Sweary acronyms... WTF??

wtf.jpg

So I'm just putting something out there with this post. How 'acceptable' do you think it is to publish - be it an online publication or in a social media post - an acronym which uses swear words?

Let me give you an example:

https://twitter.com/SophyRidgeSky/status/873782905176301568

Now let me be clear. There's absolutely no disrespect to Sophy Ridge here, who I think is an excellent journalist.

I'm just thinking... she, or any other journalist, probably wouldn't write the words "what the f**k" in print... but does it become 'acceptable' when it's written as an acronym?

Same with FFS.  Is this just the world we live in now?

Here's another example I spotted a few weeks ago:

https://twitter.com/KamahlAJE/status/866775909197647872

 

Would be interested in your f**king thoughts ;)

 

 

"Yasssssss"

It's been a very long time since I posted here, so apologies for that. But the reaction I had to a tweet today got me thinking, and I decided this was the best place to put it out there.

Here's the tweet in question:

https://twitter.com/KamahlAJE/status/837538183856283648

Okay, I know this is 'classic me'.  Pontificating about the decline in standards of the English language, and complaining about all these weird words the kids use these days.

But then came a reply... actually series of 11 tweets from a follower, Fly.  I've edited it down into one post here, just for ease of reading:

Kamahl, you keep asking questions like this.

21st century tech requires & facilitates a huge increase in CASUAL written language, whereas previously written language was mostly formal and did not reflect the casual structure, flexibility and playfulness of spoken language.

AAVE is the form of English with the greatest pop-cultural/cool cachet (although conversely it is regarded with snobbish disdain by those with a vested interest in maintaining a power structure which prioritises Anglo-American upper-middle class dialects and creates an artificial hierarchy of linguistics. This is snobbery).

AAVE and indeed all other dialects are complex and nuanced and effective.

Anyway, you will note that language is in a constant state of flux, and that includes stodgy mainstream speakers of formal English gradually becoming aware of terms like 'bae', 'on fleek', 'yasss' etc, and either grumbling about them or starting to awkwardly use them.

I mean - come on, Kamahl. You know this, really.  "Yasss kween" carries concise connotations which would be absent from "yes".  Ditto "yasss".  These things exist and gain traction only because they are functional and express something not currently being expressed effectively otherwise; possibly something as subtle as membership of a group, even.

Now, believe me when I say I appreciate a response like this.  Actually I think it's the second time I've had such a response from Fly.

There is undeniable logic behind what he/she says, and the reply makes a strong case for the evolution of language.  Of course, language must evolve.  It is a growing and dynamic medium, and indeed half the words we use today simply wouldn't have been around 100 years ago (I'm generalising here, but you know what mean!)

But personally, I don't buy into Fly's theory of "snobbish disdain by those with a vested interest in maintaining a power structure which prioritises Anglo-American upper-middle class dialects".

I'm not trying to be snobbish when I ask questions like I did.  I'm simply concerned that this is becoming the norm and that the 'real words' are being lost.  I worry about my eight-year-old daughter thinking that yasssss or any derivative of it is actually how you spell the word yes.  It's not.  Spelling IS important.  Real words ARE important.

untitled

On a similar level, I also wasn't a fan of the phonetic alphabet which kids are taught these days, although thankfully as they get older they revert to the regular ABCs rather than Ah-Buh-Cuh.

Yes I'm a traditionalist when it comes to language, but I'm also a realist.  You can't stop the march of youth, social media, and the changes those will bring.  Heck, 50 odd years ago it would have been considered 'wrong' to use a word like cool to describe something that's good, but these days I use it on-air!

Just as long as people, especially young people, are aware of etymology and where words come from and that they continue to be taught such things - not just by their teachers, but their elders and society in general.

Because yes, something might well be totes amazeballs... but if people don't know that phrase actually came from the words totally amazing, then we've got a problem...

Achingly astute: my latest linguistic hero

m775md_r.jpeg

First, I must tip my hat to my Al Jazeera Engish colleague Bernard Smith for emailing this link out to our whole newsroom.  I hope everyone reads it. Until today I'd never heard of Jeremy Butterfield.  He is (seeing as you asked) the editor of Fowler's Dictionary of Modern English Usage, and has written a brilliant Comment is Free article in today's Guardian newspaper:

http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/apr/03/bad-language-bugs-me

Jeremy is, I believe, a little bit like me.  Slightly pedantic, occasionally furious, but always passionate about defending the English language.  The examples he gives in his article are things I see creeping into journalism all the time - even TV journalism, which is supposed to be all about simplicity and speaking normally.

