Monday, September 24, 2007

Tin Ear award of the week

Today's lesson: If something looks or sounds like nonsense, back up a second and see if the fault is on your end. This one appears to have slipped by in the urge to get in the latest and newest on Those Missing Boy Scouts:

"We think it's most likely that they realized it was late and they bedded down for the night," said Charity Sharp, of the Cruso Volunteer Fire Department in southern Haywood County. "They were prepared. They knew what they were hacking into. The scout leader is familiar with the area and knew what kind of terrain they were hacking."

Bet she didn't. This particular conversation isn't up on CNN or Fox (both of which would do well to explain, by the way, how a slight delay in the return of some folks whose motto is Be Prepared became a national story so fast). But as a near-30-year resident of the fair state in question, HEADSUP-L is inclined to suggest that Ms. Sharp said "hiking." H-I-K-I-N-G. Given that they were going on a hike, not trying to steal the Pentagon's launch codes, I mean.

What can the copy editor do? Head back to the originating desk and ask for a translator. If nobody's willing to call the source or the agency (and AP editors remember this paper as one that would question anything that moved if it sounded fishy), demand a paraphrase. You lose no -- absolutely no -- meaning if you go with:

The Scout leader knows the area and the terrain, said Charity Sharp of the Cruso Volunteer Fire Department in southern Haywood County. "We think it's most likely that they realized it was late and they bedded down for the night," Sharp said. "They were prepared."

Everybody has a story like this. We hear what we hear. We've discussed the "new Solomon of the Middle East" earlier. Several regular readers will remember the case of the hospital's human race horses (one or two might recall the "non-passenger van," which is pretty close to the pronunciation attributed to Ms. Sharp). The point for editors is to be suspicious. If you're going to be the Foremost Newspaper of your state, you need to know how its people talk.

[UPDATE: Here's how the quote appears at the N&O Web site: "They were prepared," Sharp said. "The scout leader is familiar with the area." Good way of capturing the sense, but shouldn't you mark a deletion from a direct quote with an ellipsis?]

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3 Comments:

Blogger The Ridger, FCD said...

Hah. Being from just over the mountains (okay, Raleigh, maybe not "just") on the Tennessee side, I'll put money on her having said "hiking".

And now I'm remembering Walter Matthau's attempt at a southern accent in "Hopscotch". And laughing insanely at my desk. (Not at it at it, just sitting here...)

12:24 PM, September 24, 2007  
Blogger Strayhorn said...

Ah, the race horses. I do remember them well. I also remember an all spout. It was there on the top of the engine.

9:35 AM, September 25, 2007  
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