

  2. Michael P. says:

    “I am one of many people that are trying to advance the art form.” CORRECT

    Why isn’t it “who” instead of “that?” Because “who” would then refer to “people?”

  3. David B. says:

    Please note the answer to the last pop quiz.

    5. “I am one of many people that are trying to advance the art form.” CORRECT

    I would have opted for
    5. “I am one of the many people who is trying to advance the art form.”

    • The correct answer is “I am one of many people that are trying to advance the art form.” The verb must agree with “people,” not with “one.” Here is proof—same words, slightly different order: Of the many people that ARE trying to advance the art form, I am one.

      You slightly rewrote the question and chose “of the many people who is …” Does that look correct to you?

  4. Merrill S. says:

    I like question 3 because a lot of people mix up nodding and shaking. We were told, however, that we should use a possessive pronoun before a word ending in “ing.” Is this a different set-up?

    • We hope you were not told to always “use a possessive pronoun before a word ending in ing.” That is demonstrably incorrect. The rule you’re perhaps referring to concerns gerunds, which end in ing. But other words, including present participles, end in ing also, and they do not require possessive pronouns.

      In the following sentence, “complaining” is a gerund (a verbal noun): I can’t take any more of his complaining about Ann. Note the possessive pronoun “his” before “complaining.” But in question No. 3 on our quiz, “nodding” is a verb-derived adjective modifying “you.” The rule does not apply.

  5. Fred B. says:

    Caught this news report on NPR: “A suicide bombing in the Afghanistan capitol today is responsible for at least one death.”

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