It’s time for a refresher on language, it seems. The Globe and Mail has been taken to task by its readers during the past week for a few problems with language and choice of words.
Let’s look at the grammatical errors first. Friday’s A Moment in Time on Page A2 refers back to 1967, when United States Lieutenant-Commander John McCain was flying over Hanoi when a missile blasted the wing off his plane and he was ejected and knocked unconscious. He awoke before landing in a lake, but due to the heavy equipment he was wearing he ___ to the bottom.
Okay, what tense of the verb to sink would you use here?
And what about here? “He kicked and managed to reach the surface, took a break, and _____ again.”
Honestly, how many of you got it right? The correct word is SANK, not sunk as the story stated. Here’s what The Globe’s style guide says: sink, sank, sunk. The boat sank; the boat has sunk.
“I realise that the English language is being abused and corrupted by the growing army of mindless citizenry thumbing their way through life on their puerile hand-held devices, but I really expected more from a newspaper such as yours,” one reader wrote. Point taken.
That was a mistake in word choice. The next one was a typographical error. On Tuesday, a headline read: Ford’s Pushed City Staff To Beautify Land Near Family’s Business. That headline error occurred because the original headline said “Ford’s office ...” and when the word “office” was removed very close to deadline, the apostrophe and the “s” were overlooked.
Mistakes happen, but what about words that offend? Earlier this week, U.S. right-wing shock pundit Ann Coulter tweeted about the U.S. debate: “I highly approve of Romney’s decision to be kind and gentle to the retard.” Clearly that is an offensive word to call anyone. I heard from one online commenter who asked why The Globe and Mail could use that word when it wasn’t allowed in the comments. Simply put, it was because the word had news value and was not used gratuitously or as an insult to someone. But what about other words, such as “lame?” One writer called a government response to a problem “lame.” A reader wrote in to say; “While the Radio Television News Directors Association of Canada (among others) cautions against using the word “lame” to describe people with mobility impairments, we are at a point in time when dictionaries define “lame” to mean BOTH “physically impaired” AND “inadequate” or “unsatisfactory,” “unsophisticated” or “inferior.”
No doubt there are better words to use than lame, such as weak, unacceptable, insufficient, mediocre, etc., when that is what was meant.
Please comment if you agree or disagree. Or send me an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org on this or any other issue.