Sometimes You Just Gotta Let It Out

A few weeks ago, I explained that my writing background is in journalism. While I am genuinely working to develop my creative side of writing, I find my roots, at least on a technical level, are still firmly rooted in my journalistic education. Face it, after 30 years of working to perfect any trade, it is hard to execute an about-face or even a deviation in one’s path.

So, setting aside my emerging creative aspirations and focusing this week on my anal, journalistic side, I want to address a couple of issues – “pet peeves,” you can call them – that I have in the hopes, that by jotting them down on paper (or a blog), I can shake them off and, perhaps, get them out of my system so I can move on. By the way, can I even use the word “anal?”

My rant is not about creative writing, but is directed mostly at professional journalism and, specifically, news broadcasters, although print reporters are not entirely innocent either.

Try this on for size: “The tornado completely destroyed the high school.” With all the storms in our area, this type of phrase has been used lately, either out of carelessness or perhaps toward exploiting the dramatic effect. But, as I was taught and had beaten into to me by my teachers, that if a building is “destroyed,” would it not be by definition “complete” and total? If it is not “complete,” then it would be “damaged,” since “destruction” is already all or nothing.

You see, journalism is about using language effectively and efficiently, meaning that redundancies on the professional level, as I was taught, are not tolerated.

Another example comes from the news of a recent tornado in Oklahoma where it was reported that “a warehouse had been totally leveled.” Again, if a building is leveled, would it not be “total?”

Then there is the word “unique,” which is also abused constantly by broadcasters and just about everyone else these days. According to Merriam-Webster, “unique” primarily means: “being the only one.” I say “primarily,” because the word has been abused with terms such as, “very unique” so commonly that their dictionary has a sidebar dedicated to the debate of how some people accept the term. After all, if an item or person is unique, how could adding the word “very” make it any more of one of a kind.

There are other examples in contemporary journalism that I could discuss, such as how the word “literally,” which has come to be overused and abused; or how the small word “very,” as referred to above, is frequently added for emphasis where it is not needed.

So there, call me “anal” but at least I got my rant and a couple of my pet peeves out in the open.


3 responses to “Sometimes You Just Gotta Let It Out

  1. I have lots of those little pet peeves as well. I’m a grammar nerd. My kids know it and I’m afraid it is rubbing off on them, at least my oldest for sure. My oldest was listening to a song, which I can’t remember now, darn it, where they used a double negative. My son was singing along then commented, “Well that’s bad grammar.” But then he kept singing, so hopefully I haven’t done too much damage. 😉

  2. Oh, how I hate the way people use the word, “literally.”
    “I couldn’t believe what I saw,” they’ll say. “My jaw literally dropped to the floor.”
    Yes. Your jaw actually disconnected from your head and fell off. You had to reach down on the floor and put it back on. They don’t realize they are saying that.
    “I was so mad that I literally blew my top!” Again, this person was so angry that the top of their skull broke off and went flying through the air!
    The word suddenly is a word I’ve tried to stay away from when writing. I realize that it’s redundant. Writing that your character, “…suddenly got up in the middle of the conversation and walked away,” sounds like bad writing to me, now. The fact that they got up in the middle of a conversation already implies that it was sudden.
    “Katie got up in the middle of the conversation and walked away,” sounds more professional.
    But yes, a lot of these mistakes are being made by people who write for a living and have been doing it for many years. They should know better. I’ll use the excuse that I’m still new at this.

  3. I am so glad, guys, that I am not the only one who gets uptight about this. I was afraid I was going to be banished for being an elitist. Now, I’m thinking of doing a follow-up.

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