by Robert Winter
We've heard plenty about journalistic hype and its ill effects. What's been underremarked is the other kind of fantasy world news writers create, out of words that are impossibly blah and archaic.
In journalism, any kind of dissociation from reality is a problem. In the interest, therefore, of returning us to a world that really exists, the following are nominated for banishment to the crossword puzzle:
Motorist. A motorist is somebody who goes motoring--as in,"To-day, Daphne and I shall motor to the seashore, for the air and bathing." Now, there are a lot of people doing a lot of strange things on the public highways, but how long has it been since anybody has seen one of these?
Fled. Appropriate for the Count of Monte Cristo or the imperiled Royal House of Sihanouk. Inappropriate for the punk teenager with the hot VCR under his arm.
Persons. There's been a horrible accident. A woman bursts into a store and gasps out what she's seen: "Some seven persons got hit by a bus." Does that sound any more plausible to you than it does to me?
Officials. If your only contact with the world was through the news, you'd swear everyone was walking around with a badge.
This usage is also bothersome because it's usually a copout. The reporter didn't talk to anybody whose job title would convince you he knew what he was talking about, so suddenly an obscure functionary became an "official."
Slain. Can be outright dangerous. It describes the condition of the dragon after St. George got done with it, and it connotes all kinds of romantic derring-do. It shouldn't be applied to the aftermath of a drug deal gone sour, or a bar fight where some character sticks a broken beer bottle into somebody else's face.
Sped. More car stuff, but this is a recurrent area of offense. For starters, try and come up with any conceivable use of the word by Car and Driver. Now picture a scene where it's likely to be used in FuddyDuddySpeak. Say, a getaway:
A panicky guy with a corkscrew haircut stomps the gas pedal halfway into the engine compartment. The rear end squats down; there's a shriek and a blunderbuss spray--pebbles, smoke, cigarette filters, whatever else was in the gutter. With a mighty lurch, some rusted old Plymouth is bounding out onto Central
Avenue--snarling, howling, going every way but straight.
It reminds me of my grandmother. She once looked in on a televised football game and asked, "Why do they all fall down?"
As fine an old lady as Granny was, I'm not sure I'd want her refereeing a football game. Neither would I want to find that kind of noncomprehendingly passive view of the world in anybody who was supposed to be running a country.
That's what the American people are supposed to do, and what they're getting in their information from the news media is too much passive-view Granny.
Let's hear it for some straight English.
(c) COPYRIGHT 1974 ROBERT WINTER. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.