Thursday, December 29, 2005

Watch out where The AP goes

People of the High Plains ought to have as many words for wind as the Inuit have for snow.
(from ROADS LESS TRAVELED: A land of quiet dreamers and helping hands unfolds in backroads bicycle journey coast to coast *)

To make a long story short, they probably do (do we get to count "Maria"?).

From the perspective of the jaded rim rat, though, the interesting thing about this instance of the enduring myth about snow vocabulary is that it's been brought forward into the Age of Cultural Sensitivity, and that suggests that some editor somewhere is doing the victory dance for fixing the wrong thing. The problem isn't whether you call the snow-word-rich peoples of the North Eskimos or Inuit or Yupik or whatever; it's the underlying idea that semantic bean-counting provides some useful cultural context rather than ethnocentric hooey.

There is, as there should be, a connection to real life. Suppose you're the leading afternoon daily in town and you're in the habit of running cop briefs containing grafs like this:

Columbia police were dispatched Monday afternoon after residents reported four gunshots had been fired in the 100 block of Benton Street during a dispute between four black males.

Now, the copy editor could be sensitive and change the last object phrase to "four African-American males." Or "four males of color."** Neither one makes a bit of difference to the graver structural flaw: What possible relevance does the ethnicity of the people involved in the argument have to the story about the arrest? The suspect is in custody (so much for the public safety argument), his mug is in the paper (so the yahoos are satisfied) -- is the Tribune feeding racial stereotypes because it thinks that's a good idea, or because it's too stupid to know better?

Surface cluelessness is one thing. Structural cluelessness is quite another. Never assume that fixing the former fixes the latter.

* Tnx to Mike, who had to dig a long way into the original file, for the tippo.
** Or change the preposition to "among." Sheez.


Anonymous nicole bogdas said...

for some reason it didn't take the first time, so I'll try again:

Not to dismiss the race discussion, but what about that crappy lede? Who cares that the police were dispatched (and could we stop saying that?)? How about this: "A suspect was in custody Monday after residents of the 100 blodk of Benton Street reported gunfire, police said."

Just a thought.

3:35 AM, January 05, 2006  

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