4.11.2018

Prehistoric Prescriptionism

The correcting of English usage is now as common in comic strips as slipping on a banana peel used to be.

Non Sequitur

3.23.2018

Hands-off Editing in The New York Times

Print journalism is often thrown together hastily and unintended wordplay is sometimes the result.

In today’s New York Times there is a story headlined Uber’s Self-Driving Cars Were Struggling Before Arizona Crash in which the following passage appears:

A video shot from the vehicle’s dashboard camera showed the safety driver looking down, away from the road. It also appeared that the driver’s hands were not hovering above the steering wheel, which is what drivers are instructed to do so they can quickly retake control of the car. 
Then just two paragraphs later:
Unlike California, where Uber had been testing since spring of 2017, Arizona state officials had taken a hands-off approach to autonomous vehicles and did not require companies to disclose how their cars were performing.
Or is it possible that the reporter is making a deliberate play on words?

Not The Times’ style.

3.22.2018

“Tape” Sticks Around

I’ve written before on this blog about how the word “tape” continues to be used in this digital era to mean “recording,” both as a noun and a verb.

I was struck again by this yesterday when on NPR a correspondent kept referring to the video confession the Austin bomber left on his cellphone as a “tape.”

I decided to look for other examples. Here are just a few out of many:
CNN:
The man suspected in a series of bombings in Austin, Texas is dead, after he confessed on tape and set off an explosive in his car during a police chase.

www.fox4news.com:
Austin serial bomber left behind confession tape

The Daily Caller:
Austin Police discovered a confession tape from the bombing suspect where he detailed how he made the bombs, the police chief said Wednesday.

The National:
The man suspected in a series of bombings in Austin, Texas is dead, after he confessed on tape and set off an explosive in his car during a police chase.

Sean Hannity:
BOMBER’S CONFESSION: Austin MADMAN Left Behind 25 MINUTE Confession Tape

New York Post:
Austin bomber left videotaped confession, police say

Newser:
[In this case “cellphone recording” is used in the subhead to the story, but in its body the writers resort to “tape.” Clearly they didn’t do this to save space since it’s usually in headlines that shorter words are preferred.]
Cops Find ‘Confession’ From Austin Bombing Suspect
25-minute cellphone recording found with Mark Conditt
Police have discovered a 25-minute recording on a cellphone found with bombing suspect Mark Conditt, and Austin Police Chief Brian Manley says he considers it a “confession,” the AP reports. He said at a news conference Wednesday that Conditt talks on the recording in great detail about the differences among the bombs he built. Manley says the tape is "the outcry of a very challenged young man."
I suspect the source of the above and many other stories is a much-quoted passage from an Associated Press story, quoted by Fox News and many other news outlets:
ROUND ROCK, Texas (AP) — Police have discovered a 25-minute recording on a cellphone found with bombing suspect Mark Conditt and Austin Police Chief Brian Manley says he considers it a "confession."

Manley says at a news conference that Conditt talks on the recording in great detail about the differences among the bombs he built.

He says that the tape is “the outcry of a very challenged young man.”
In fact Manley consistently called it a “recording,” not a “tape.”

You can hear him at the press conference, five minutes in. The rest consists mostly of officials congratulating each others’ agencies, none of them mentioning the recording.

But during the question-and-answer period though one male reporter calls it a “video recording.” a female reporter uses the word “tape.”

So it looks like that one reference perhaps triggered the word “tape” in the AP writer’s brain and he or she associated it with the police chief’s presentation. And voilà, it’s all over the newsscape.






3.19.2018

More Fulsome

My entry for the word “fulsome” in my book says this:
fulsome 
In modern usage, “fulsome” has two inconsistent meanings. To some people it means “offensive, overdone,” so “fulsome praise” to them would be disgustingly exaggerated praise. 
To other people it means “abundant,” and for them “fulsome praise” is glowingly warm praise.
The first group tends to look down on the second group, and the second group tends to be baffled by the first. Best to just avoid the word altogether.
But now I have to add another note. Representative Trey Gowdy, Chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform panel, responded to President Trump’s criticisms of Robert Mueller ’s investigation of his campaign's connections with Russia by saying, “If you’ve done nothing wrong, you should want the investigation to be as fulsome and thorough as possible.”


Gowdy not only thinks the word has positive connotations, he thinks it’s a synonym for “thorough.”

It’s easy to see how that first syllable would lead someone to think that it is an apt label for an investigation that will go fully into the facts. Now that it’s all over the news, I suppose we’ll be hearing more of it.

2.19.2018

Non Sequitur on Usage

English usage continues to be a very popular theme in newspaper comics. In the old days, it was all about banana-peel slips; now it’s linguistic slips.

http://www.gocomics.com/nonsequitur/2018/02/19

2.06.2018

Trumpspeak

This is a very good analysis by Columbia linguist John McWhorter of Trump’s unusual ways of speaking in public.

What Trump’s Speech Says About His Mental Fitness