Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Interest holes self ER: Film at 11

Who, you might well ask, is doing what to whom in this hed from the Fox opening page? And what's the rate on murder interest these days anyway? You could read the lede, but that sort of spoils the fun:

A person of interest in a double murder allegedly fired shots at a Chicago veterans hospital and holed himself the facility, bringing police to the scene, WFLD-TV in Chicago reports.

It's been edited (and replaced with an AP update) since this first showed up. [UPDATE: Here's a slightly different take on the original, which I miscopied; "holed himself the facility" is CQ.] If you track the versions at Fox and the affiliate the story's sourced to, you can see all kinds of stuff happening as the morning goes on: "man of interest" becoming "person of interest," and the oddly overcorrected "holed himself up" (I'm guessing someone got "barricaded himself" and "holed up" crossed). But the real fun is the subject noun, "interest." It's the second time in a week Fox has fronted that in a hed as shorthand for "person of interest," only this time it appears without quotes. Whatever it is, it ain't an accident.

Given that language change is natural and people -- especially people who knock out a lot of words on short notice with little editing support -- are always going to be trying new stuff with language, should we try to stomp on this one or welcome it into the family. My vote is "stomp," for several reasons.

One -- jeez, it's ugly. Granted, that's a subjective, non-empirical and value-laden response, but the extent the public gets to vote with its feet, typewriter-wise, on new usages, mine is in: Stomp.

More to the point, it doesn't work. Apologies if there's a technical term gone wrong or begging here, but that slot isn't open on that noun. Try it in some sample news-speak sentences: "Police have developed an interest in the slaying." "Anyone who sees the interest is asked to call police." You can't make "interest" un-mean all the things it already means; that's begging for confusion.
That may be because the noun has one too many boundaries to hop. I can't think of any similar constructs in which the object of the preposition replaces the noun being modified:

Person of color
Woman of conviction
Man of constant sorrow

Third: On the whole, I'd prefer it if news language sounded less like the language of news sources. That too is a pretty natural function. When your job is to hang around people by way of getting information from them (cops, academics, ballplayers, rimrats, whatever), your vocabulary is likely to start reflecting theirs.* It doesn't necessarily change the way you see the world, but it might change the way you summarize the world when the clock is running.

Fox likes to sound like the cops. In Fox World, that's the side that all right-thinking people look up to. If you don't want your news organization to be mistaken for a branch of the police (or the military), not sounding like sources is a good place to start.

* I have no idea whether cops have started using "interests" or it's just a Fox invention. I'd be happy if we swore off "person of interest" altogether.

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3 Comments:

Blogger The Ridger, FCD said...

"Holed himself up" may be "oddly overcorrected" but it's way better than "holed himself", which made me think he'd shot himself in the confusion...

9:03 PM, September 23, 2009  
Blogger fev said...

It is that, and owing to your comment I went back and tried again to find the original (damn Internet content analysis). I'm pretty confident in this one; it's kind of both weirder and less weird.

10:12 PM, September 23, 2009  
Blogger John Cowan said...

The Ridger: The confusion? Is that near the chitlins, right above the liver?

7:05 PM, October 05, 2009  

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