01 April 2011

Powerful While Sleeping

I can be a stickler regarding word usage.  There are some commercials that get under my skin because they make no sense, yet one would assume someone professionally edited the language in them.  The most common abuse of language in commercials seems to be comparisons to nothing: tools that promise to accomplish something in "up to half the time;" fuels that burn "40% cleaner."  Compared to what, you ask?  Indeed.

More and more, though, I find laziness regarding language in straight news reporting (and by that, I mean to segregate news from opinion).  It's been a week since I read an astounding claim in the first sentence of a story reported in the Seattle Times.  Perhaps some who read this post might recall the controller referenced in the sentence; he had the unfortunate (and strangely fortunate - lots of big things going on in the world) fate of having fifteen minutes of news cycle spotlight on him.  According to the Seattle Times, he deserved much more.  Perhaps even a scientific study.
An air traffic control supervisor who fell asleep during a midnight shift and forced two planes to land without assistance at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport this week was suspended Thursday. 
That's one powerful air traffic controller.

This sort of laziness with language is all around us, and it's not unique to our times.  But consider how many messages we get every day and the length of those messages.  News sound bytes are perhaps five to fifteen seconds.  A really long sound byte might be just under a minute.  Posts on Twitter, called tweets, have a 140-character limit.  Text messages are generally fairly short, many times no longer than a tweet.  If I only have 140 characters (or fewer) to fully make a point, I would want to use very precise language.  It is curious, then, that as our utterances become shorter and shorter our language seems to become sloppier. 

Instead, we get all sorts of contradictions, convolutions and inaccuracies.  We get an air traffic controller capable of forcing airplanes to land while he sleeps unassisted.  Or maybe I'm just too critical.

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