Friday, 3 October 2008

When will the media use the verb ‘condole’ properly?

It is rare that a journalist admits publicly that he/she has committed an error. It is still rarer that a senior journalist, holding the key post of a news editor, owns up a mistake committed by a junior.
(I should know because I was a journalist myself for over three decades.)
It came, therefore, as a pleasant surprise, when Ahmedabad Mirror, carried the following letter in its recent issue under the heading “Mind Your Language”:
When will the media use the verb ‘condole’ properly? The headline at the top of the page on September 20 says ‘PM condoles inspector Sharma’s death.’ Condole means sympathy. You can express sympathy to persons but not to death. Moreover condole (like sympathy) is an intransitive verb and can not take an object (death, in this case). Your headline and the story, should have read: The PM condoles with inspector’s family over/in his death.
Response from AM’s News Editor Pradeep Mallik published alongside was:
Thank you for writing and enlightening us on the correct usage of ‘condole.’ We stand corrected. Looking forward to more mails from you.
Those in the profession will know the importance of such a response when considered that the original story was not written by any AM staffer. It was a PTI story from New Delhi, probably edited and headlined by a sub-editor in the AM, Ahmedabad. And a news editor does not normally read every word of every story. Mallik could have passed the buck, on receipt of the mail from the reader, to PTI. Mallik did not.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

We often write English the way our whim dictates us to. Often, I wonder if we are doing the right thing because many people learn their English by reading the quality newspapers.

Therefore, should we not be cautious about our choice of words? But given the fact that poor writing confuses even the careful, I have a few questions of fellow journaists.

Should it be 'police have started an investigation' or police has started investigation'? Is it 'India has won the match' or 'have won'?

I believe that grammar remains rigid but some usage does change over time but should 'return back' be acceptable instead of just 'return'?

Yes, style is a matter of choice but cannot be fiddled with. Yet, at least one newspaper has opted to lowercase the first person singular - 'I'! Eric Patrige would be sickened by this use and abuse of the language.

The other day, I came across a sentence where the Sikhs - hold your breath - 'observed' the birth anniversary of Guru Nanak! The general usage is 'celebrated' while only death anniversaries are 'observed'.

A colleage suggested the other day that if the English - the people, not the language - write idiomatically, then when writing in India, we should stick to Indianised version. So 'return back' etc. is acceptable to him. Don't the Americans have their own brand of English?

The misfortune is that the new generation of writers, even in newspapers, tend to tilt towards the American English, using truck for a lorry. But it was heartening to know that an editor agonised over days about letting a sentence which said someone 'was driving a motorbike' when he later thought, and rightly too, that it ought to have been 'riding a bike'.

Suppose news professionals start voicing their doubts and offer suggestions on this blog?

Mahesh Vijapurkar