Jeremy - whether it's the linguist's hat or tinfoil hat you occasionally forget to don*, I'm glad you do.  English will of course evolve, as it must.  But isn't it equally, if not more important to use the language we already have and to use it properly?

Anything less would surely be 'unacceptable'!

*(there's one right there... who dons anything anymore?)

Public apology to Frances Cook

Upon rereading my last blog post, I felt an apology was in order.  Or at the least, a clarification. In my outraged criticism of the word medaled and its creeping into journalism, it struck me that it sounded like I was criticising the very person who SAID it and inspired me to write the blog.

To the contrary!

Frances Cook from NewstalkZB in New Zealand is an excellent journalist - and a great proponent of placing her tongue firmly in cheek.  She and I had some banter over the word, but I know she adheres to the highest writing standards in her professional career.

And if there were a Banter Olympics, I have no doubt she would medal (if not meddle too!)

Sorry, Frances!

The scourge of Verbing

verbing-weirds-language.jpg

It was a seemingly innocuous tweet by my friend (and journalist, I might add!) Frances Cook which reminded me of what, in my opinion, is one of the world's great unchecked grammar crimes: frantweet

Did you spot it?

No, it wasn't synchronised swimming - although I consider that to be one of the world's great unchecked sporting crimes.

It was the word medaled.

Medaled is an example of verbing, or verbification. Or as I prefer to call it, making a mess of the English language.

It is the conversion of a noun into a verb, and I have to admit in some cases is perfectly acceptable.  For example you may start with the word mail - as in a letter or a package - and extend that to I'm mailing it to you this afternoon.  Or mail's more modern cousin email - an electronic message - is naturally changed to he emailed it to the whole group last week.

So far, so good.

But medaled?  This is to say that he or she won a medal.  He only came fourth in the 100m final, but medaled in the 200m.  The United States medaled in seven events on Day 5 of the Olympic Games.  She's hoping to medal in at least two of the three competitions.

And that's one of the less offensive examples.  Whilst working at Channel Seven in Australia, I would hear about the football player who goaled in a match.  I recently read about American skier Lindsay Vonn becoming the winningest U.S. athlete in World Cups.

I'm sorry.  It just isn't right.  I know it's becoming acceptable to use such words, but when they creep into journalism I have a real issue with it.  Medaled is a particularly contentious one because it of course sounds like meddled.  If someone meddled in an event in the Olympic Games, that would be reason for concern rather than celebration.

But then perhaps I'm over-reacting.  After all, how many times a day do I and countless other people say things like this?

bits-verb3-blog480

I'd be interested in your thoughts on this one.  Perhaps I'm just being too pedantic!

Just one extra letter...

A quite astonishing story here from the UK: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/one-spelling-error-costs-companies-house-up-to-9-million-after-being-sued-for-ruining-business-10007372.html

You should read the full article... but the short story is that a company called Taylor and Sons was recorded as being in liquidation by Companies House - the UK Government agency which incorporates and dissolves companies.

Only it wasn't.

It was Taylor and Son - in the singular.

One letter added, and all hell breaks loose for a poor unassuming company.

Something tells me that Sent from my iPhone, please excuse typos definitely wouldn't cover this one!

A message to iPhone typ-ologists

iphone4

Very odd title I know.  I was trying to play on the word apologist but I don't think it worked.

Anyway...

I've lost track of the amount of times I've seen this block of text, or something similar, at the end of an email message:

Sent from my iPhone. Please excuse brevity, terseness, and typos

My response to that - as a fan of the English language - is no, why should I?

I think we can all agree that, to different extents, technology has made us lazy. We abbreviate a lot more than we used to... we sometimes revert 2 txt spk which I personally h8... and we send a lot more emails, texts and instant messages in a day than we ever did before.

But all that means that technology IS an acceptable part of life now. No-one is special or unique because they have a phone with a touchscreen keypad rather than a keyboard. So using technology as an excuse for not being accurate, or being terse in an email? Sorry, I don't buy it.

Sure if you're a journalist in a war-zone with bombs raining down, I think we'd forgive a bit of brevity. Actually wouldn't it be great to see an email signature that said "Sent from my iPhone in the middle of Iraq. Constantly have the s**t bombed out of me so, you know, sorry if I hit a few incorrect keys, dude."

