Monday, April 25, 2011

'pall of gloom’ a cliché?

Has ‘pall of gloom’ become a cliché, a favourite of reporters of newspapers?
As I read stories about the death of Sathya Sai baba in yesterday’s newspapers, it struck me that several newspapers had written about pall of gloom descending on Puttaparthi (and elsewhere where his disciples live.)
As  I Google searched ‘pall of gloom’, I came across 752,000 results that concerned deaths, accidents and other tragedies in recent time.  In about ten minutes, the figure went up to 754000. Twenty four hours later, on April 26, 2011, this figure further went up to
 Yahoo search yesterday presented 51,000 results for the same entry. It went up to 52,700 today.
For those who may be interested in knowing the meaning of the word ‘pall’, www. has given the meaning of pall as
1. A cloth, often of velvet, for spreading over a coffin, bier, or tomb.
2. A coffin.
3. Anything that covers, shrouds, or overspreads, especially with darkness or gloom.

Verb: to cover with or as with a pall.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Quid quo pro, fait accompli, Alibi

I came across these non-English words used in different stories in The Times of India of March 5, 2011 in its Pune edition. I wonder if its lay readers will understand meanings of these words. I checked the and here is what it says:
(In a story headlined PM accepts responsibility for CVC appointment. Mr Yashwant Sinha said ‘The only authority he claimed to have was moral authority. Now that is gone, too. He has no alibis, and no place to go.’)
I remember my senior editors years go used to insist that alibi should be used only when you want to mean ‘aplea of having been elsewhere.’
I today came across the following Usage Note at The
Alibi in Latin is an adverb meaning ‘in or at another place.’ Its earliest English uses, in the 18th century, are in legal contexts, both as an adverb and as a noun meaning ‘a plea of having been elsewhere.’ The extended noun senses ‘excuse’ and ‘person used as one's excuse’ developed in the 20th century in the United States and occur in all but the most formal writing. As a verb alibi occurs mainly in informal use.
Should the reporter who wrote the story have used a word easier to understand for a lay reader: now he has no excuse.. (instead of alibi, even if Mr Sinha used ‘alibi’?)

Quid quo pro
(From the story headlined Raja may be charged with endangering national security: Sources in the agency (CBI) claim to have found evidence of quid quo pro between grant of licences under Raja to firms...)
There is no dictionary result for this word in However, the answer expert at says:
The term quid quo pro is from the Latin meaning ‘something for something.’ In its more casual uses it generally refers to a roughly equal exchange of goods or services. It can also be used to mean such phases as ‘a favour for a favour, or, ‘give and take.’ From a legal standpoint, the term denotes that an item or service has been traded for something of value. A more negative connotation of the word involves bribery or blackmail. In England the phrase can simply mean ‘What’s in it for me’? mlrmlr - Answer Expert at

My guess is the readers could have understood ‘give and take’ easily in place of quid quo pro.

Fait accompli
[It was the last word in the story headlined, Thackeray, LK get SC notices on Babri. (The Supreme Court justices said, ‘... In the absence of a specific notification by the state government in this regard, it’s a fait accompli.’)]
The reporter will be justified if he/she says that it was a quote from the bench. In legal circles, it may be understood, how about the lay readers? I have doubts.
I think this French word should be explained as an accomplished fact, something already done and beyond alteration, as the tells us.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Who's lead was better?

January 30, 2011.
The Times of India’s Pune print edition has this long sentence as the lead of a front-page story:
After a prolonged delay of well over two months, followed by stringent observations of the Bombay High Court, the CBI on Saturday filed a criminal case against a section of army personnel, defence estate officials and retired and serving bureaucrats of the Maharashtra government for their alleged involvement in the multicrore Adarsh Housing scam.
Words in one single sentence of a single paragraph: 54. Flesch Reading Ease (FRE) was 4.7 and Flesch Kinkaid Grade level (FKG) : 26.

I felt the reporter was very anxious to provide the readers everything at one go, in one sentence. I cross checked if there was some attempt to edit in ToI’s e-paper and was pleasantly surprised that there indeed was editing for reading ease.
Have a look:
The CBI filed a criminal case against a section of serving and retired bureaucrats of the Maharashtra government, army personnel and defence estate officials for their alleged involvement in the multicrore Adarsh housing society scam on Saturday. The step, coming after a delay of over two months, follows stringent observations of the Bombay High Court over an FIR not being filed in the case.
FRE thus improved upto 32.9 and FKG to 16.6. The simple trick was the sentence was split into two sentences, and the story began with the operative part rather than with the background of the story.  

