In my last column, I promised to explore the language of rural Ohio and its colloquial expressions. I was all prepared to wheel out such wonderful old expressions as “okey dokey,” “howdy doody,” “golly Ned” and such, but I’ve changed my mind. I have a more serious need to talk instead about the language of television news. I’ll blurt it right out, right now. I am sick of the “ing” people on cable news who have never met an infinitive they liked.
You know the drill. Reporter: “The President tweeting this morning …” rather than “The President tweeted this morning.” This breathless form of ‘present participle’ breaking news chatter – when breathless-ness is not required – actually began during my early days in radio and remains a staple of that medium to this moment. It’s a standard news headline format commonly used by stations to deliver a quick compact, summary of the day’s top news items at the top or bottom of the hour, or whenever they do their breaking news segments. Fine for that purpose.
But now turn that over to the cable talking heads during the course of their normal and often interminable yakety-thons when time is less a factor, and it drives me batty. Actually it isn’t entirely their fault. The prepared news content has been written in that form by behind-the-scenes writers and transposed to tele-prompter from which the talkers faithfully read the
content. Not an annoyance for you? Try thinking about the “ing” approach when talking to your associates or family members today and you’ll get the gist. You: “How was your day?” Wife: “Leaving for lunch today, I ran into an old friend.” Rather than. “I ran into an old friend as I left for lunch today.” Annoying. Well, okey. It is to me. I’ve just never met a dangling participle I liked.
Likewise, we also have the “now” news people on cable. Not quite so irritating to me, but still the useless waste of a word. Listen for it if you don’t know what I’m talking about, which is probably true of many things I opine about. Example: The next item that the news reader might be prepared to deliver is: “Special prosecutor Mueller indicted 500 hundred people today suspected of nothing having to do with his investigation.” But, our wordy reporter instead begins: “Now special prosecutor Mueller …” I guess it is some sort of transitional device, but utterly unnecessary.
Even more irksome to moi are the hackneyed, endless phrases of the day commonly repeated by the experts across all cable news shows. Examples, please, ancient Mel. Certainly. Let’s say the President will be speaking to Congress tonite. He has to “hit it out of the park.” Or, if we need to explore that further: Let’s “unpack” what he’s going to say tonite. No, let’s fully unpack it and find out what’s “baked in” to his proposed speech. We don’t want to just “tinker around the edges.” On the other hand, let’s not go too far with our analysis, because we “don’t want to get out over our skis.” Sure as heck we don’t want to “die on that hill.” And we all know that could happen if someone “sucks all of the oxygen out of the room.” Are you getting the drift? Lordy, where is Charles Krauthammer when we badly need him? Or, for that matter, Andy Rooney.
To get into a lot more trouble than I may already be in, I have two other major fish to fry when it comes to cable news. First, the lavish sets full of “experts” who are gathered together to nuance and otherwise “unpack” the story of the moment, or better still, the story that the network and its host decide should be the story du moment. It baffles me no end as to why it takes six talking heads, for instance, to discuss the significance of a typo
in the President’s latest early morning tweet.
I am also underwhelmed by the overwhelming proliferation of young round-table “experts” who look and talk like they had just packed and left their college sorority the day before, which of course is possibly true. Needless to say, I admit they are, for the most part, bright, generally attractive, fit nicely into the news department budget, and of course make the round-table look good. But I have great difficulty believing that some young 20-something with her hair hanging down over one- eye can pontificate on the current China trade deal with much veracity. Of course, there is little justification on my part for suggesting that the book will produce less than its cover, yet after listening to many of them my dis-belief often seems justified. In an unbridled display of my own dinosaur-like trappings, I prefer the days when news giants of depth, like commentator Lowell Thomas or anchor Walter Cronkite, hands on the tiller, ruled the airwaves without need of adding a crew to row the boat forward.
So that’s my grumpy tale for this time. Except to say that if I’m ever asked to speak before an association of news people I think I will write my speech in “ing” language and pepper it with a few pithy news-speak observations of the day. Of course, if (nay, when) everyone walks out before I finish, I’ll just, as the folks like to say these days, “mail it in.” Okey, dokey?
Mel Grossman is a local resident and guest columnist.