But short of that scenario, the pedant in me can't find room for an excuse. Yes I blog about the English language so I'm likely to be a bit more fussy about such things. But I really do believe in standards, and I think they're taking a dive with all this fast-and-loose emailing. One starts to wonder where the everyday English language will be in another five or 10 years if this is how it's being treated now.

And consider this - if you were to make mistakes in an email typed from your computer, would you have an apologist signature there too?

"Sent from my computer keyboard. Please excuse typos... I'm just a bit rubbish"

Less vs Fewer: how to get it right!

fewless.jpg

So this is how pedantic I can be. I tweeted my last post by saying "The words of my mentor, Tony Ciprian, in 140 characters or less".

Of course, that should actually be fewer, not less.

And so I'm writing a whole new post to correct myself, and to explain the theory!

It appears a lot of people don't know how to use the two words. I didn't for some time.  But now I find myself shouting at the television whenever I hear broadcasters and guests using the wrong word in the wrong situation.

The basic rule is can what I'm talking about be counted?

And if it can, you want to go with fewer.

Are there less cars on the roads today? No, there are fewer cars on the roads today... because cars can be counted. However you could say there's less traffic on the roads... because traffic as a whole can't be counted.

Less cake? Yes, but fewer slices of cake.

Fewer raindrops... (admittedly not something you'd often say)... but less rain.

Less of a crowd. Fewer people.

Does it all make sense? Good. Now make sure you use the right one!

More here from Grammar Girl at quickanddirtytips.com

Cippo-isms

If you've read this blog before, you'll possibly know that my mentor Tony Ciprian died recently. Losing Cippo - and remembering all that he taught me - has brought on a very reflective period.

But in a professional sense, it's been constructive. It's made me look even harder at what I write and why I write it. I feel I've been subbing my scripts with more vigour, and with even less tolerance for 'flimflam' and sloppy writing.

Even this blog is a second draft.

It's also prompted me to trawl through Cippo's now-dormant twitter timeline... just to see if there were any more little nuggets there. Any more Cippoisms.

And the great man didn't disappoint:

  • 9 July 2013: "The Andy Murray headlines have ignored the fact that a Briton - Virginia Wade - won a Wimbledon singles title in 1977"
  • 3 April 2013: "I wish my lawn had stunted growth"
  • 20 February 2013: "When will some journos learn? Cars don't lose control - drivers do"
  • 8 December 2012: "Journos... stop writing crap about something or someone bringing closure to a situation. There is never closure... ask the victim"
  • 20 October 2012: "Please sports presenters and newsreaders - it's triathlon... not triathalon"
  • 29 May 2012: "We are not alone. Lots of Aussies also say 'somethink' instead of 'something'"

I can't really argue with him on any of those points. They're perfect examples of the kind of cliches, mistakes, and misguided phrases we should all be working to remove from our journalism.

Oh and there was one more, seemingly-random tweet of his which I found:

  • 9 April 2012: "Hey mate, you're (sic) ego is now bigger than all outdoors"

You'll note it doesn't mention anyone in particular.

But a quick sift through my own timeline around the same time reveals a pointless and self-indulgent hashtag called #KamahlFacts.

With that in mind, I'm pretty sure I know who he was talking about!

Thanks Cippo. Love your work.

In defence of the word "selfie"

49c51b26-6872-4919-8c92-351968e6599f_560_420.jpg

tumblr_ms9bszjhTq1qdpad7o1_500 So here's a blog from my good friend Glen McKay, in which he responds to my earlier post on bringing back old words.

http://qatarskeptic.blogspot.com/2015/01/in-defense-of-word-selfie.html

Far from being full of flapdoodle, Glen's a smart guy... and he puts forward an interesting and solid case for why some words fall out of use.

Put simply, easier and more generation-appropriate words come into usage and replace old ones.  His example was the word penultimate - which two of his former flatmates didn't know - and which has been replaced by the basic second-to-last.

Glen also defends the word selfie which I have no problem with.  That one definitely IS here to stay!

I guess I'm just an old romantic when it comes to words, Glen. To me, a quick obambulate around the market on a Sunday afternoon sounds positively ambrosial :)

"The ________ singer"

This is something that's bugged me for years, and was brought to my attention again yesterday by my friend Hilton Mashonga. There's a formulaic tendancy by some print journalists to refer to an artist/singer/band by their songs.

