I can’t decide if Aljazeera really intended to leave out a few words here: “Doctors used a defibrillator twice on Hosni Mubarak when they could not find a pulse, security officials said, in the latest crisis for the ousted Egyptian president since he was sentenced to life and moved to a prison hospital nine days ago.”
I believe he was sentenced to life in prison, or given a life sentence, but sentenced to life? In any case, it appears that this is not a sentence he’s willing to accept, and if the court wanted life, they won’t get it from him.
Little words help us avoid ambiguity and add a little sense to the world, when used well. When we intentionally leave them out, for example to write headlines, we sometimes end up with confusion. I misread this headline, fresh out of the Reuters news factory, because I was distracted and thinking about the dishes from tonight’s dinner, still waiting to be done. “Facebook shares sink as reality overtakes hype.
My first thought was that this must be about the work space at FB offices, something about their kitchens. Took a minute to sink in.
Update Tuesday, the article has been replaced! So link above went dead and here is the new story, via Yahoo, which adds a word to fix the problem. The editorial desk at Reuters is hard at work.
GENEVA, SWITZERLAND – There are few politicians I’m as pleased to listen to as former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, and it has nothing to do with the value of what he’s saying. He has one of the most delightful accents in the English-speaking world, the one that tops my list (certain soft Irish accents run a close second) as the most melodic: a Ghanaian English accent. He is also, of course, worth listening to because he is an extraordinary statesman and diplomat.
I’ve just read with huge pleasure that not everyone in Ghana thinks they should be speaking what they call BBC English, as the Guardian reports. Fortunately, enough people jig the language somewhere between the BBC and local languages, turning what they speak into music that makes you want to ask them to keep talking. If the Guardian is right, Ghanaian English is becoming more widespread and more accepted.
Check it out for yourself in this 2010 BBC video debate filmed in Geneva, “Will the real Africa please stand up?”, featuring two once-Genevans, Annan and Patina Gappah, Zimbabwe writer who was previously a lawyer in Geneva, who won the Guardian First Book Award in December 2009.
I haven’t heard Gappah speak, but I’ve read her writing and it is another laudable contribution to English as the world lives it.
Long live Africa’s contribution to the richness of English!
ZURICH, SWITZERLAND – Young people in Switzerland are online, no doubt about it with Switzerland having among Europe’s highest figures for Internet use, but they are still reading newspapers and magazines, in almost the same numbers as in 2003. The figures are part of media statistics published by Wemf, a group owned by major Swiss media, which provides certified numbers for the advertising industry.
Some 24,000 young people from 14-29 years old were questioned about 115 magazines and 190 newspapers, between October 2010 and September 2011. An average business day shows 49.1 percent of them reading at least one of these publications and 86.1 percent say they regularly read them. The free newspapers are hugely popular for commuters and many Swiss students take the train and/or bus to school or work, a factor that has probably helped keep the figures constant for the past 8 years.
GENEVA, SWITZERLAND – Beware who you criticize and for what, for you could be next in line! The last laugh is on me, after poking fun at headline writers who are too rushed to reread what they have written. I just published this: “Thieves caught robbing Nyon train station safe”.
A minute later I happened to reread it on the published page and realized it sounds like they made a safe getaway. Not so! Here’s the corrected version: “Thieves caught robbing safe at Nyon train station” – and they are now behind bars.
A growing number of readers of news are reading fewer and fewer words from articles, with many of them never making it past the headline, so I repeat my argument that getting these right matters.
Which reminds me of one I’ve been chewing over since I read it in the Irish Times and then the BBC the other day, a reference to “the worst recession in memory”.
I’ve been trying to work out whose memory we’re referring to, or if this should have been the more popular “in recent memory” (google that and you’ll start to see what it means to use a clichéd phrase) or perhaps “in living memory” in which case who is the oldest person alive who can share personal memories from the Great Recession of the 30s?
The Guardian had a twist on it, which makes more sense than the others: “Ireland’s love of print can survive the worst of recessions” / This is a small country of 4.5 million but these are people who buy newspapers.
Headlines at newspapers used to be written mainly by young writers starting out in journalism who were given the job as a kind of proving ground. Today, most journalists write their own headlines, and these should be better.
Sometimes we get it wrong, though, first time around.
I love concise writing. So the idea of the new Ted books, from the people who do the amazing Ted conferences, has great appeal. The starting point is excellent: ideas worth spreading. And the length of the books is just right, at under 20,000 words, for what they describe as “long enough to explain a powerful idea, but short enough to be read in a single sitting.” I wish them well, while I debate which one to try first.
I have MinnPost writer David Brauer to thank for this one, an article on the big words most commonly looked up in the dictionary by New York Times readers. His source is the Nieman Journalism Lab. Both are worth your time.
