ALLAN JEFFERYS: Do Today's Broadcasters Care About Correct Pronunciation?
Recently, editor Steve Bouser and proofreader and copy editor Locke Bowman each wrote a column about style as applied to this newspaper.
The Pilot uses the Associated Press stylebook. Some other print media use the New York Times stylebook or the Chicago book of style. Which one is far less important than the fact the newspapers big and small use one.
Thus, each paper has a need for and a demand for a high standard. I admire The Pilot for maintaining these standards even if it means trying to remember to end "theater" with an "er" as opposed to my preference of "theatre." The various stylebooks are proof that our language lives and there is more than one way to spell. One day I may even get my way with thru, nite and lite.
Since I spent the bulk of my career in broadcasting, I can remember when that medium also tried to maintain a high and uniform standard. CBS, for example, once kept a Columbia professor named Cabel Greet on retainer to listen to us and gently remind us how things should be pronounced. I still have a worn copy of a memo I received from him nudging me into the correct pronunciation of Saudi Arabia. Never, never, never pronounce it Soddy. The preferred is Sowdy, to rhyme with Howdy.
I also recall, when the word came into the news, a note on the bulletin board stating that CBS preferred the Spanish pronunciation of Junta: "hoonta." Two weeks later, CBS reversed itself and issued an edict calling for "junta," just as it is spelled. I think those standards ended when broadcasters gave up the reins and the bean counters took over. Today, no one seems to care how broadcasters look or sound.
Most of what I know about speech and grammar I learned not from teachers or books but from listening to the radio. That was back when broadcasting cared.
I cringe today when I hear two people on the same newscast fling out the word "data" with one rhyming the first syllable with "date" and the other with "hat." Admittedly, both are legally correct, but where is the stylebook? Where is the standard? For the record, the preferred pronunciation rhymes with "date." The long vowel is also preferred in words like "status."
Newscasters have trouble with "route," too. Think of the song "Route 66" and say "root." How many times do we hear "his fortay was"? When "forte" is pronounced "fortay," it is a music term meaning loud. If it is your strong suit, it should be simply "fort."
Given the fact that our students seem to be falling behind those in many other nations, I should think radio and television would make a serious effort to do it right. Role models do work, you know. Every little boost up the ladder can only help. Or are broadcasters interested only in the bottom line?
Most anchors seem to be hired by central casting as opposed to journalist experts. Look at the girls on Fox. Most of them are knockouts, to be sure, but they also look like they are auditioning for the role of "Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm." Hair locks dropping below the shoulder do not a journalist make. Nor do open-toed sandals, cut-off jeans, tank tops and unshaven faces. Biased opinions are in -- haircuts are out.
The most glaring and gruesome example of poor speech is in the absence of the letter "g." Nothing is ever coming up. It is comin' up. I realize I live in the South, where dropping the "g" from words that end in "ing" is common. So perhaps these broadcasters are trying to sound cool or laid back. Huh-uh. In my four decades on the air, ranging from tiny little stations to full networks, I had a reputation for a casual, laid-back approach. This was done without dropping a "g." Dropping a "g" on the air is not cool; it is simply sloppy.
What does all of this have to do with good news reporting? It's called good taste as in maintaining standards and acting as role models. Style. Which may be where the word stylebook comes from.
Of course good taste has been on the wane for some time. CBS has a new show in which the hero is a serial killer. There was a time when a premise like that would never get out of the starting gate. But today, the bean counters just don't care and deny any responsibility for contributing to youthful indiscretions. Anyone who believes that what appears on television does little to influence youth is living in a dream world.
The timing is long overdue for broadcasting to return to standards and taste and style. If a small paper like The Pilot can hold its head up proudly adhering to a stylebook, so can CBS, NBC and ABC -- and especially Fox.
Allan Jefferys, a former New York theater critic, entertainment editor and newsman, lives in Pinehurst. You can contact him at email@example.com.
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