It is the basics that need attention

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“I was extremely amused to read today’s ‘Corrections and Clarifications’: ‘It is Nobel laureate and not Noble laureate.’ If these are the kinds of spelling mistakes that are sought to be corrected/clarified, I can point out a dozen such mistakes, wrong juxtapositions of words, omissions and grammatical mistakes, which are probably worse … What to say when the word ‘appraise’ has been used instead of ‘apprise’ … and ‘instigate’ is found in place of ‘initiate’ in regard to investigation? It is such errors (apart from factual corrections, etc.) which should be clarified so that the younger generation would get to know the correct usage of words, which I should think is the hallmark of The Hindu’s popularity and greatness among readers.”

I have quoted long-time reader S. Narayanan (East Tambaram, Chennai) at some length because he raised issues that need answers and clarifications. As he rightly points out, typographical errors should not be taken up for rectification in “Corrections and Clarifications.” We do not do that, as a matter of policy, for, as the reader points out, there can be a dozen (dozens, may be) of them — one was in my column on April 27, where “world” appeared as “word.” An exception was made in the case of Nobel, after some discussion, because of the importance of the word and its frequent misspelling. The general practice, when a typo is pointed out, is to thank the reader for the trouble taken.

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The mandate of the Readers’ Editor is to set the record straight when published reports carry significant misrepresentations or errors of fact. The daily corrections column attempts to do this. The emphasis is on “significant.” This involves interpretation and judgment and that can vary from person to person (as in the selection of news.) This is a daily event for us. We also discuss whether to include wrong usage and improper constructions. But we do not wish to turn the daily column into lessons in grammar, syntax or copy editing. That has to be handled at another level. I make a note of such assaults on linguistic sensibilities, as pointed out by readers, collect them and use them in these columns, from time to time.

This process can turn up such gems as: an herbal concoction; a honour to his guru; the Bill has been hanging on fire; the van rammed into the bus (all these in one day’s paper); lakhs of employees in the insurance sector struck down work on Tuesday; knee-jerk finger pointing.

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My two columns in November 2008 dealt with Craig Silverman’s “Regret the Error,” a book which analyses the whys and hows of newspaper errors and suggests steps to reduce them. K.R. Menon (Thiruvananthapuram) wants the book to be made part of the training for journalist staff and copies of the book distributed to all offices of The Hindu for use by all staff members. You can distribute the book, but can you make people read it? (Assimilating it is another matter.) The book, however, will not help eliminate the kind of mistakes listed here. For that the solution is a solid grounding in English, the basic raw material for the print journalist.

The mistakes in the daily newspaper can be classified as wrong usage, bad construction, incorrect headlines, and fuzzy captions. The causes are many. I would cite the pace of work as the prime cause. Inadequate language skills is the next in importance. Lack of revision also makes its contribution. In a newspaper there is no scope for cover-ups when you slip. Watchful readers are ready to pounce on errors. What follows is a selection from what has been noted and communicated to me.

Some of these contributors are regulars, some occasional, and some one-time anglers. Their watchfulness never ceases to surprise and I always welcome their efforts as helping me in my task. Here are some pickings from the many contributions.

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Dr. K.C. Rajaraman, (Ammapettai, Chidambaram, Tamil Nadu) now and then points out strange usage in the paper: implemented the programme in an appreciable manner (the word does not mean worthy of appreciation); emerging ambulatory services (for ambulance); phone number of their wards or parents: tracing the wards of stranded children (for guardians); administration failed to diffuse tension (for defuse); and award will be distributed (for presented).

A very frequent wrong usage is presented with or conferred with the award. “Christian Colson was awarded with Darryl F Zanuck producer of the year award” (George Thomas, Kozhikode, Kerala). “Bhimsen Joshi presented with Bharat Ratna” also had this sentence: “The award carried a certificate signed by the President of India and a medallion by a senior bureaucrat.” “Dr. Prahalad conferred Chennai Petroleum Corporation Limited (CPCL) with the Mother Teresa Corporate Citizen Award.”

Another frequently misused phrase is “have no truck with.” This is the only way it can be used, not as this: “Mr. Singh who never before had any truck with the Congress …”

“Government had already instigated an investigation” (K.M. Thomas, Muvattupuzha, Kerala).

“The entire gathering watched the event with a baited breathe” for bated breath (R. Sreenivasulu, Anantapur).

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“LTTE is engaged in forcible conscription.” Conscription involves force (N.K. Vijayan, Kizhakkambalam, Kerala).

“Guilty of perpetuating such a fraud” (perpetrating).

“Software to count hairs.” Hair is also plural (H.G. Raghavan, Bangalore).

“Parapet wall”. A parapet is a wall (J.V. Reddy, Nellore).

“The paintings … executed in an ingenuous way.” The artist could have been ingenuous but the art is ingenious (M.R. Srinivasan, Chennai).

“NRIs join the bandwagon”. The correct phrase is “jump on the bandwagon” (A.K. Das Gupta, Hyderabad).

Moosootty Thackarakkal (Kottayam) says The Hindu very often commits mistakes, which is wrong English. The correct usage is make mistakes. A letter he received from the Oxford University Press says, “You may commit murder or suicide, but you make a mistake.”

“A pair of white tigers relieving themselves of the heat at Delhi zoo” (Picture caption). “Relieving themselves” means going to the loo.

“(CRPF men) who had rushed to the spot had allegedly retaliated by kicking the tea stall employees with the rear side of the guns.” (V. Rajagopalan, Chennai). A gun’s “rear side” is the butt; you can hit with that, but how do you kick? The same report had this sentence, “he took up a quarrel with the staff.”

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There are some examples of wrong usage, cited by readers. Errors in headlines and editing will form another column.



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