Errors of Language Usage in Radio · Resu-Card (RegTM)
 
 
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WE'RE KILLING THE LANGUAGE
 
··· As featured on CBC ···
 
BY HOWARD EARLE HALPERN, MA, CPRW


Prologue

Weather is forecast
for Wednesday,

And skies are expected
over most of Southern Ontario

Contrary to reports on several area (click for
definition) radio stations, there will not be a mix of sun and clouds, for the simple reason that if these entities were to combine, the sun having a temperature slightly above the boiling point of water, the clouds would evaporate and cease to exist.

Meaty urologist Dr. Meinzina Fog has argued that the clouds' moisture would extinguish the sun's fire. However, we are confident the sun would continue to shine, even in the presence of water vapour.

Alternative forecasts notwithstanding, the high temperature will be neither "getting up to" nor "reaching" 15 degrees (be they Celsius, Fahrenheit or Kelvin), because if it were in the process of rising to a level greater than its current value, it could not possibly be the high temperature. Similarly, for reasons not evident to many forecasters, the low temperature is not in the process of "dipping down" to 3 degrees.

Nor do we depict the prospect of scattered showers as a "risk" or "threat," because they pose neither. In fact, the opposite is true. It is the absence, not presence, of such precipitation that poses risk, for without it, vegetation ceases to grow, and our food supply dries up.

Moreover, our forecast, unlike that of one area station, does not "call for" weather conditions, favourable or unfavourable, because a forecast is created by one who predicts. It is the person, not the forecast, that calls for the predicted event. Even if the forecast, an abstraction, had the capacity to call for something, so stating would be redundant, since most people — meaty urologists excepted — understand that predicting, or "calling for," things is inherent in the forecasting process.

Now, finally, our official Résu-Card ®  weather guarantee. If we err by more than 5 basis points in either direction, we will establish a fund to educate urologists, carnivorous and otherwise, in elementary logic and grade-three science, not only here in the great, redundant Northeast but throughout the entirety of Federation space.

Radio broadcasts cited here originate in the greater metropolitan areas of Toronto, Hamilton, Kitchener, Niagara (Ontario, Canada) or Buffalo (New York, US). The prologue is adapted from a poem by Howard Earle Halpern originally published in the University of Regina Carillon during 1971-72.

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We're Killing the Language

AN ESSAY BY HOWARD EARLE HALPERN, MA (PSYCH), CPRW
Certified Professional Resume Writer

The prologue was written with two motives:
  • To expose linguistic incompetence among those who represent themselves as professional communicators.
  • To encourage all writers to be more careful with language. All writers, including myself.
The discussion of language is relevant not only because it is the most basic tool of a writer, but because the Professional Association of Resume Writers and Career Coaches [ 1 ] deems correct usage so important it will not certify candidates unless they demonstrate competence in this area. Apart from the desire to promote excellence, the association takes this stand because in a recent survey, over 80% of employer respondents stated they would reject a resume if it contained even a single grammatical error.

How Language Is Changing

Language has rules. So does logic. We live in an age wherein people despise rules. They want freedom to do as they wish, not rules to constrain them. People argue, "Who cares if language is not used correctly?" The important thing is that we understand each other, and we do. Linguistic correctness, like political correctness, is a bogus issue.

It is true that people usually do understand each other, at least factually... if not emotionally. But understanding is useful only to the extent that meaning is conveyed, and the capacity of language to convey meaning is on the decline, for two reasons:

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  1. Our language is losing words

    • This phenomenon was brought to light in January 1999, when the word "niggardly" was used by a top Washington, D.C., aide [ 2 ]. He was pressured to resign because uneducated persons confused the word with a pejorative one referring to black people. The aide was subsequently rehired.

    • To be fair, the word that created the fuss does sound like the other word and perhaps should be banished in order to avoid unnecessarily hurting people's feelings. On the other hand, it shows how quick some people are to forfeit the basic building blocks of our language.

  1. Valuable words are losing their unique meaning

    • One such word is "venue." The best way to understand this phenomenon is to consult an old dictionary, for example, Random House, 1973, which defines venue as "the place of a crime or cause of action." It is a legal definition, as are the next three that follow. The fifth definition is "the scene or locale of any action or event." That is the meaning most often attached to the word today.

    • A similar definition is given by the Canadian Oxford, which was introduced in February 1998 and has already gained wide acceptance as the standard for English in this country. The first definition for the word venue is "an appointed site or meeting place, as for a sports event, meeting, concert." The Oxford gives two legal definitions, but they are pushed back to the end of the list. Thus, the unique sense of the word has been lost.
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In truth, dictionaries like Oxford no longer set the standard for English. People set the standard through casual usage. Dictionaries pander to the majority [ 3 ] and apply the seal of approval to their unwitting choices.

