Open letter to electronic news media: You're butchering the language!

To whom it may concern (or not, if what we hear on television every day is any example):Television news is among the most watched programming, and newscasters are the examples America listens to of how our language should sound. Like it or not, news anchors, weather people, announcers and, sadly, to a lesser extent sports announcers are the stewards of the English language. They have a responsibility to their audience to set the example, the standard, of English speech.

Regional accents aside, the language we hear on television and radio should be gramatically correct. After all, these news readers are assumed to have college degrees. Apparently many of them flunked English.

The most glaring misuse of the language we hear daily on television and radio is incorrect usage of parts of speech. That is the most basic understanding that an “educated” speaker of our language should have. Pronunciation of words in our language varies with the part of speech. But every day, people on your programs from anchors to off-camera announcers reinforce the ignorance of the audience by grossly mispronouncing common words. I submit that there is no excuse for it. The deterioration of the language can be traced directly to you in the electronic media. The example you present to the public is tragic.

Following are just a few examples of the words most often mispronounced by you:

complex is a noun [the space launch complex at Cape Canaveral]

complex is an adjective [The students faced a number of complex problems on their mid-term exams.] The only people who should have a complex problem are archetects and psychiatric patients. This word is probably the most often mispronounced by news readers and anchors alike.

protest is a noun or an adjective [anti-war protest, protest gathering]

protest is a verb [The students gathered to protest the court’s decision.] Nine times out of ten the news reader would say “The students gathered to protest the court’s decision.” That is simply incorrect.

conflict, is a noun [Conversation in families may help limit conflict between siblings.]

conflict, is a verb [His principles conflict with his actions.]

compound is a noun [The chemist discovered a new chemical compound.]

compound is a verb [Don’t let your laziness compound your problems.]

Does nobody listen to your broadcasts and give you notes? Are you all just lazy in your speech? Or do you just not know any better?

I will repeat here, because this is the most important point I can make, that you newsreaders/anchors, announcers, sportscasters are the stewards of the English language. You are responsible for its preservation. If the public speak poorly and with incorrect grammar, it’s your fault! You are the example they see and hear every day – not their teachers, not their parents – YOU. And you are letting them down.

Stop protesting just 'cuz some weird complex conflict you have with the media compounds how you view it.

Everyone saw this comin’, right?

FWIW, both Merriam-Webster Online and my hardcover American Heritage list the adjective and verb forms of the words above with the stress on the first syllable as perfectly acceptable alternate pronunciations, with no usage notes indicating that they are colloquial or generally incorrect. Broadcast writing is Standard Informal, not Standard Formal.

I’m still irritated by the bizarre shift to putting everything in the present tense…

“A Boeing 747 crashes in Zululand”. No! It crashed, OK? crashed! It happened already.

And it’s “Iran” and “Iraq” not “Eyeran” and “Eyeraq”.

I guess this is what happens when you hire people for their looks.

This is one language shift I whole-heartedly endorse. If you want to pronounce “complex” differently from “complex,” change how you spell one of them. If they’re both spelled the same, they oughta be pronounced the same. None of these goddamned phantom accent marks. What is this, French?

Slightly related and originally posted to another thread. It’s mostly media motivated: homicide bomber.

hom·i·cide n.

  1. The killing of one person by another.
  2. A person who kills another person.

bomb·er n.

  1. A combat aircraft designed to carry and drop bombs.
  2. One who makes and sets off bombs.

Thus, a homicide bomber, when refering to a person, is a person who kills another person by making and setting off bomb(s). McVeigh was a homicide bomber. Kaczynski was a homicide bomber. People who blow themselves and others up are homicide bombers.

However, since the point of this thread is neither McVeigh nor Kaczynski nor any of the other many people who have blown other people up but not themselves, might we just stick with the term suicide bomber which is more specific and more correct? I’m all for calling a square a rectangle, but lets be specific and call it a square, OK?

I can’t disagree, pld that recent editions of many dictionaries have capitulated to incorrect usage. I think that’s because they no longer see their mission as teaching language, but reflecting common usage. The trouble is that the common usage is the lowest common denominator. The writers of reference books should be striving to educate, but today they, and the teachers in the public schools, and the media hacks are more interested in ease and good looks than they are in enlightening the populace.

News in particular was once considered a valuable service to the public, delivered by people who were slected for their erudition as much as their skill in getting and reporting stories. Today it’s just entertainment. Sad.

Hey Geezer, guess what? Languages evolve. There’s no getting around that basic fact. I certainly was never taught that emphasis on different syllables indicated different parts of speech. But then, I’m just a whippersnapper.

