In any event, I was watching the local news recently (it COULD have just as easily been the national news, but it was, in fact, the local) and a reporter (it could have been the anchor, I don’t really remember) gave the tease, “Coming up next, accused trooper’s killer captured.” I was immediately confused by this statement.
What it actually SAYS, of course, is that the killer of an accused trooper had been captured. I don’t think that was the intent, however. I THINK the actual intent was to say that the accused killer of a trooper had been captured, which is something else entirely. If that were actually the case, it would have been more accurate (not to say clearer) to say, “Coming up next, trooper’s accused killer captured.” which is no more words and seems MUCH clearer (and, probably, more accurate).
I think this reinforces my notion that the words we choose and how we use them matters. After all, the same words are being used in both the original phrasing and my rewrite of it, but the message is completely different. That’s important. Yes, one can probably figure out that the story was about the capture of an accused cop killer from a more complete context or by listening to the story “After the break,” but one shouldn’t have to do so, especially when it’s so easy to make the “tease” clear and accurate. Who knows, if they had done this, I might have been more likely to work up some interest in the story. Instead, being completely fed up with negative campaign ads supported by various PACs and other “special interests” during the “break,” I turned off the TV and went to bed.
I was distracted to a local TV station’s web site as I was working on this, and just caught another interesting case of mispronunciation on the part of a “national” reporter (see, I don’t just pick on local news). In reporting about the casting of a movie version of Jobs (a biography of Steve Jobs, the co-founder of Apple), the project was referred to as a “bi-OP-ic,” with three syllables and the emphasis on the middle one, instead to calling it a “BIO-pic” with two syllables and emphasis on the first one. To me, (okay, I’m prejudiced), the second sounds like a biographical motion picture, but the first sounds like a disease, or at least a medical condition. I think (one can’t be sure) that the intent here was to refer to a movie, but, again, the actual use of the words and (in this case) their pronunciation, makes a good deal of difference to their comprehension.
Word choice, word order and pronunciation (for the spoken word) DO make a difference. I think that’s one of the reasons why I am so fond of dramatic literature. I’ve found that a great deal of drama, uses such highly crafted language (word choice, order, poetic meter [when appropriate], etc.) that at least I’ve found that meanings, even of unfamiliar ideas, seem quite straightforward most of the time. I find this particularly true of Shakespeare’s works where, even if I don’t know the exact definition of an Early Middle word or expression, I can usually get a fair handle on what is meant from the context, stress, etc. even before I look at the “Notes.” (Yes, I’ll be happy to admit to looking at those little references in most published texts, although I will also state that they aren’t always very complete, so they don’t always help a lot. I’m digressing, however.)
To get back to the point, as I wrap this up, the words we use and how we use them not only say something about us (level of education, how much we care about the topic under discussion, whether we’ve actually tried to think things through, etc.) but, probably more importantly, they can make our meaning and intent clear, or confusing. I’ve found that people don’t like to be confused.
I keep seeing that ad for Discover card where the one character speaks about “frog” protection and the other talks about “fraud” protection. I confess that I have to wonder if this doesn’t actually suggest that they aren’t especially worried about actually communicating with their customers as to what their product is and how it works, instead of the idea that “We’re a hip, fun company!” Okay, maybe I have no sense of humor (I think I do, but I won’t argue the point), but I think that the lack of clarity is annoying and it certainly doesn’t encourage me to rush out and get a Discover card.
I think that not going out of the way to create confusion is a good thing. Communication is difficult enough. Therefore, it seems like a wise choice to try to engage the brain before speaking or writing. This may be especially true today, when so much gets on the Internet, where it NEVER disappears and can come back to haunt you later.