The Southeast Asian character who said that in a television show that’s stuck in a dusty corner of my memory—maybe a “M*A*S*H” episode?—got away with this funny line it because (1) she wasn’t a native English speaker and (2) it was the 1970s, excuses not available to the people who write and edit our newspapers and television newscasts today.
Last week in The Washington Post Gene Weingarten lamented the death of English at the hands of journalists, the people you might have imagined should know how to properly use the tool that has expedited our exchange of information ever since evolution stole our ability to do that task with a simple sniff.
The end came quietly on Aug. 21 on the letters page of The Washington Post. A reader castigated the newspaper for having written that Sasha Obama was the “youngest” daughter of the president and first lady, rather than their “younger” daughter. In so doing, however, the letter writer called the first couple the “Obama’s.” This, too, was published, constituting an illiterate proofreading of an illiterate criticism of an illiteracy. Moments later, already severely weakened, English died of shame.
You in the hinterlands, do not take solace imagining that the plague is restricted to Our Nation’s Capital…oh no:
The Lewiston (Maine) Sun-Journal has written of “spading and neutering.” The Miami Herald reported on someone who “eeks out a living” — alas, not by running an amusement-park haunted house. The Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star described professional football as a “doggy dog world.” The Vallejo (Calif.) Times-Herald and the South Bend (Ind.) Tribune were the two most recent papers, out of dozens, to report on the treatment of “prostrate cancer.”
The demise of the language has not happened in a vacuum: readers supplied Weingarten with some of the more irksome examples they have stomached:
7. “loose,” as the opposite of “win.”
8. A mute point.
9. “amount” used to describe countable objects.
Although regrettable, the slaying of the language by those who (arguably) should know better isn’t that much of a surprise. These are the same people who, for instance, recently accepted the explanation from golfer Erica Blasberg’s doctor that he removed the suicide note and pill bottle from the scene of her suicide to save her family embarrassment without asking why he didn’t remove the plastic bag that was tied over her head, and who showed “dramatic video” shot from on board a Coast Guard helicopter of a rescue at sea without ever explaining why the boat was still speeding across the surf!
Got an excellent example of egregious and excess execution of English? Hit the comment button and share with the class.