Wednesday, November 10, 2004

My latest Tribune language column:
On a new kind of sentence fragment in TV newscasting: so-called "ing-lish." Plus: Overheard on Election Night; Tom Brokaw's pronunciation.

temp link/perm.preview

My closing line on "ing-lish" was cut:
For the viewer already dizzy from all the news crawls, instant online polls and ever-shrinking sound bites, it's getting harder to tell the difference between what has happened, what is happening, and what will or may happen in the future. These days, everything seems to be happening at once.

However, if you really dig grammar (God bless you!), you know that this line, and my line about "putting everything in the present," are regrettably misleading. Absolute phrases and gerunds have NO tense--they are non-finite, since they do not specify tense, agent, and number. There's a good, clear breakdown of this at I.G.O.E. My English professor's more thorough explanation is here. He adds a few common absolute phrases:
"all things considered, all other things being equal, God willing..."

This essay at News Lab and this PBS segment suggest the phenomenon has something to do with "dropping the verb," but in fact only the auxiliary verb ("is," "have been," etc.) is dropped; the verb remains in something resembling absolute form.

More on newsspeak here and on Election Night here. Transcript of CNN's 7 p.m. hour of Election Night here. The Seattle Times on how the media can get it right next time. And more Ratherisms.

I was really interested by David Gergen's "locust of lawyers." Here's more:

United Press International
October 15, 2004 Friday
HEADLINE: Analysis: Will lawyers decide the vote?
Like a biblical plague of locusts, lawyers are gathering by the thousands at the call of the Democratic and Republican parties to handle voting-related court challenges both before and after the Nov. 2 presidential election.

Election Integrity At Stake
By George F. Will
Sunday, October 24, 2004;
Today's worry concerns a cloud of locust-like lawyers asserting novel theories that purport to demonstrate that sensible rules, such as requiring voters to have identification, are illegal, even unconstitutional. This locust litigation will erupt around any close election -- any not won beyond "the margin of litigation." link

GERGEN: What the attorneys will be looking for is the same thing the monitors will be looking for. And both sides will have them out in force. As George Will called them, the locust of lawyers.


• Slogan of the Nader campaign, qtd in the Chi.Tribune: Bush and Kerry make me want to Ralph.

• "'Wal-Mart Republicans' is probably more accurate [than "Religious Right"], given that Bush's majority was built up in the same kinds of small communities where the world's largest retailer thrives." x

• "I have to admit that I am a little confused by all this talk of 'man date' by Republican leaders in the days since the election. I thought they were opposed to same-sex fooling around." x (more on mandate)

• This was from a rerun of either Seinfeld or Sex in the City, I forget which:

To boyfriend: "Here's the thing."
Bf: "Oh no, not the thing! I hate the thing."

• A word from WorldWideWords I want to save: sonofusion

• My wife spotted a flyer nailed to a phone pole that said "Found: Lost Cat." "It's not really lost anymore, is it?" she observed. On the other hand, the alternative is posting a flyer that says: "Found: Cat That Had Been Lost At The Time We Found It But As Of Its Finding Is No Longer Lost"

• Someone found this blog by doing a search for the architect of the "ifill tower." (I had posted a quote from the debate moderated by Gwen Ifill, and said something somewhere about a tower, so voila.) I wonder if that surname was originally someone's attempt to name their family after the famous landmark? I doubt it; the name is probably older than the tower.

• "If "The Incredibles" did not exist, it would be necessary to invent them," wrote the Tribune. This is approaching cliche territory, suggests a quick search for "If x did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him/her/them."

• Googling my name (everyone's entitled now and then), I found this post from a Lon Bierma, my relation to whom (if any) I don't know.

From: Lon Bierma
Subject: Words with Opposite Meanings
Sigmund Freud speculated that language may have first developed with one word representing both one thing and its opposite. He cited several examples but let's use the word 'day'. Day can be used to represent both day and night or only daylight. Picture two people without a language trying to communicate the meaning of day and night as they watched the sun rise or set. It is easy to see how one word would suffice. Freud also pointed out that when we hear a concrete word our minds immediately jump to its opposite. Try it on friends. When you say black the first word to come to their minds will be white. Same with up/down, hot/cold, etc.

Previous column and inflections

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