This is not to imply that dictionaries like the Oxford are useless or bad. On the contrary, they do much more good than harm. However, there was a time when dictionaries were pre scriptive, not merely de scriptive, i.e., one could look to them for judgment as to good or bad, right or wrong. In fact, according to English Plus, the first dictionaries in England and America were prescriptive. (As of July 2006, the article on this topic was located here.)

English Plus cites Samuel Johnson's Dictionary of the English Language (1755) and Noah Webster's American Dictionary of the English Language (1828) as prescriptive works. As for the Canadian Oxford, it is evident from the preface of the 1998 edition that its mission is not to preserve standards, but to reflect contemporary linguistic usage.

Whether the populace at large have the capacity to make good linguistic decisions is moot, because they haven't the slightest interest in the subject. People use words and phrases they think will appeal to those with whom they associate. They hear the word venue used in legal context and think it means "location."

Most do not look up the word to discover its nuances, not because they're stupid or don't know how, but because the question is at or beneath the bottom of their priority list. "Venue" sounds better than "location," and for this reason alone — not because it is linguistically more appropriate — people prefer it. This is how the decision is made and the language destroyed.

I use the word "destroyed" advisedly. We now have two words that mean exactly the same thing, that is, "location." Previously, we had a word with a unique, legal context. When that word was spoken, educated people knew a legal matter was being discussed. Now they don't. The meaning is gone; once gone, it is unlikely anyone will be able to revive it.

Footnotes

  1. The world's first such association, est. 1990, with several hundred members.

  2. The Washington aide was David Howard, head, Office of Public Advocate.

  3. The pandering process is indirect. Dictionaries do not necessarily conduct surveys or public opinion polls. They consult published works. However, these works are broad in scope. E.g., the Canadian Oxford included newspapers, theatre programs, grocery store flyers and Canadian Tire catalogues among its sources.
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How Radio Is Killing the Language

A COMEDY OF ERRORS

Click
here for a list of errors (including omissions, redundancies, euphemisms, illogical constructions and nonsensical phrases) uttered by professional radio broadcasters — all of which can be heard regularly, some frequently, from Toronto.

When this essay was first published, in May 2001, satellite radio did not exist in Canada. Now it does, and because it is ubiquitous, we have expanded the scope of this essay to include it. At present, we subscribe only to XM Radio; therefore, Sirius Satellite Radio is not represented here, except where the two services overlap.

Regarding the above-mentioned errors, some of them are so deeply ingrained that even when we try hard to rid ourselves of them, we can't (there are a few with which I myself continue to struggle).

Just as we do not denigrate lexicography, neither do we denigrate broadcasting, which serves many useful functions. In fact radio, from which we have culled our examples of incorrect linguistic usage, is a wonderful medium for two reasons:

  • It allows productive people to acquire valuable knowledge about society while performing menial tasks. I, for example, enjoy listening to talk radio while washing dishes and preparing meals. It costs no time. Although television has a visual advantage, I pay for every second I watch it.

  • Talk radio provides excellent insight as to the prevailing ideas, values and attitudes of our time.
Furthermore, some radio broadcasters heard from Toronto have demonstrated the ability to use language correctly on a consistent basis. They are listed below; several are accessible via satellite. Items within categories are ordered alphabetically by last name. Categories are ordered alphabetically by first entry. The following information is accurate as of this writing (September 2006): In addition the following broadcasters were eloquent when on radio: Doubtless there are others who will make this list once I have had time to check them out carefully. In broadcasting as in all fields, the best are excellent, the worst terrible. In radio, the worst elevate the term egregious to an entirely new level of depth.

In Ontario, as elsewhere in North America, government is significantly raising educational standards with respect to linguistic competence. In fact, our provincially-regulated curriculum is changing so rapidly many teachers can't keep pace.

How wonderful it would be if professional broadcasters would participate in upgrading linguistic standards. Instead, we have this:

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What They Said
What They Meant
whole n'other
whole other
sounds like it is ...
sounds as though it is ...
looks like it is ...
looks as though it is ...
far as ...
as far as ... is concerned
less items
fewer items
less ... compared to
less ... than
three times more than
three times as much as
three times more likely than
three times as likely as
three times faster than
three times as fast as
upwards of
over
different than
different from
different to
not so big of a deal
not so big a deal
being that
because
in regards to
in regard to
with regards to
with regard to
very unique
very unusual
quote unquote ...
quote ... end quote

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THREE TIMES FASTER THAN

I can peruse this site three times faster than you. Think about it. Not only can I read this site faster than you, but I can also read it faster than you. And in addition, I can read it faster than you. The eye is quicker than the brain.

