WaPo columnist Gene Weingarten trotted out the “English is dead” meme on Sunday and he targeted newspapers to support his thesis. He ended up making a pretty good point; but it may have more to do with small budgets that don’t permit copy editors or even editors in general. Still, his litany of recent crimes against the Mother Tongue committed by media outlets was pretty entertaining, in a sad way. First, Weingarten described the final moments of English, gasping its last on the letters page of his paper:
The end came quietly on Aug. 21 on the letters page of The Washington Post. A reader castigated the newspaper for having written that Sasha Obama was the “youngest” daughter of the president and first lady, rather than their “younger” daughter. In so doing, however, the letter writer called the first couple the “Obama’s.” This, too, was published, constituting an illiterate proofreading of an illiterate criticism of an illiteracy. Moments later, already severely weakened, English died of shame.
A few examples from Weingarten’s litany of shame are worth mention.
- “Pronounciation” has recently made it into reports in the Boston Globe, the St. Paul Pioneer Press, the Deseret Morning News and Washington Jewish Week, just to name three.
- The same error also appeared in the Contra Costa Times. In that paper it actually appeared in a correction to another error.
- The Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star reported on football as a “doggy dog world.”
- The Vallejo Times-Herald and (according to Weingarten) dozens of others published articles discussing treatment of “prostrate cancer.”
- Weingarten managed a dig at the New York Times, noting that the paper has frequently used the phrase “reach out to,” which he colorfully termed a “vomitous verbal construction.”
A Google search restricted to NYTimes.com for the phrase “reach out to” actually yielded more than 60,000 results.
Weingarten’s pronouncement, however, is nothing new. He can probably chillax, since scholars have been declaring English dead for years, but the language marches on like a dutiful zombie, gathering new and terrible words as it goes.