A ‘Thing’ About Verbs
Here’s a story that I wish was an April Fool’s Day joke!
Warren St. John reports in the New York Times that Shepard Smith, 40, host of Fox News Channel’s “Fox Report,” has a “thing” about verbs. Smith, in fact, doesn’t like them. When he sees one in his scripts, he removes the word altogether or adds “-ing” to the word, thereby turning the verb into a participle and rendering an otherwise sound sentence grammatically incorrect.
For some reason, news viewers don’t seem to notice the “strange shorthand,” as the New York Times describes it. For a reason that is even more difficult to comprehend, journalists, who are supposedly trained in good writing that creates easy-to-understand stories, don’t seem to be bothered by it, either. So we are left with examples like this:
“Amazon.com celebrating a birthday! The Internet company 10 years old.”
“Texas! A school bus and two other vehicles colliding in Dallas. The bus
rolling over on its side.”
“Outrage in the Middle East! A vow of revenge after an assassination and
reportedly threatening the United States. Tonight – how real the threat?”
Smith justifies this poor writing with an absurd conclusion: “We don’t communicate in full sentences anyway. We don’t need all those words. And it allows us to go faster.”
When was the last time you heard someone ask, “John, heading out for lunch: picking up something for you?” We don’t communicate in complete sentences all the time; he’s right about that. But when we do communicate in complete sentences, we don’t drop random verbs just to squeeze more words in.
I’ve worked in television for more than 14 years now, and here’s how I’d ackle the three examples above:
Internet company Amazon.com celebrates its 10th birthday. (Saved three words and collapsed two sentences into one. I kept the sentence in active tense, for those who hate to correctly use past tense for things that have already happened.)
2. A school bus and two other vehicles collide in Dallas, sending the bus rolling over on its side. (Again, two sentences collapsed into one. Same number of words, but I deleted “Texas,” because it’s assumed that’s where Dallas is and on-screen graphics can confirm this suspicion.)
3. Outrage in the Middle East! A vow of revenge after an assassination and
reported threats against the United States. But are the threats real? (I added a single word, “is,” and killed the unnecessary “Tonight,” which newscasters like to pointlessly throw into scripts as if in an effort to convince viewers that they haven’t already heard this same story repeated all day long.)
Are we really saving time with this non-grammatical editing of English? Or are we just trying to “sound” hip enough that viewers will refrain from hitting the remote control? Do we not end up sounding like some kind of bad parody of ourselves? Smith claims, “the driving force is to get more news in the hour.”
He’s getting plenty of news in an hour. If making his sentences sound like proper English costs him a single story in 60-minutes, is that the end of the world?
One last thought…you’ve probably already noticed…but in case you were wondering whether I’ve caught it or not, I have: All of Smith’s comments to the reporter — each quote about trying to speed things along by eliminating unnecessary words and about people no longer speaking in complete sentences — are complete sentences.
Time to rethink things, perhaps?