DIFFERENT THAN

The Associated Press Stylebook and Libel Manual prescribes "from," not "than." Does any journalist read it?

VERY UNIQUE

Unique means "only." There are no degrees of uniqueness. And yet, the broadcaster who gets this one right is unique indeed.


plus
and
lay
lie
around
concerning
raise
rise
verbal
oral
I'm good
I'm well
if you will
forgive my inability to communicate
we
you
data is
data are
media is
media are

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VERBAL

If we used verbal to mean "spoken or written" and oral to mean "spoken," the latter would have unique value. People typically use "verbal" to mean "oral." People say "verbal agreement" when they mean "oral agreement." Technically, the term "verbal agreement" is literarily impoverished. It indicates that the agreement is more than tacit, but could be either spoken, written or both.

MEDIA

You would think that broadcasters would want to get at least this one right. "Media" is a plural word that has "medium" as its singular.

DATA

The data clearly suggest that even scientists interviewed on radio can't use this word correctly.


highs (pl.) near 25 degrees
high near 25 degrees
it feels more like 30 degrees
it feels like 30 degrees
mild
freezing
traffic and weather together
traffic and weather
volume (of traffic)
high volume
to approaching the (highway) 400
almost to the 400
and now, with Toronto's
most frequent traffic reports
and now, with Toronto's
most frequent traffic report
and now, with Toronto's
most frequent traffic updates
and now, with Toronto's
most frequent traffic update
official
unofficial
segment
portion
went missing
is missing
in the overnight
overnight
during the overnight
for the overnight
fighting broke out
human beings killed others
war broke out
put down
killed

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IT FEELS MORE LIKE 30 DEGREES

Really? How much more? If the actual temperature is 20, the felt temperature could be 21, since 21 is closer to 30 than is 20. In fact, 39 is closer to 30 than is 20. The temperature that feels "more like 30" is greater than 20 and less than 40. Not very precise for a station that guarantees accuracy within 3 degrees.

FIGHTING BROKE OUT

Have you noticed that killing seems to happen by itself, as though nobody actually does it? If it can be said that word invokes thought and thought affects behaviour, is it any wonder people today fail to accept personal responsibility for their actions? Is this the kind of society in which you want to live?


each and every
each
way, shape or form
way
continue on
continue
ongoing
continuing
gonna
going to
early on
early
for free
free
centre around
centre on
try and
try to
coming up on
almost
still to come, we
in a moment, we
hopefully
I hope
one hopes

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ONGOING

It's not that ongoing is bad. But it's rare that it serves the purpose better than the traditional word "continuing." If something goes on and on and on and on, like an exercise course, and you need to keep taking it for the sake of your health, it's ongoing. But if it happened yesterday, is happening today, will happen tomorrow, then will stop, it's merely "continuing."

GONNA

I hear very few broadcasters say "going to." I hear many say "gonna." I attribute it to two things: laziness and habit. I have been trying to break the habit myself, so far with little success. However, I remain optimistic (see
hopefully). I have heard only one broadcaster consistently get this one right: American talk-show host Art Bell.

FOR FREE

Free is an adjective, not a noun. There is a free lunch, but absolutely nothing is for free.

TRY AND

To try and do something is to (a) try it and (b) succeed in it, not merely to try it. If only broadcasters' optimism could rise to such level of linguistic incompetence.

HOPEFULLY

I hope someday we can stop using the word "hopefully" to modify an entire sentence. It's difficult, but I am
going to stick with it until I succeed.


they
he
she
them
him
her
commonalities
things in common
fan base
sports fans
RBIs
RBI (runs batted in)
solution
beneficial product or service
equal housing lender
equal-opportunity housing lender
satisfaction guaranteed
or your money back
money refunded
if not satisfied
pre-owned
used
dysfunctional
typically functional
survivor
A REAL LIVE PERSON (TM)
emotional intelligence
emotional understanding
epiphany
insight
democracy
participatory democracy
dictatorship
representative democracy

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THEY

It is possible to use "they" as plural, avoid saying "he or she," and not be sexist — all at the same time. It does require a little effort.

COMMONALITIES

Commonality, the singular, means "ordinary people," as opposed to those with station or rank. It doesn't mean what people think. However, by vice of the fact people use it incorrectly, ignorant of its historical meaning, Oxford not only capitulates to mediocrity by incorporating the popular definition, but advances it to the front of the list. As broadcasters dumb down to retain audience, lexicographers dumb down to retain readership. Doubtless, the technique works for both media.

SOLUTION

A solution is an answer to a problem. Several years ago, businesses thought it would be a good idea to sell solutions, rather than products or services. They never did get around to saying what problem would be solved. That's because it's not a good idea to tell people you're trying to sell to that they have problems. People don't like to be told that they have problems. It's negative and insulting. Businesspeople believe in being positive.