They'll start the article by using their name, but in the next sentence will devolve into a bizarre sentence structure which references a song.  Allow me to demonstrate:

 

The angry ‘cease and desist’ letter demands that the Thriller singer’s former doctor stop giving interviews to media, or face legal action - Daily Mail, 28 November 2013

The former Disney star was spotted with Orlando Bloom and the Baby singer's best friend Alfredo Flores at Los Angeles International Airport on 20 October - International Business Times, 22 October 2014

The “Wrecking Ball” singer has been dating Patrick since early November - New York Daily News, 20 December 2014

 

Three examples there which I got simply by googling the names of songs by Michael Jackson, Justin Bieber, and Miley Cyrus.

What's my gripe here?

Simple.

No-one actually talks like that.

Bringing back old words

web-word-warriors-superstock-gettySo here's a wonderful article I read recently in The Independent newspaper in the UK. Well, I think it's wonderful. Wayne State University in Michigan is bucking the trend of bringing new words into the lexicon, and instead encourages people to bring back old words which have fallen out of use.

So no more selfie and totes amazeballs (oh good lord, don't even start me on that one... my AJE newsroom rant on it is legendary for those who witnessed it).

Instead we could have caterwaul (a shrill howling or wailing noise) or perhaps opsimath (a person who begins to study late in life).

Read the full article here

Lazy language: some questions

FullSizeRender

Think of this is an immediate followup to my last post, where I bemoaned the "ability" of journalists to draw from a well of boring and often-nonsensical 'stock phrases'.

The following is an excerpt from a fantastic book about the English language called Many a True Word.  It's written by Richard Anthony Baker, a man who spent 30 years as a journalist at the BBC.  His writing is brilliant and I really do recommend the book.  It's one you can actually learn something from!

Under the subtitle LAZY LANGUAGE: SOME QUESTIONS Baker writes the following:

Why are readers so often avid?  Is a beautiful speaking voice not just a beautiful voice?  Has anyone heard of a dirty bill of health?  Does anyone aspire to be just a pianist, rather than a concert pianist?  Why is a hoax so frequently elaborate?  Why do we talk about free gifts?  Aren't gifts always free?  What is rude about good health?  Shall we banish light entertainment until someone invents heavy entertainment?  Need an old age be ripe?  Are you allowed to be a recluse or must you always be something of a recluse?  Are campaigners always tireless?  Is it possible to be unaware without experiencing bliss?  May we talk about obscurity rather than virtual obscurity?  And will you allow me to be inadequate rather than woefully inadequate?

First of all, you can see where some of the inspiration for my last posting came from!

But Baker is so right.  Ripe old age... woefully inadequate... blissfully unaware... tireless campaigner... elaborate hoax... these are all phrases which we lean-on in our writing for no real reason.  Sure there's nothing technically wrong or incorrect about them... that is, except for their overuse... and it's that which turns them into those lazy stock phrases.

Richard Anthony Baker has another section in Many a True Word called SOME WORDS AND PHRASES THAT DAILY TELEGRAPH JOURNOS MUST NOT USE... but I'll save that for another time!

Why did you write that? No, really...

One of the biggest issues I have with journalism and writing these days are what I call 'stock phrases' My friend Simon Torkington ('tvscriptwriter' on Wordpress) has written about such things before, but I know he'd appreciate me banging on about it again.

Stock phrases are the things people write without even thinking.  Phrases, words, descriptions which have been used a thousand times before, and so people seem to think the thousand-and-first time won't matter.

News flash: it DOES matter.

What am I talking about exactly?  Here is just a small, small sample...

  • Why is tension always 'palpable'?
  • Have you noticed when it rains a lot how 'roads turn into rivers'?
  • Your fellow countrymen?  Erm, that'd just be your countrymen.
  • Have you ever really heard a 'gunshot ring out'? I'd say it did more than ring!
  • Wow that debate is really 'raging' isn't it...
  • 'But for the families, nothing will bring their loved ones back'... yep, that's because they died in a massive hurricane/flood/plane crash.
  • People always seem to 'flee their homes' in times of trouble.  That MAY well be true, but they may have also calmly walked out of their house.

Do you see where I'm coming from?  These are the type of stock phrases we hear ad nauseum, particularly in television news. And why? Because writers simply default to them without thinking.

My advice, for what it's worth?  Write like you talk.  Within reason of course, but broadly speaking just try to write like a normal person.

And if you DO actually use those sorts of phrases when you speak?... well, that's beyond my brief I'm afraid!

In praise of Tony Ciprian: 1932-2015

IMG_1582 I only started writing this blog about a week ago. I didn’t think I’d have to use it quite so soon to mark the passing of a writing great.

