Have you become aware of some of the following things showing up in our passing parade?
MORE BRITISH ON THE SCENE. It’s hard to turn on the TV or radio these days without hearing a British accent. It seems that half the foreign correspondents are British. When CNN or NBC News cuts to a reporter stationed in Syria or China, chances are the reporter will have a British accent. Or it could be Australian, Welsh or Scottish. Does the UK generate an over-supply of journalists, or what? In most cases, they usually speak a better quality of English than Americans do. Which is only proper, since the English invented the language in the first place.
THE DECLINE OF “DECIMATE.’’ Speaking of language, have you noticed how the term “to decimate” has been downgraded to mean “annihilate” or “utterly destroy”? Not too long ago, when correct English was honored and sometimes even practiced, decimate meant “to execute one out of every 10 rebellious soldiers.” That’s how the ancient Romans often put down uprisings. Today, newscasters and other arbiters of public taste speak blithely of floods that “decimate” entire towns and populations. By drowning every tenth victim, we presume.
DIFFERENCES BETWEEN CNN AND FOX NEWS. These two companies battle each other to see who’s on top of the national news game. Officially they both promise to bring fair and balanced coverage of news. Fox is often accused of leaning too far to the right. Conservatives paint CNN as a tool of the Establishment and even (horrors!) of the Obama administration. I enjoy flipping back and forth between these news agencies, just to see what their non-political differences seem to be.
Both organizations tend to employ 20-ish, glib blonde women who chatter on about Mideast revolutions and Hungarian politics as if they actually knew where Cairo and Budapest are (and perhaps they do.) The faces of CNN’s Wolf Blitzer and Anderson Cooper seem more familiar to me than the Fox News anchors do, but that doesn’t mean they do a better job. I keep hoping that CNN will get rid of that prissy Englishman Piers Morgan, who gives the impression of stumbling over his lips as he spits out his commentary.
As a rule CNN’s people appear more polished and informed than Fox’s presenters. I feel guilty for letting appearance carry weight in forming my judgments. But then I remind myself that, in television news, good looks and slick delivery count for just as much as content and accuracy do. Sad, but true.
JUDGE JUDY DEFENDS OUR LANGUAGE. Earlier this year I wrote a column criticizing Judge Judy for her high-handed treatment of the contestants who appear before her. In an email from her husband, I caught unshirted hell for my remarks. I still would not want to face her in a courtroom showdown, but I’m mellowing in my attitude toward Judge Judy because of her impatience with plaintiffs/defendants whose speech habits are about two steps up from those of cave dwellers. The judge insists on “yes” as a response, not “yeah.” And she cracks down on the ubiquitous use of the useless filler word “basically” by persons giving testimony. Go get ’em, Your Honor. What this country needs is more grammar Nazis.
WHEN A MAJOR CRIME OR DISASTER OCCURS and the police chief or mayor promptly holds a televised press conference, have you noticed how the official usually puts enormous stress on how quickly the first responders arrived at the scene? It’s as if the agency-in-charge is in a national competition to see who comes to the rescue the quickest. We all admire and respect the cops and firefighters who race toward danger, but do we really care whether they got to the scene within three minutes of the first alarm, rather than two and a half? The only explanation I can think of is that in many emergencies there may be a discontented watchdog standing by, timing the rescuers for possible legal or political reasons.
IT’S GETTING HARDER TO SURF THE WEB. Or so it seems to me. Not long ago, you could type in “Latest news,” click a key and be flooded with news headlines. Today you’re liable to get eight spam-type secondary websites saying “Asia news,” or “Join our newshound chat room” before you finally fight your way through to useful content. You want lean-and-mean surfing, and instead you get embroidery.
DONALD TRUMP CONTINUES TO INSPIRE all of us with his consistency of behavior and attitudes. Other public figures may waffle, flip-flop, revise and take new positions, but the Donald holds steady and unchanged as one of the biggest jerks ever to appear on our national scene.