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Friday, October 20, 2017

National Public Radio

They've just not given this sufficient thought. Sometimes a communications shortcut that is arguably reasonable in one medium becomes much less so in others. Abbreviations and acronyms make sense in written communications, especially when the acronyms are clearly identified early in a news story or editorial. One shouldn't have to write out National Collegiate Athletic Association multiple times in an article when it can be identified as such initially and then referred to as NCAA following times. But what's true in print does not necessarily hold for use on the radio or TV.
But rather than lay additional groundwork, let me go straight to the specific example that prompted my screed. Today I was listening to National Public Radio (NPR). The reporter on the program commented on an email to the program complaining about this very issue. The listener declared she was annoyed when “they used acronyms and abbreviations without ever clarifying and identifying what some of the letters represented.” . The specific abbreviation that piqued her was BBC-OS. In this case she was not objecting to the BBC. Everybody hearing the program and everybody on NPR knows that BBC stands for the British Broadcasting Corporation or Company. The caller was pretty sure, though, that the “OS” was seldom or never explained. This gave the NPR person the opening to answer the question at some length. Seems “OS” is short for “Outside Sources”. As painfully explained, this meant virtually all sources since BBC doesn't internally create much news. But other than providing this definition, the NPR person never adequately responded to the complainer's complaint. Why couldn't they refer to this little news niche program as “Outside Sources” every time instead of the “OS” abbreviation? When speaking it, two syllables are required to say “O” and “S”. Only four syllables are expended in mouthing “Outside Sources”. The time savings orally fails to match the economy of abbreviating in writing.
It was mentioned in the excuses offered up by NPR that the habit of using abbreviations internally within all organizations, be they broadcasting corporations or government bureaucracies, at times represented merely “insider lingo”. They do allow those in the know to freeze out the unwashed.
I could wrap this up admitting that some acronyms can provide the same useful time savings orally that they do on the paper. This is especially true where the acronym does not dictate each letter being voiced if the acronym is also a recognizable word. It made sense for the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaties of the 70s and 80s to be referred to both in writing and on television as START treaties. But, having said that, I stand with the e-mailer that “inside baseball” abbreviations are often lazily used at the expense of clarity.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

SO

Rather than write another blog on a current political topic or the latest media outrage I think I'll go to modern society and language.
                                                                     "So"

Recall, if you will, the time when one difference between the person on the street  and the one trained in public speaking was that the average person would often be caught beginning a sentence or thought or response to a question with some innocuous utterance such as “Uh” or “you know”. They might also continue to pepper their conversation with additional “uhs” and “you know”s, apparently believing that any sound was preferable to silence.
Though not totally eradicated, superfluous words are significantly reduced in most TV and radio interviews and conversations in recent years. The occasional athlete may still include a number of “you know”s and “uhs” in answers to painfully inane questions about how he felt sinking the winning shot or putt. But for the most part, one can listen to interviews without wincing as much.
There is a new trend, however, in public utterances. And this tends to hold both for politicians, scientists, and scholarly trained persons being interviewed concerning topics of their area of expertise.  The new trend is that after being asked a nice open-ended question designed to allow the respondent to wax eloquent the first word spoken in the answer well be, “So”. 
“How does the new MOAB bomb change the way we deal with ISIS”?
“So, it was designed and is intended to not only do effective damage such as reaching tunnel or underground targets but it also serves as a psychological weapon.”  [Hypothetical example]
What purpose does the introductory “So” serve in the answer?  It acknowledges the legitimacy of the question in the first place.  It seems to declare that what follows is indeed responsive to the question. 
“So” can exist in language as an adjective, adverb or conjunction. (Some dictionaries even include pronoun and noun uses.) The “so” I am addressing is the conjuction designed to introduce subsequent thought or information.

Listen to NPR or one of the TV news interview shows over the course of several programs and days and you’ll discover that “So” is so common an introduction to an answer that it is used more than half the time.  It has not yet become such a cliched use that it is distracting. Typically a responder will use it only at the beginning of an answer, not repeatedly throughout the explanation. This keeps it from becoming as annoying as “uh” and “you know” were for a number of years.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Supreme Court games

The actions by Mitch McConnell and the Republicans in the Senate securing Justice Gorsuch’s appointment to the Supreme Court, while disappointing, was entirely predictable and one could even justify as within the realms of “politics as usual”.  The Democrats would have taken pretty much the same course given a chance. In fact, the Democrats had performed a precursor of this with their moves several years earlier cutting back the “super majority” requirements on judicial nominations below the Supreme Court level.
What’s exceedingly more egregious and should have resulted in a different reaction was the prior year’s abdication of Senate responsibility to consider and vote on Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland for that same seat immediately upon the death of Antonin Scalia.  President Obama and the Democrats should have challenged the Republican blocking action.  The Constitution offers no such exception to the requirement in Article 2, Section 2 that the Senate provide its “advice and consent” to the president’s selections for potential replacement members to the Supreme Court.  Article 2, Sec. 2 does not say that the Senate can ignore such a nomination. True it offers no established deadline or timetable for this Senatorial duty to be accomplished.  But the clear implication is that the appointment is indeed an Executive Branch power, and agreement with or objection to the appointment by the Senate is a secondary ratification. That is why it is provided for in Article 2 rather than in Article 1 (Legislative) describing the powers of the Congress.
This being the case, President Obama and the Democrats in the Senate in 2016 should have challenged the Republican Senate.  After an appropriate length of time and following several published demands that the Senate perform its constitutional duty, the president should have declared that the Senate’s inaction amounted to acquiescence and that that lack of any negative declaration amounted to “consent”.  He then could have sworn Garland in and instructed to take his seat on the court.  Had the Republicans appealed this to the Supreme Court, and even if Garland recused himself, the Court would have split 4 to 4, leaving the accomplished action as the status quo.

This would have settled once and for all the fact that like it or not, the Congress must do what the Constitution says it must do.