Monday, December 15, 2008

Man eating tiger

If you're among those people who think copy editors are supercilious semi-pedants who don't even understand the rules they claim to venerate, hang on. Somebody downtown is about to hand you a fresh box of ammunition.

Bit of back story, on the off chance your newspaper doesn't keep you up to date on the Fractious Near East. Hamas is marking its 21st anniversary,* and the proceedings include a skit in which a guy plays a captive Israeli soldier pleading for his freedom. Here's the AP:

In the skit, Hamas paraded a Palestinian speaking Hebrew and dressed in an Israeli soldier's uniform -- a reference to Israeli Sgt. Gilad Schalit, captured by Hamas-allied militants in June 2006. "I miss my Mom and Dad," said the man playing the Israeli soldier, kneeling as he spoke.

Seems pretty clear, doesn't it? A Palestinian (speaking in Hebrew) is playing an Israeli soldier. Let's see how the Freep handles it:

In the skit, Hamas paraded a Palestinian-speaking Hebrew dressed in an Israeli soldier's uniform -- a reference to Israeli Sgt. Gilad Schalit, captured by Hamas-allied militants in June 2006.

One of my favorite Fowlerisms is the example for hyphenating noun-participle combinations: the need to distinguish "man eating tiger" from "man-eating tiger." That's the difference here. Rather than, oh, asking the AP why it's using a different transliteration of Shalit's family name and when he was promoted,** the Freep is changing the meaning of the sentence about as far as it can be changed: from "Hebrew-speaking Palestinian" to "Palestinian-speaking Hebrew."

There's a lot you have to not know to produce an edit like that -- whether it's appropriate to call people Hebrews, or whether Palestinian is a language -- over and above the ability to forget all the context in one paragraph before moving on to the next. If the Freep is intent on showing that the copy desk is little more than a dangerously inflamed appendix on the body journalistic, it's off to a good start.

* Interesting to think how different the world looked in December 1987, isn't it?
** I honestly don't know; AP has him a corporal as recently as May, and the Times has "Cpl. Gilad Shalit" (the spelling Ha'aretz's English edition uses) in a story from Dec. 4. If any Middle Eastern readers can shed light on the topic, please feel free.

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2 Comments:

Blogger The Ridger, FCD said...

"Palestinian-speaking Hebrew"? How does that get past anybody? The last time there were Hebrews, weren't they living in Palestine?

6:35 PM, December 15, 2008  
Anonymous raYb said...

It's just another example of someone with a serious knowledge need. Several of your recent horrid examples boil down to someone simply not knowing. Here, the editor "not knew" that Palestinian isn't a language while Hebrew is. It brings to mind something about someone who eats, shoots and leaves.

7:49 PM, December 15, 2008  

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