This language seems to be devolving. If you were not taught the parts of speech and their relationship to pronunciation your education was deficient. Your inadequate education, or your inattention in English class (which is more likely) do not justify the devolution of the language. They are only excuses for laziness, which unfortunately are abetted by curent editions of dictionaries, as pldennison pointed out. My 1975 version of Webster’s New Twentieth Century Dictionary, Second Edition Unabridged, © 1975 gives separate pronunciations for words like “complex” for the noun and adjective definitions, and for the noun and verb forms of words like “conflict.”

pldennison also pointed out that broadcast writing is Standard Informal. But there is a difference between the written and the spoken word. Informal shouldn’t mean incorrect just because current editors of dictionaries have accepted sloppy speech. There is room for slang and a more relaxed style of speech, but not by the individuals who are supposed to exemplify the best in our language. Ignorance of the correct form merely demonstrates lack of education, in my opinion.

Says who?

Um, guess what? Grammar vares regionally just as accents do. There is no “correct” grammar, there is just grammar that is either understood or not.

See when Ug the caveman first invented language? It was perfect and pure and he was so proud. But the next day he was horrified to catch his son Oog deliberately saying “ugoo” instead of the correct “ugo”. Apparently it was “hipper” to say it that way and that’s how all the guys down the tar-pitt were saying it. From that day on all languages have been ruined, ruined I tell you, by people not speaking them correctly. It’s a wonder we can understand anything anyone says. Some day pretty soon we’re just going to take all languages back off people. If they can’t use them correctly then they shouldn’t have them at all, I say!

You are not serious? The responsibility for any language lies with those who speak it. Not any elite of any kind.

Everyone knows that TV people speak a particular variation of the language. When was the last time you heard anyone speak like a newscaster while out shopping? People would think they’re a nutter! The idea that the public are taking a lead in how to speak from them is ludicrous.

And the emphasis placed on syllables varies regionally and geographically as well. Are you going to tell everyone who doesn’t use the ‘standard’ (i.e. that defined by you because that’s what you use) that they are incorrect, inadequately educated, inattentive and lazy?

Your argument is a heap of crock.

I seem to vaguely remember a theory of linguistic that how, over time words change from sharp hard sounds to softer sounds. And how grammar changes to reflect higher usage, most often to become simpler and more streamlined.

Then again, I suppose everyone should have to memorize a dictionary so we know how to change the stress when we use the same word differently.

I vote we all get dictionaries from the 1850’s and make them modern acceptable english!

Desert Geezer, it is impossible for a language to devolve. Languages are constantly in flux, regardless of any baseless value judgements that may be placed upon such a state of flux.

It is not possible to prescribe any one given version of a language as “correct” or proper and actually have a language remain in stasis. One – and only one – criteria need be met for a given usage of a language to be considered correct. The lone criteria: that the target audience understands the message. Nothing else matters.

Mutually-understood, but non-standard, uses of English are perfectly legitimate in their contexts.

Oh, what the heck: if it’s a matter of such ímport, then let’s impórt diacritical marks. :wink: (or is it the other way around?)
Anyway, when was English’s Great Vowel Shift – back in the 1500’s or so? Why should anything like it not happen again?

Damn right! We should all speak English as it was intended, not as it is now. Those bastards that changed the language from Chaucer’s time should be exhumed and beated with a stick until they learn that only DesertGeezer understands proper English and that apparently “current” only has one “r” and “grammatical” only has one “m”.

From now on, I expect every newscaster to speak only in this manner as is right and proper:

Bifel that in that seson on a day,
In Southwerk at the Tabard as I lay
Redy to wenden on my pilgrymage
To Caunterbury with ful devout corage,
At nyght was come into that hostelrye
Wel nyne and twenty in a compaignye
Of sondry folk, by aventure yfalle
In felaweshipe, and pilgrimes were they alle,
That toward Caunterbury wolden ryde.
GP I.20-27

I for one applaud the refusal to capitulate. I’m intrigued by the resistance movement, and would like to subscribe to your newsletter.

I’d like to know a few things so I can more effectively do my part, though. What was the last year that dictionaries were correct? I’d like to use correct language that’s as up-to-date as possible. It looks like 1975 was good, but what about 1976? Is there a timeline of when Webster ran up the white flag?

Also, should I avoid terms that have come into use after the date that dictionaries surrendered, or is there a process by which such things are certified?

Well, to be fair, that’s what (English) dictionaries have always done. The Oxford English Dictionary was created by collecting examples of usage and compiling them, not as a teaching text. Dictionaries have always been intended to be reflective and not prescriptive.

As long as meaning is not obscured when describing something as a “complex problem,” I don’t really see the issue with it. I can understand why someone would, though.

You are correct. My poor grasp of the most basic fundamentals of the English language is quite apparent. Clearly I haven’t the slightest idea of the differences between nouns, verbs, and adjectives, nor of their proper usage. I am completely dumbfounded by the mind-boggling intricacies of gerunds, adverb and adjective phrases, prepositions, and other assorted gobbledygook. It’s a wonder I finished high school.


I don’t really have anything to say to the OP (I avoid the news like the plague).

However, I would like to know when Americans started pronouncing Harassment “Harrisment” and Why.

Why, God, Why?

Absolutely beautiful.