I’ve been having discussions with GenevaLunch reporters and writers about the extent to which you can get away with using big word, whether writing without them is dumbing down or just being clearer. You can argue for the richness of language, the beauty of simplicity, clarity (with or without big words) or sheer orneriness and you’ll find someone who disagrees with you. I try to argue that with so many readers for whom English is a second or third language we should strive to keep it simple. Big words are also a bit like those unpleasant speed bumps in the road, when you’re reading online.
That said, big words online are easy to look up. The main reason is that you can type the word into your search engine without even bothering to add “definition” because the words are so rarely used that the first examples of them are from the online dictionaries. Try “sisyphean.” I wonder if looking up words in dictionaries will remain a sisyphean task for those of us who bother.
Happens to all of us, a moment of distraction and we write it’s instead of its or red instead of read. But this headline made me really curious about the story behind it, with visions of delicious if messy cheesecake to clean up: Giant cheesecakes brakes Guinness Record.
Jargon is just another way of keeping people out, a kind of fence that doesn’t allow the hoi polloi (translation: the masses) into the halls of power. You prove you’re one of those with the keys by learning the jargon. Here’s some of the jargon from advertisers and public relations people in this morning’s electronic inbox – and these are the people who are supposed to be good at communicating with a larger public, counseling companies on how to sell their goods?
From a TNT press release: “TNT, the global express company, launched its new global strapline entitled ‘sure we can’ reflecting the company’s ‘can do’ mentality. Furthermore, TNT launched its new Express and Group websites, which are the first touch points that will carry the new strap line.”
Translation: new slogan, new signs.
[update: check out copy editor definition at The Slot]
Editor’s note: Ellen Wallace is speaking
26 25 June in Geneva on "Leveraging your online life," a GWIT (Geneva Women in International Trade) presentation open to the public.
New bosses, old lovers, clients and your children: what will they learn about you on the net? Leverage your internet profile, make it work for you – learn to manage
the hazy border between professional and private in the online world (click on image to view large).
The world still needs copy editors, but it can’t afford them: this is the message I get from New York Times editor Lawrence Downes, in one of the newspaper’s most popular posts of the day. I agree. The author blames the fast-paced world in which news is manufactured today, largely thanks to the Internet. We can’t change this, and few of us in the news business would like to return to pre-googling days. However, there is a quality loss and it matters. There’s also the problem of accuracy and the Internet.
I worked for several years for Time magazine, where fussy fact checkers forced reporters to doublecheck everything or pay the price late Friday night when the magazine was closing for the week. Copy editors traditionally checked individual stories, but also the way a group of stories appeared. They would help avoid problems such as the list of headlines that appeared yesterday on CNN, with "Lakers sink Boston" wedged between one headline story on floods in Iowa and another on floods in Sichuan.
For my part, despite my own reputation as a persnickety editor, errors slip in because no one is proofreading what I write. We all need editors to see things with a fresh eye and ask questions. I recently wrote a feature about the iris garden at the Chateau de Vullierens, a name so easy to misspell that I forgot to doublecheck the spelling of gardener John Ruttledge’s name, and I left out a "t". As a result, the story didn’t appear if you googled his name, although you did find a story that appeared in Swisster about him, some days after our story. That alerted me to my mistake, which I promptly corrected but it took Google another four days to catch up with the new version. Word to the wary: if you google the wrong spelling you’ll still find that Google lists the story, with the mistake.
Separate Google lives
Once on the web, mistakes are like children who’ve left home: they lead their own lives and you lose your control over them. I try to be conscientious about our responsibility to get information right because others find it on the web and use it.
Media mistakes on the web
GenevaLunch is small, but today, copy editors are a luxury for most news organizations and it shows. A trainee working for me some months ago found a wrong figure about the economy in Le Temps, the most reliable paper in this region. She refused to believe it at first, asking how they could let such a slip occur. A typo and no proofreader, I suggested. More worrisome is sloppy reporting that no one catches, so that when squatters were protesting in Geneva last year the Tribune wrote that there were 500 people while Le Temps said 100, citing the police. The list of incorrect headlines and information I come across in any month is very long.
And what about your own reputation on the web?
So what is the solution? I think it lies at home and at school: insisting that we all become critical information consumers and take responsibility for the correctness of what we pluck and share from the Internet, to start. If we get our news from social networks, do we pause for a minute to ask, "is this right? Is it true?" Do we complain that journalists will write anything, but then rush to pass around to friends what we read by an anonymous source about a football or music celebrity, taking it as probably true? Take it to the next step: you. If you didn’t complain when a photo taken of you at a party where you had a bit too much to drink was posted online, and get it removed, that’s a bit of maybe-truth about you that’s wandering around the Internet. Even a good copy editor can’t help you at this point.
And don’t forget the difference between it’s and its, while we’re on the subject of mistakes.