Thursday, January 12, 2006

Banished words

When I started out in broadcast journalism, I had a boss whose script review process would've made Bob Absher cry. This guy was a stickler for a conversational tone in every story we aired. If we used a word he didn't understand, he'd throw the script back and demand a rewrite. He was a real hardass, but he was right. People can't re-read a confusing statement on television, as opposed to a newspaper, so we had to get it right the first time.

I almost wish I could hit rewind whenever I hear a confusing sentence or lame cliche on this market's newscasts. WBRE and WYOU tends to sound like a police blotter, and WNEP uses every cliche in the book to sound conversational. Ugh.

You may know about Lake Superior State University's annual list of "banished words," consisting of overused, annoying words and phrases. I think it's time someone does a "banished words" list for local newscasts.

It's a pointless substitute for "fire." Can you imagine if we started saying "wildblaze" or "campblaze?" A fire is a fire.

Broke out
Nothing "breaks out" unless it physically escapes a confined area. Prisoners "break out" of jail. Fires, however, cannot "break out." They start, they happen.

This isn't as bad as "blaze," but again, a fire is a fire.

This is coptalk for "ran away."

The only things that can be impacted are your bowels and teeth. However: The rain affected Johnny's plans to go outside and play football. The man's donation had a positive effect on the school's budget.

Picture this: you're at a party, and Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie show up. You've got to tell your friends! What do you say?

A. Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie are at the scene of the party!
B. Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie are here at the party!

"Two counts of endangering a person, one count of unlawful use of a weapon..."
The only people who understand phrases like this are cops and lawyers. Most people are not cops and lawyers, but news anchors and reporters continue to rattle off these long lists of charges like it's an everyday thing. You know, if someone is charged with killing someone, does it really matter they got "one count of unlawful use of a weapon" tacked on there?

Did I leave any out? Feel free to suggest your own!


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I hear you on some of these...but when you're doing a story on a fire, you can only say the word fire so many times. That's why they have "synonyms" like blaze.

10:31 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't know Howard. Yeah, some of those I can see, and overuse is overuse but why should "literary" license be ignored by decree? Saying something a different way or using another word to describe something doesn't HAVE to be hard to listen to.

10:51 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This post reminds me of a very amusing incident on local tv--I believe it was channel 28. Several years back a bass player for some rock band had passed away and the anchor read the obit from the teletype pronouncing bass as "bass" (the fish) at least two possibly three times. Reminded me of the movie Anchorman in which the lead reads as he sees. Needless to say, I had very little respect for this anchor afterwards. How can one be so lame?

8:58 AM  
Blogger Howard Beale said...

If you do a story about a fire, it's expected that you will say "fire" a lot. That's what people do. When I see fire trucks rushing up my street, I don't say, "They must be heading to a blaze." But it seems that everyone relies on "blaze" and "flames" because of this market's obsession with covering house fires.

1:53 PM  
Anonymous Tom Carten said...

I always wondered about "senseless tragedy, grinding crash," and other nouns which really don't need an adjective. But that's just me.

A little bit OT, but since I'm here, I can live without, "That story's coming up after this break." Well, I'd hate to be hanging until the story actually does come up, usually at the end of the cast.

A tease is a tease,
But, please, if you please,
Be wary, so wary, so very wary,
Of teasing until we start seizing.

2:50 PM  
Anonymous T.M. said...

Here's a word that drives me nuts: allegedly. Nobody "allegedly" does anything! Cite the source of the accusation in question!

Ex. "Police say Fred Furd robbed the bank," not "Fred Furd allegedly robbed the bank."

Despite what some people think, "allegedly" and its variants are not magical shields against defamation lawsuits.

4:48 PM  
Blogger D.B. Echo said...

Can we banish a tense? I remember a few years ago one of the local stations began a policy of using the "historical present tense" - "Fire breaks out in Plymouth yesterday! Four persons escape the blaze, but their pet turtle dies! One firefighter is treated for smoke inhalation..." Either they've switched back to more conventional tenses, or I've gotten so used to this sort of thing that I don't even notice it anymore.

7:14 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I disagree on several comments here. i believe that the word "fire" CAN be repetative and said too many times. That's what a synonyms are for. It just sounds better.

Also, allegedly needs to be used if you decide to go with a story but don't have police confirmation. When someone is facing charges... there is a possibility they could be innocent. That's why the "allegedly" committed the crime. It's the courts job to decide whether they are innocent or not... not ours.

10:26 AM  
Anonymous T.M. said...

By attributing information to the source, how am I deciding if someone is innocent or not? I'm not saying Fred Furd robbed the bank, but since the cops arrested him, it's obvious the police department thinks he did it. And if I say "Police say Fred Furd robbed the bank," and you believe I'm deciding guilt, then you must be VERY dense.

11:21 AM  
Blogger D.B. Echo said...

Sorry, I should have said earlier "...but the family's pet turtle perishes in the flames!"

One of my favorite criminal charges is "persons not to be carrying weapons" or something like that. "Snedeker is charged with one count of disorderly conduct, two counts of indecent exposure, and one count of persons not to be carrying weapons." It sounds so abstract and convoluted.

7:24 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Coffers - Christ Almighty, can someone please make it at least a misdemeanor to use that word?

Youths - No one EVER uses it in conversation.

White Stuff - Like a fire is a fire, snow is snow. Leave it be, STOP!

Mother Nature - I could scream. Same goes for Old Man Winter and Jack Frost.

Sparked - As in "sparked" the blaze. Who started that stupidity? Now, everyone uses it. "Authorities can't say what sparked the blaze." Does it get any worse?

The Golden Tongue for mispronunciations has to go to a local MAIN anchor who wrapped his lips around and mangled "Jackson Pollock" recently and pronounced it, well, you know what he did.

9:59 AM  

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