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Notes

What Did We Say About That? A Guide To The 2014 ‘Memmos’ #

What did Mark annoy us about in 2014? Here are the year’s “Memmos” divided into categories:

ATTENDING RALLIES AND POLITICKING

“Don’t sign, don’t advocate, don’t donate.”

“We don’t participate.”

CORRECTIONS

How we make them and display them, Part I.

How we make them and display them, Part II.

Poynter’s “most notable errors.”

They’re at the bottom of our pages.

“Why do we get some things wrong?” Our most common errors.

GOOD WORK

A well-done poll.

John Burnett’s completeness.

David Folkenflik’s transparency.

Panda triplets!

The Bill Cosby interview.

The Eric Holder scoop.

The 16-year-old in a diaper and why the photo of him was so important.

LABELS AND WHY IT’S WISE TO AVOID THEM

Immigrants.

Medical conditions.

Teenager.

– “Victims” vs. “survivors.” (Particularly in cases of sexual assault.)

LANGUAGE TO USE AND LANGUAGE NOT TO USE

Adjectives and why we kill them.

“Alleged,” “accused” and “suspected.”

“Ambush” and “assassinate.”

“Begs the question.”

Being conversational.

Cliches in general.

“Crash.”

Ebola; infectious or contagious?

“Execute.”

“Farther” and “further.” There’s a difference.

“Garnish” vs. “garnishee.”

Holiday cliches.

“Imagined Elegance.”

– “Immigration” (and related terms).

“Islamic State,” then ISIS.

ISIS and al-Qaida; how to refer to their links.

“Kurdistan.”

“Lay” vs. “lie.”

“Persian Gulf.”

“Reticent,” “reluctant” and other words we abuse.

“So.”

“Taps” and why not to talk over it.

Teenager, I.

Teenager II.

Torture I.

Torture II.

Torture III.

“The” vs. “thee.”

The word “war.”

“Victims” vs. “survivors.” (Particularly in cases of sexual assault.)

Washington’s football team.

OFFENSIVE LANGUAGE

It’s not an English-only thing.

Latest “NPR policy on use of potentially offensive language.”

SOCIAL MEDIA

AP goes short.

AP’s unfortunate “crash lands” tweet.

Guidance for Election Day.

There is no privacy on the Web and retweets may be endorsements.

When you can and can’t tweet about customer service.

STYLE & STANDARDS

Anonymity and why “first-name-only” must be discussed and explained.

First names on second reference.

More on first names on second reference.

Why we didn’t name the Ebola patient.

Pronunciations.

Elvis.

‘TAKING DOWN’ STORIES

Advice on how to fully inform people before we interview them.

How to explain why we don’t do that.

THINGS THAT SHOULD NOT BE FORGOTTEN

Attribution I.

Attribution II.

An “abundance of caution” can save us sometimes.

Call “the other side” of the story.

Check things out, even our own reporting.

#Ethicsschmetics.

“For Peat’s sake,” check back with key characters before broadcast.

Get names (why we don’t put random voices on the air).

Good grammar.

It’s “Daylight Saving,” Not “Daylight Savings.”

Minor consent (and the form that needs to be signed).

Naming minors.

Never assume.

Never show stories to sources.

Online credits.

Objectivity.

Plagiarism is “the offense that keeps on repeating.”

Precision writing and editing.

You can’t always believe what you remember.

We work in plain sight.

We’re cynical, not skeptical.

WHERE TO FIND GUIDANCE

We’ve got your guidance right here.

(Memmos; Dec. 29, 2014)

Notes

Without Further Ado, Here’s A Reminder About When To Use ‘Farther’ #

Did the “White House intruder” make it further or farther than was first thought?

Despite what we’re hearing members of Congress say this morning or what has been said on our airwaves a couple times, the intruder made it farther than was first reported — not further.

Think of it this way:

If it’s clear you’re talking about distance, you’re focusing on how far someone or something has gone. Some grammarians say either word can be used, but the trend in recent decades has been to suggest that farther is the better word in such cases.

Further is the right word when you’re not discussing distance. For example: “Memmott always takes these grammar discussions further than he should.”

There are all sorts of situations where things aren’t so obvious. If you’ve read 25 more pages of a book than your partner, are you farther or further along? There’s a measurement involved, but it’s not a distance. The guidance in that case is to use further.

