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Commentary on journalistic standards
Feb 20, 2014
A new reader, whose name I missed, commented on the disappearance of careful grammar and spelling in today’s newspapers.
The second Twisty Tongue ever printed (June 12, 1998) discussed the poor pronunciation of radio/TV announcers. Just four columns later (July 24, 1998), unintelligible writing was the topic.
Here’s an example of bad writing cited in that July column, Water War Rifts Iberia (Sun headline). I pointed out that rift is not a verb and may not be employed in this way.
Has the Sun improved since then? Ha! Consider this sub-title printed February 8, 2014, A Crackdown. . . is Totally Harshing Local Head Shop Owners’ Buzz.
Harshing? As with rift, harsh and its various forms — none of which is harshing — are not now, nor ever have been, verbs. That is, we cannot harsh someone or something.
The Free Press is also guilty of misusing words in headlines. In January, 2004, when Lloyd Axworthy, having retired from politics, returned to his home town, Winnipeg, a Free Press headline blared, Prodigal Returns.
Whatever else might be said of Axworthy, he cannot be considered prodigal. Clearly, this headline writer had no idea of prodigal’s meaning.
Another vocabulary-challenged copy editor wrote this in a December 2010 issue of the Sun: Justin Trudeau Declines to Apologize for Fur-flounting (Christmas) Card.”
There is no such word as flounting.  The writer probably meant flouting although the word he needed was flaunting. He demonstrated ignorance of these words’ meanings — flaunt (to exhibit ostentatiously; to show off);  flout (to scorn; to scoff).
Also, the preposition, to, is not normally used with the verb, decline. A better choice would have been either, “refuses to apologize,” or, “declines apology.”
Lie and lay continue to baffle journalists. Thus, the Sun wrote in June of 2013: “One man laid unconscious in a pool of his own blood.”
I’ve discussed lie/lay several times and will probably do so again one day.
Lead and led are especially abused by writers. I fear Spellcheck is to blame for most lead/led errors. It’s a sad fact that Spellcheck cannot alter a correctly spelled word whether or not it’s wrongfully used.
Led is a word. So is lead. Sometimes, they share the same pronunciation. Then, they’re what we call “homonyms”— words that sound the same but have different meanings and sometimes different spellings.
Spellcheck cannot tell when a homonym is incorrectly used. So, we get this in a Free Press editorial of May  1999: “The Orchestra has installed four men, lead by farm equipment maker, John Buhler.”
Even Reader’s Digest has made this error. In a June, 1999, story about a quadriplegic horsewoman, that magazine wrote, “One day as she lead Razz into the arena ...”
Huge confusion exists between infer and imply. Journalists are as confused as anyone else. Consider this: “The article inferred that budget saving measures were being considered” (Sun, February  2012).
Once publications employed proofreaders to catch spelling, punctuation and grammatical errors. With the advent of the computer, journalists became their own proofreaders.
Obviously, self-proofing leaves much to be desired.