The use of "solution" without a problem reminds me of people who use pronouns without antecedents. If you listen to Dr. Laura on the radio, you will see that callers often say "he" without indicating who the person is. Dr. Laura has to ask them who they're talking about. Invariably, it's the husband, but until the caller says so, no one really knows for sure.

Selling a solution to a person without a problem is like selling gasoline to someone who is vehicularly challenged and spent all his money on an annual TTC (Toronto Transit Commission) pass.

PRE-OWNED

Used cars are pre-owned. So are brand new ones. The brand new ones are owned by dealers. Prior to that, they were owned by the manufacturer. I understand businesspeople like to be positive. When coupled with accuracy and intellect, positivity can really be a good thing. I highly recommend all three.

DEMOCRACY

I am flummoxed at the number of broadcasters who claim to cherish democracy, but don't know what the concept means. In Canada and the United States, it means "representative democracy." You elect someone to represent you, but the elected person is not legally obligated to represent you.

Broadcasters get frustrated when they discover politicians' behaviour does not correspond to constituents' desires. Their frustration is understandable, but so, with a little effort, is the concept of representative democracy. The truth is that most people are not willing to devote much time or effort towards politics. They prefer to let George do it, then complain when he doesn't do it well. It may not be a conscious choice. It is, nonetheless, most people's choice.

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United States and Canada

REGIONAL DISPARITIES

Just after midnight on May 27, I listened to various New York and Chicago talk-radio stations for an hour, but detected only one major linguistic error. I was not much interested in the programming and therefore able to concentrate on usage. It is not likely I missed anything.

It is rare I observe such accuracy with respect to Toronto area stations. For example, the previous evening, tuning to local stations, I could not listen more than five minutes without witnessing a major gaffe.

New York City is more than twice as large as Toronto. But Chicago is only slightly larger than the Canadian city. Chicago thus serves as an excellent basis of comparison — considering the two municipalities have roughly an equal population from which to draw talent.

Since May 27, I have spent hours listening to U.S. stations outside the Toronto area (as defined above). Not once have I heard any of the egregious errors cited in my forecast. Sun and clouds remain distinct entities. The temperature, at a given maximum (or minimum), does not fluctuate. The mere existence of a rain shower is not deemed risky or threatening.

Since greater Buffalo is in our local area, and linguistic abominations emanate frequently from that municipality, it should be mentioned that I have yet to hear a forecasting error on Buffalo's National Public Radio station, WNED, at 970 AM on the dial. In fact, this station stands out from all the rest. I have heard far fewer linguistic errors of any kind on WNED than on any other station in the Toronto area, including those of our own publicly-funded network, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.

I have observed in residents of Canada, over the last several years, an increasingly competitive (if not hostile) attitude towards Americans, particularly in regard to matters cultural. Given this phenomenon, is it possible that publishing the above-mentioned findings on this site — for all to see — will sufficiently embarrass Toronto stations into raising their linguistic standards?

If so, I am confident this essay will have served a useful purpose.

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Review

JOHN ROBERT COLOMBO

"Your site ... looks to me to be a site that is well worth reading, perusing, and pondering. These few screens are worth dozens of chapters in writers' manuals and volumes on the subject of language appreciation."

  • Colombo is a widely published Canadian author, editor, poet, cultural commentator and communications consultant, best known for his Colombo's Canadian Quotations (see ).

Dedication To

MARSHA LEDERMAN

DISCLAIMER: Although the above-named individual inspired the present essay, she is not responsible for any of its deficiencies. If you have any complaints, kindly direct them to the

This site is dedicated to Toronto broadcaster Marsha Lederman in recognition of her role in its genesis.

In the mid-90s she hosted a program concerning English usage, on CHOG-AM radio (formerly Talk 640). I phoned the station and had the pleasure of speaking with Marsha privately. She strongly encouraged me to write on the subject. I resisted, doubting there was sufficient interest to warrant the effort. It was not until May 2001, that it occurred to me this Résu-Card ® site could be an ideal medium through which to voice my concerns. I recalled Marsha's program and decided to focus on radio itself.

Marsha Lederman now works with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC). She has also contributed regularly to the National Post.

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Featured on the CBC

This website was featured on Metro Morning, a program on CBC Radio One in Toronto. The program, which aired January 7, 2002, was hosted by Andy Barrie. He is honoured on this site as one of a small number of radio broadcasters who consistently demonstrate the ability to use language correctly.

I debated with Mr. Barrie whether linguistic deterioration is a legitimate concern or merely the frivolous preoccupation of a whack-job with an excessive amount of time on his hands. Various points of view were expressed by Mr. Barrie, news reader Anubha Parray and sports reporter Kevin Sylvester.


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