Listeners raised the further/farther issue. As some of our other recent notes about language underscore, some in the audience listen very carefully. We usually find they’re right to have been concerned:

– Listeners Are Begging Us To Bag ‘Begs The Question’

– Garnish? Garnishee? Garnisheed? We’re Not Buying Into This Parsleying Of Our Words

– I Won’t Lie To You, We Get Lay Wrong A Lot

– If You See An Adjective, Kill It — Or At Least Ask Whether It Should Be Allowed To Live

– The? Thee? Who Knew? A Listener, That’s Who

(Memmos; Sept. 30, 2014)

Notes

Listeners Are Begging Us To Bag ‘Begs The Question’ #

Every time someone says on NPR that something “begs the question,” we get complaints from listeners.

They point to the phrase’s original meaning — to “pass over or ignore a question by assuming it to be established or settled” (Merriam-Webster).  The LawProse blog notes, for example, that you’ve begged the question if you say a defendant is guilty “because he is charged with a crime.”  That’s ignoring the fact that being charged isn’t the same as being guilty. You’ve engaged in a circular argument — the defendant is guilty because he’s been charged and he’s charged because he’s guilty.

But over time, “begs the question” has been increasingly used when the speaker means to say that a question has been raised. That’s where we and other news outlets go wrong, listeners say.

A typical example (from Time): “All of the hype surrounding the shiny new additions to the Apple product line beg the question: What happened to the hype surrounding the last shiny new iPhones we ran out to purchase a mere 365 days ago …?”

This misuse of the term is by no means a new issue. Check out this New York Times post from 2008: “Begging the Question, Again.”

In the past year, the library’s Candice Kortkamp tells us, “beg” or “begs the question” was heard on NPR 11 times. Correspondents or hosts accounted for five of the instances. Four of those five staff-generated cases were in scripts or recorded conversations, not during a live two-way. Only one person, Massachusetts Attorney Gen. Martha Coakley got the “begs the question” reference right.

It’s worth noting, as we said last week in the semi-controversial “memmo” about garnish vs. garnishee, that English is a living language.

The Grammar Girl points out that “when thousands of people use a word or phrase the ‘wrong’ way, and almost nobody is using it the ‘right’ way, it’s a clear sign that the meaning is changing.”

The case could be made that we could give in to the crowd and go begging, so to speak.

But there’s also a simple solution. Substitute the word “raises” for “begs” and you’ve not only avoided inciting the grammarians, you’ve also used a word that makes the point more effectively.

Plus, while rhetorical flourishes are nice, it is NPR practice to speak and write clearly. Perhaps, you might say, to avoid unnecessary garnishing.

(Memmos; Sept. 22, 2014)

Notes

Garnish? Garnishee? Garnisheed? We’re Not Buying Into This Parsleying Of Our Words #

Several things should be said about this week’s reports from Chris Arnold and ProPublica’s Paul Kiel. Their stories about debt collection and the seizure of people’s wages and bank accounts have been illuminating, compelling and at points heart-breaking.

Millions Of Americans’ Wages Seized Over Credit Card And Medical Debt

With Debt Collection, Your Bank Account Could Be At Risk

Some listeners, though, can’t get past the way we sprinkled the word “garnish” into the reports.

“This may be a minor thing, but I am a stickler,” writes one of the dozen or so people we’ve heard from so far. “Basically, [the story's] headline is saying that millions of Americans had parsley (or some other garnish) thrown at them. This has always been a tricky bit of grammar, not many people realize there is a huge difference. Please use ‘garnishee’ or ‘garnisheed’ when speaking of wage garnishment.”

As has been noted before (“I Won’t Lie To You, We Get Lay Wrong A Lot“), “many in NPR’s audience (radio and online) pay very close attention to our grammar.”

But, English is a living language. In this case, the critics are trying to enforce a rule that no longer applies. Our go-to dictionary (Webster’s New World College, fourth edition) says “garnishee” is now rarely used as a transitive verb in the U.S. “Garnish” is the verb to use, Webster’s says.

This note isn’t meant to be a dictum about the use of the word garnish. It is intended to remind us about the close attention listeners and readers pay to the words we use. We may disagree with their opinions, but we can admire their dedication and learn from their messages.

Plus, their emails do add some flavor to our day.

(Memmos; Sept. 16, 2014)