Thursday, April 29, 2010

"Was it adjournment or dismissal?"

"...before the court was to dismiss for lunch..."

This is a sentence in the Times of India (April 30, 2010) in its story HC unmoved by fiance's passionate pleas.

A court adjourns for the day, or for lunch, meaning the proceedings stop for a short time, for a few minutes to a few hours. A court can and does dismiss a case, bringing it to a final halt, not seeing any merit in carrying it for further arguments.

This is a good example of being carried away by jargon without understanding it.

Likewise, recently, the DNA referred to cemeteries in the headline when the story was all about crematoria, The first is a place where the dead or their ashes are buried and the second, a place where the dead are cremated. A dictionary could have helped.
-Mahesh Vijapurkar

How not to attribute a quote

The Daily News & Analysis (DNA) newspaper's Mumbai edition on April 14, 2010 carried a page 1 story Chavan under fire after local body election debacle which has a quote attributed to "a couple of senior leaders".

The quote runs thus: "The party must take immediate corrective steps and not leave the entire functioning of the Congress in the hands of Chavan alone. If things run the same way, we will lose the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) elections due in 2012," a couple of senior leaders cautioned...."

The problem here is that the quote, in inverted commas, is of a view in a section of the Congress party, but gives the impression that the two people said the same thing in the same precise set of words. It is unlikely ever that two people can say things identically for no two people speak or write identically; it would be a miracle if they do.

This can be tested by asking three people to describe a building, a tree, an event - anything for that matter - in few words. The outcome would be different perceptions in different words and possibly conveying the same impression or view.

The problem arises because of a reporter's need to be:

* Comprehensive;
* Keep the copy brief; and
* Provide the impression that what was said in the copy was said by someone else, not the reporter.

Such attempts lead to situations where reporters are forced to convey a view spoken in a language other than English, which in this case would probably have been Marathi, and then translate it into English. Much is not lost, but is added in this translation.

It would be best practice to state the view by following the skills acquired in high school in precis writing and then ascribe it to the unidentified sources without the inverted commas. Otherwise, it could give the impression that a quote was manufactured. It serves the purpose as well as the quote in inverted commas. It would also be fair to the persons who spoke to the reporter and the readers.

--Mahesh Vijapurkar

Thursday, April 15, 2010

What is luncheon?

Dnyaneshwari Thakur is MA with specialisation in English from a university in Maharashtra. A resident of NOIDA, she is a regular reader of the Times of India. Here is her input for this post:

I came across an interesting word " Luncheon" in TOI ( Times Nation ) Section on page number 18 - dated 14th April 2010. I could somehow guess that it had something to do with lunch. I immediately referred to Oxford Dictionary to understand the meaning, exact connotation and usage of this word. According to oxford, it means " formal lunch" which refers to a mid day meals in high profile meetings.

I asked husband Dhananjay if this word is used in IT industry, where he works,to describe corporate meals ( Dinner / Lunch). He was also not aware of the same.

Luncheon is also used in several other contexts - Luncheon Meat ( Block of Ground Meat ready to cut & Eat), Luncheon Voucher - A voucher issued to employees and exchangable for food at restaurants and shops. To this, Dhananjay immediately reacted isn't that something like Sodex-HO Pass :)

Friday, April 9, 2010

Beau: Hardly ever used in India

Mahesh Vijapurkar has the following with reference to the post on the use of the word 'beau' by the Times of India.

It is hardly ever used in India. One finds them in them rarely ever except in some classics and would force the reader to scramble for a dictionary.

Should a newspaper do that, in the assumption that a reader was educated because he learnt a new word? Or should the choices be simple, of everyday usage?

The media world know that people are in hurry and therefore, the writing ought to be easy with which a reader is comfortable.

But by everyday-type I do not mean slang that is getting increasingly strong due to text messaging and social networking sides. I would not advocate 'BF" for a boyfriend but certainly would skip beau.

Yes, Mahesh. That is the point. Why should the reporters use words not understood by most readers?

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Who is a beau?

Shoaib Malik is today described in TOI as Sania Mirza's beau.
The sub-continent by now knows that he is more than her beau ('a frequent and attentive male companion', or 'a male escort for a girl or woman')He is her fiance and suitor.
Sania's grievance, though, is that she would be known as his second wife because of the divorce with Ayesha.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010


Today's papers (at least two) have used this word. Someone asked me the meaning. It is simply this: to come out from a source.
Reporters often use this word in such context: foul odor emanated from the closed room.

Red herrings

The Times of India today reported that all the offers of the Maoists for truce or talks with the government are essentially red herrings.
Wikipedia tells us red herring is "something used to divert attention from the basic issue."
Herring is a commercial important food fish.
Supposedly used by fugitives to put bloodhounds off the scent (1680s), hence metaphoric sense (1884) of "something used to divert attention from the basic issue."

The accused, suspect, undertrial, or convict?

The late night newscast on All India Radio at 11 pm on April 5, 2010 referred to Nalini Sriharan, assassin of Rajiv Gandhi as "an accused in the case". The newscast had carried the item about her appeal for clemency.

It was incorrect to describe her as an accused when she was convicted of the murder and is serving her term. She is not an undertrial but a convict.

Often, when reporting crime-related stories, journalists err on the use of words.

For instance, when a person is arrested in connection with a case, or for a custodial interrogation, the news item refers to the person detained as an accused. A person is that only when he is charged with the crime in the court; till then he remains a suspect.

Seldom do newspapers call a person picked up for questioning a suspect. The media never put a finer point to it by saying detained for questioning or taken away for questioning to further a probe. The moment a person is picked up, he becomes an accused as far as the media are concerned.

Every person has a right to his self-respect and by carelessly using the word accused, the media could be tarnishing a person's image. That is best avoided. They may even be playing into the hands of the police who would like to appear as having solved a case because they have an accused. Why play into their hands and play their games?
-Mahesh Vijapurkar

Thursday, April 1, 2010

What is a point-blank range?

Newspapers carried a Chandigarh story on honour killing. The young couple was shot dead at point blank range.

Wikipedia tells us that point-blank range is the distance between a firearm and a target of a given size such that the bullet in flight is expected to strike the target without adjusting the elevation of the firearm.
In forensics and popular usage, point-blank range has come to mean extreme close range (that is, target within about a meter (3 feet) of the muzzle at moment of discharge but not close enough to be an actual contact shot.
The term point blank range is of French origin. The center of a target was once a small white spot and the French for white is blanc, and aim is point. The term therefore means "aim at the center of the target."