This is how DNA reporter wrote the lead of the same story:
The CBI Saturday registered an FIR in the Adarsh housing society scam. Among the 13 accused were former Maharashtra CM Ashok Chavan, former state information commissioner Ramanand Tiwari, three senior retired army officers, and an ex-collector, according to sources in the investigating agency.
FRE was 11.8 and FKG 16.9
And The Hindustan Times:  
Ten days after the Bombay high court asked the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) why it had not registered a First Information Report (FIR) in connection with the Adarsh housing society scam, the agency booked 13 persons in the matter on Saturday. Former chief minister Ashok Chavan’s name has been mentioned in the FIR, though he is not among the 13 accused, CBI sources said.
This single para has 65 words in two sentences. FRE:. 42.3 and FKG: 15.4.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Readability Test result

A Mumbai daily has the following lead for an important story:

The state government on Thursday declared its willingness to hand over the Yashwant Sonawane murder case to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) even as the central government announced an ex-gratia payment of `25 lakh to the slain additional collector's family and immediate measures to curb adulteration of petroleum products.

If you run Readability Tests through this text, offered by MS Word, you have the following results:

Number of Words: 50, Paragraph: 1, Number of sentences: 1, Flesch Reading Ease: 00, Flesch Kincaid Grade Level: 26

In simple words, this means that the text is difficult for the readers to understand quickly. Can we not split and rephrase the sentence as follows:

The state government on Thursday declared its willingness to hand over the Yashwant Sonawane murder case to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI). The central government, in the meanwhile, announced an ex-gratia payment of Rs. 25 lakh to the family of slain additional collector.  It promised to take immediate measures to curb adulteration of petroleum products.
Run the Readability test, and see the result:

Number of Words: 56, Paragraph: 1 Number of sentences: 3, Flesch Reading Ease: 35.3, Flesch Kincaid Grade Level: 12.9

The paragraph has three sentences which has 23 words in the first sentence, 21 in the second and 12 in the third.
The test indicates that the lead is easier to understand.

Indulged or engaged?

Mahesh Vijapurkar has this advice for reporters and sub-editors:

In its January 28, 2011 Mumbai edition, page 3, the Daily News & Analysis (DNA) has an item headlined Senior citizen gets 2 conmen arrested for cheating her. It quotes a policeman saying she “indulged” the conman “in talks”. Both are not appropriate in the context used.

  • Indulged – this verb is all about letting the others have their way, like with a child, or do something you know would give you pleasure, like in eating a sweet to which you are partial. The reporter should have used the word engaged.
  • In talks – this has an altogether different meaning that mere talking or be in an ordinary conversation. Two companies can be in talks, a series of exchanges over a period of time. Two countries, for instance, India and Pakistan can be engaged in talks over the issue of visas. But the woman who wanted to con the conmen into an arrest had only engaged them in talk.
Newspapers have sub-editors just to avoid this kind of confusion in usage. Because two – the premise being that the  reporter and the desk both -  cannot go wrong at the same time. But they did.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Mergers and acquisitions to widen the gap?

Senior journalist and media educator Mahesh Vijapurkar offers an interesting instance of lack of care and caution on the part of the reporter and sub-editor:

A page- one second lead story in The Economic Times, Mumbai edition of January 26, 2011 is Rishad Premji to lead Wipro's buyout team. The story's intro runs thus:

"Rishad Premji, Wipro's new strategy chief, has been given the additional responsibility of leading the company's M&A pursuits as India's third-biggest software exporters seeks to widen its gap with aggressive aggressive rivals by identifying the bext big bets."
Excuse me? Mergers and acquisitions to widen the gap? Normally, it would be reduce the gap with the competitors ahead of it. One can widen the gap without a strategy chief having to do anything. Mere complacency would do fine, thank you! 

As explained later in the copy, Wipro would like to regain growth. Unless the intent is to increase the gap between Wipro and the fourth-biggest software company. Why should it strain to stay third in the pecking order and not second instead of keeping the fourth at the fourth place?

One single word and the story is at odds from what was sought to be said. 

Like I always say, care and caution helps, especially when English is not our mother tongue.