But so I find myself writing about Tony Ciprian in the past tense. He was 82 and unwell, so we can’t exactly call it a shock. What is a shock though is the immense gap I now feel in my professional career as a result of his passing. Countless other New Zealand journalists who worked with him will feel the same.

Cippo, as we called him, was unashamedly old school. Gruff, no-nonsense, often a right royal pain-in-the-backside… but extraordinarily gifted in his ability to write – particularly for television – and to pass on that knowledge to young journalists.

Imagine me, an 18-year-old nobody walking into the TV3 newsroom in Auckland for my first day of work experience back in 1998. Armed with bullet-proof/misguided confidence in myself, I’d managed to convince the Director of News Mark Jennings he should give me a shot on his team, despite having zero experience or qualifications. For whatever reason he agreed. And so I walked in that day with dreams of learning from the greats. Perhaps I’d even get to make them coffee!

But Mark knew I liked sport, so he sent me out to Eden Park with a cameraman to get some match footage of a domestic cricket match. I came back to the office that afternoon, having duly shot-listed everything the cameraman had filmed, and thought my work was done.

But instead of sitting me down quietly in a corner to think about how lucky I was, Mark introduced me to Cippo. He told him I had the cricket footage and that we should put together a match report for the news that night.

What must Cippo have thought? I never asked him, but it was probably something like “Skinny little teenage runt, no experience, and here’s the boss telling me to do something news-worthy with him. Are you f**king kidding?!”

To be honest, that day is a bit of a blur. But with Cippo’s guidance I somehow put together a report that night. With a slightly shaky voice and a very strong Kiwi accent, I became “Kamahl Santamaria, 3 News” that day, and stayed as such for the next three years.

In those three years, Tony Ciprian gave me the kind of grounding I think every journalist should have. He taught me the basics… how to write succinct and snappy scripts… how to avoid cliches (which in sports reporting is an art in itself)… how to be accurate and efficient… basically, how to do my job properly.

He also taught me the kind of rules I find myself repeating to other journalists today:

“You pronounce it KILO-METRE, not kill-OMM-itter!” “He won the final set to take out the match? Where did he take it out to… dinner?” “If you ever start a report with ‘Meet so-and-so’ I will kick your arse Santamaria…”

It could be arduous at times. Cippo was a hard taskmaster. He didn’t stand for any nonsense. If you disappointed Cippo, you knew it. And believe me, you never wanted to disappoint the guy. Not necessarily because he’d tear you a new one if he was in the wrong mood, but because his approval really meant something. What he didn’t know about journalism wasn’t worth knowing… so just imagine if you managed to impress a man of that stature?

I’m 16 years into my career now, and increasingly I wish all young journalists had a Cippo to start them off on the right track. For years I’ve seen them coming into newsrooms without a clue, just like I did, but believing they’re ready for the big league. They need someone to tell them that while they’ve just gotten themselves a journalism degree and have landed a great job, they actually know nothing about how the real game works… and that they need to sit down, shut up, and learn from someone who’s been around the traps.

That’s what Cippo did with me and so many other New Zealand journalists. He moulded and guided and shaped us – sometimes without us even realising – and turned us into half-decent reporters. We all still use the basics which Cippo taught us. They hold us in good stead. They keep us honest. They remind us of how we should be doing our jobs.

At age 20 I was producing nightly sports bulletins for TV3 News. For someone of that age to be doing that job was rare, and it only came about because of what I learnt from Tony Ciprian.

At one stage, veteran TV3 reporter Bob McNeil started calling me Mini Cippo. It was a good joke and the nickname stuck (along with a few others) but in truth, it was an honour to be given such a ‘title’.

Go well, Cippo. I’m sorry we didn’t keep in touch more in your later years. If we had, I would have simply said ‘thank you’, you grumpy old bastard.

I would not be where I am today without you.

Just starting out...

I love words. I have stacks of books about the English language.

But as a journalist who's worked almost exclusively in television for over 16 years, I'm the first to admit my failings when it comes to grammar.

So I'm always trying to improve and to learn more about English - because it is an extraordinary language.  When used properly, it is beautiful.  But then sometimes I can't believe how LITTLE sense it makes as well!

And as a journalist, I sometimes can't believe what some people try to pass off as writing.

(Not to suggest for a moment that my writing is perfect, but I do try to avoid the obvious traps!)

So my plan is to use this blog to sound off (some might say 'rant'!) about the words I see and hear, to promote the best work, and to provide little tidbits of information on grammar and pronunciation which I come across.

Will be back soon...