NewsMediaMaven was created for me to write about, before I forget them, experiences and anecdotes from my more than 45-year-long career in print and broadcast journalism.
But, with apologies, I’ve decided that this space also should allow me to rant a bit about things that are akin to fingernails on a chalkboard – the misuse of language.
I had the good fortune to study at the elbows of two of the greatest and longest-serving news editors in the history of network news: John Merriman of the CBS Evening News and Gilbert Millstein of the NBC Nightly News. Each in his own way was a self-appointed guardian of the written and spoken word, John with a sense of humor and seemingly never-ending laugh, Gil with a greater seriousness and a less forgiving memory.
But both believed in the accuracy and the austerity of language, and they used their skills as editors to make sure that the scripts of anchors and correspondents alike were understandable, since in broadcast journalism there are no second chances. Theirs were lessons that I learned, and tried to continue during my eight years as News Editor at Nightly News.
Now, however, on all broadcasts, network and cable, I sense backsliding. I don’t dispute that English is a living language – additions each year to dictionaries are proof of that – but there are some words and phrases that should be locked in time.
Following, in no particular order of importance, are a few examples that prompt me to yell at the television set:
War on Terror
As defined in most dictionaries, “Terror” means “extreme fear,” which can be of many things, such as darkness or spiders. What is being fought now by governments is a “War on Terrorism,” which means against “the use of violence and intimidation in the pursuit of political aims.”
Where, exactly, is “mid-air”? When you think about that phrase, it makes no sense. Planes collide either on the ground or in flight.
The Skies Above
Space is vast, but there is only one sky above us. Enough said.
“None” is not a contraction of “no one,” and therefore it requires the plural “are.”
“The media,” with very few exceptions, are plural, and require a plural verb. “Medium” is singular.
“Politics” is a singular noun, and requires a singular verb. Just ask Tip O’Neill.
To “interpret” something is to imply evaluation. The word to describe someone who turns a foreign language into English without expressing an opinion is “Translator.”
That’s how the British spell the title of someone who provides advice. In the United States, it should be spelled “Adviser.”
Technically, an “Attorney” is an agent, and that title does not automatically convey legal skills. A “Lawyer” is clearly defined as a “legal representative.”
Farther and Further
“Farther” is used when referring to distances, while “Further” implies a state of mind, something that is continued.
Between and Among
It is “between” two people, “among” three or more.
Percent and Percentage Point
There is a difference: “Percent” is the rate, number, or amount of something in each hundred; “Percentage” is any proportion or share in relation to a whole. If something increased from 10 percent to 15 percent, the increase would be 5 percentage points.
These are just a few of my pet peeves. I invite readers to add some of theirs to the list.