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Mixed Reviews for TV News

Rob Kyff on

I've recently noticed some intriguing linguistic trends and glitches on national evening news programs...

-- Missing in Action. More and more broadcast journalists are omitting the main verbs of sentences, turning their reports into mosaics of sentence fragments.

A recent sampling: "Clashes today in the Spanish region of Catalonia as police crack down"; "O.J. Simpson out on parole today"; "Heavy rains and flooding causing more problems for Mexico City."

Perhaps the most petrifying example came in this report on rock slides in Yosemite National Park: "A towering wall of boulders and dust, many visitors caught in the plume, incredibly, no fatalities, one visitor airlifted to a regional hospital."

I suppose you could argue that the dramatic video of falling slabs constitutes "visual verbs," allowing us to take the missing verbs for "granite." And perhaps leaving out passive verbs ("was," "were") energizes the immediacy of the story. But such verb-starved narratives, like the rock slides themselves, jolt the nerves.

-- Your Money or Your Life. One anchor's promo for an upcoming story about a quarterback who donated money to victims of Hurricane Harvey went like this: "Next up: the story of a rookie NFL star who decided his fans needed his paycheck more than him."

Uh-oh. Did the star's fans really need his money more than they needed him? Using "than he" or "than he did" clarifies the meaning.

-- "You"tube. Until last spring, NBC anchor Lester Holt signed off his nightly newscast with the pedestrian and perfunctory, "That'll do it for us tonight." Ugh.

 

To his credit, he now often concludes with the more gracious "We appreciate you spending part of your evening with us."

But this new adieu stirs a stew.

Purists would argue that Holt should use "your" before "spending" because "spending" is a gerund (a verb used as a noun) and thus must be preceded by a possessive form ("your"). Similarly, we would write, "I don't mind Tom's fidgeting," or "I appreciate your bringing dessert."

Saying "you spending," usage savants contend, erroneously treats the gerund "spending" as a participle (a verb used as an adjective) describing "you."

But perhaps what Holt actually appreciates isn't your act of spending time watching, but instead, YOU -- the adorable you, the eating you, the sleeping you, and, yes, the watching you. If so, Holt would have to pause after "you": "We appreciate you, spending part of your evening with us."

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Rob Kyff, a teacher and writer in West Hartford, Conn., invites your language sightings. Send your reports of misuse and abuse, as well as examples of good writing, via e-mail to Wordguy@aol.com or by regular mail to Rob Kyff, Creators Syndicate, 737 3rd Street, Hermosa Beach, CA 90254.

Copyright 2017 Creators Syndicate Inc.
 

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