Tag Archive: interviewee

Words, words, words

Few things arouse pointless anger as often as other people mangling our language. The older we get, the more we resent the way others abuse our tongue.
I cannot be the only one who feels irritated at the use of “issue” when people mean “problem”. It even appeared recently in a BBC radio weather forecast!
But in all things communication we have to be professional. So better to bite one’s tongue and ignore the atrocity. The glottal stop is here to stay, “train station” has replaced “railway station”, “decayed” is how our descendants will pronounce a 10-year period, not “deck-aid”. We pedants must just grin and bear it. We don’t usually have to repeat the offending word ourselves.
With loaded words like “terrorist” or “claim”, the guidance to interviewees is simply to avoid picking up the word from the question and instead start a fresh sentence, using words and phrasing they are comfortable with themselves. Only if essential, do you challenge the use of a loaded word.
(Incidentally both “terrorist” and “claim” were traditionally banned by responsible news organisations. Reuters news agency, as it then was, was criticised in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks for refusing to label them “terrorism”, and some US subscribers threatened to cancel contracts. In the long term, the agency’s reputation was only enhanced.) Reuters was criticised for refusing to call 9/11 attack 'terrorism'
So remember, however irritated you feel, suck it up (to use an awful Australian colloquialism). Your priority is to get your message across, not parade your superior knowledge of the language. You don’t want to appear arrogant or pedantic, and you don’t want to distract your audience’s attention.
In addition, don’t waste your time on air explaining – correctly – that:
– “Blackmail” means threatening to reveal secret information and is not the same as “putting illegitimate pressure on”.
– Or that King Canute did not believe he could control the tide, he was using the waves as a put-down for obsequious courtiers.
– Or that a “curate’s egg” does not mean part-good, part-bad – an egg is either rotten or it’s not – but refers instead to being too timid to tell the truth to authority.
Save it for blogs like this one.