I shared some of my grammatical pet peeves with you all in a post this week.
Here are a couple more before I turn this subject over to you:
“A number of . . .”
When you hear or see that phrase used by a reporter or a TV news anchor, it means they don’t know how many. I heard it again last night on the TV news in reference to an earthquake that brought down “a number of buildings.” Was it two buildings? Was it 10? Was it 100? A thousand?
Could you be more specific, please? Could you give us an estimate? If not, how about being straight up and saying something like, “some buildings collapsed, but we don’t know how many yet.”
I remember one crusty old editor named Leon sent a reporter back to an awards ceremony because he had written “a number of awards were handed out.”
Fortunately, the ceremony was just a block away from the office and was just winding up. The reporter returned with the precise number.
I see it occasionally in reporters’ copy, and I almost always change it, or simply delete it — because it is often not needed. One critic once wrote that “a number of readers had contacted” him. I queried the writer. How many? He hummed and hawwed, then admitted it was fewer than 10. When pressed again, it was actually only a few. But it sounds like a lot more when you say “a number of,” yes? At that point, it is simply deceptive reporting. I changed it to “a few readers.”
Another pet peeve: “He Monday said that he would do something about it.”
Who talks like that? Who puts the time element in front of the verb to create such an awkward sentence construction?
Well, some reporters do it, and most editors will change it to something like: “He said on Monday that he would do something about it.”
But if one is determined to get the time element before the verb, it could be written this way: “On Monday, he said . . .”
OK. So, I’ve shared a couple of my pet peeves with you here.
Now, it’s your turn.
Talk about the grammatical bloopers in the media that really bug you.
Go Jillian, GO!!!!!!
I have a high tolerance for grammatical errors as long as the meaning isn’t compromised. Especially the more esoteric ones. Grammatical errors are one way a language evolves.
I concur with your disdain for “a number of.” It is a confession of laziness more than ignorance. Surely some quantifier could be applied to reduce the vagueness? But that would require thought and effort. The reporter couldn’t be bothered to report precisely on the awards ceremony because to them, precision didn’t matter. The only people who care would be those who value accuracy and I suspect people like that (such as me) are a dwindling minority.
My pet peeve is the reporter who is so agenda driven they completely miss the story.
A couple of decades ago there was a long story in the Los Angeles Times about a very detailed scientific study on the effects of low levels of consumption of alcohol on fetuses. The headline and first paragraph asserted that this study had demonstrated a relationship between even minimal amounts of alcohol and fetal alcohol syndrome. The story went on for several pages documenting the well known relationship between heavy alcohol consumption and the syndrome and was accompanied by unsupported assertions by various medical experts that any alcohol at all would be dangerous.
The study referenced in the headline was never really discussed until near the end of the article. Finally we get to the nitty gritty where the scientist stated her research had shown a ***statistically insignificant*** relationship between one drink a day and ANY adverse effects of the fetus – not just FAS. She further stated it was so insignificant, she wouldn’t even advise her own pregnant daughter to completely abstain.
Along with agenda driven reporting, my other pet peeve are “science” reporters (or any other specialty reporters) whose understanding of their subject matter is breathtakingly absent.
When you see a story like that, it tells you that it is not only the reporter who missed the story, but the editors who handled it, as well. Reporters do make mistakes. It’s the job of editors to catch those mistakes, and ask the writer to go back on the story when necessary — or even spike it all together. So, keep that in mind: the editing team is just as responsible for story issues as the reporter is.
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Sigh! The LA Times was supposed to be a world class paper back then.
When I see mistakes that egregious, my mind immediate tells me two things. One is that nobody involved in the story understood what “statistically insignificant” means. But more important they obviously had an agenda. It wasn’t a news story it was an extended editorial disguised as a news story.
The study was the hook they hung their hat on. Their ignorance of science prevented them from realizing there was no hook there. They were too involved to notice the hat was lying on the floor at the end of the story.
Yes, you are right: sometimes writers have an agenda and they are less than objective. I have come across some pieces like that in my copy editing career. As one of the last lines of defence for a paper, the readers and the subjects of the stories, I pass on my concerns to management along with my suggestions on how to improve the piece. That way, I have covered my own butt in case their is a lawsuit later on.
I am sometimes amazed that the subjects of articles don’t sue newspapers for some of the shoddy work.
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