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thought for the day

ny times illiteracy #1: bad words

Rar!Moi I don't often go on language rants; generally, I like slang, I like neologisms, I like the way language grows and changes. But there's a limit to my tolerance and my limit is reached when the correct usage of existing words is eschewed for sloppy constructions in respected print publications, i.e., violations of Strunk & White's "write tight" dictum. And today's violator is, of all institutions . . . The New York Times.  Writing about a horrific accident in Chinatown, the two reporters covering it, Christine Hauser and Colin Moynihan, describe it this way:

A delivery van rear-ended into a crowd of people, including a group of preschoolers, on a busy commercial street in Chinatown on Thursday morning, killing two children and injuring a dozen other people, the authorities said. . . . The van, a 2000 Ford, was traveling on East Broadway and appeared to make a three-point turn to make a delivery. Suddenly, the van lurched, rear-ending over the curb and careering onto the sidewalk, according to witnesses.

No it fucking didn't. The van did not "rear-end" into a crowd of people; it didn't "rear-end" over the curb. It "backed up." It "reversed." The van did not "rear-end" anybody; it was not "rear-ended." To "rear-end" is to collide with another car's rear end. It does not mean "back up."

How hard is that? Reporting this accident does not require an advanced vocabulary. The phrase "back up" is not complicated or obscure. "Reversed" is a simple word, in every even marginally literate person's vocabulary. No cop would say that van rear-ended anything; it's legally incorrect. The driver lost control of his van while going backwards.

It's probably the teacher in me, a little frazzled from reading about 300 pages of not very good prose over the past week, but I expect far better from professional writers. Using the verb "rear-end" in this way is bad syntax, bad writing, and bad reporting. I know it's breaking news, but why would any journalist even use that phrase in this way? It's not slang, it's not hip or informal, it's just wrong, on multiple levels.

No copy editor would ever allow this into print.  /rant

Update: The article has been slightly revised, using "backed into" in the opening sentence, but not the one about the van. I wonder if that's because of my comment on the site? Hee hee.


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In Atlanta, "rear-ended" is used the describe the most common accident locally, when one vehicle crashes into the back of another. I've been the victim of two such accidents in Atlanta since moving here in 2000.

Of course, within the gay community, we have another meaning for "rear-end." =8-0

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