Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Grammar Nazi to Make Idol Threats

Ugh. This one just hurts.

It's phonics, of course, mixed with mispronunciation.

For those of you who are link averse, I'll sum up: A local news outlet, quoting a local sheriff, advises other locals prone to such nuttiness to refrain from making "idol threats." Yeah, I don't know, either. Maybe like what Satipo says to Indy as they're trying to get out of the temple before Edgar K. Montrose shows up: "Give me the whip, I give you the idol," followed up by "Adios, Senor," followed up by Satipo meeting that light-activated stabby-wall, another thing we have failed to reproduce from the ancient world.

The sheriff, of course -- I'm giving him the benefit of the doubt, because it's the news people who have the onus of getting the right word in the quote -- meant "idle threats."

We have, actually, two worlds colliding here. First, the phonetic slip that lets our lazy tongues pronounce "idle" as "idol." Where I live, there is no discernable difference between how the two words are said; the dictionary tells us to pronounce them "eye-dll" and "eye-duhl," respectively.

Second, we have Newsspeak, or the language journalists and public officials tend to drop into when they speak to each other. The sheriff, in this case, could have just said "threats," and left it at that. A threat is a threat, whether it's carried out or not, whether it's idle or not. But we love that adjective, so it gets tacked on there.

Another Newsspeak word that pops up in this story is "gentleman," as in "there was another gentleman involved in a fight." Now, gentlemen don't fight. But saying the duellers are gentlemen is an easy way to introduce a bit of respect into the situation, to take the sting off any accusation, implicit or implied. So you see that word used a lot in officialdom.

My advice: Echo Mark Twain, who says "If you see an adjective, kill it." Also, watch out for Newsspeak.

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