TV Journalists Conned by Language Prank !

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Thu Aug 25 14:53:58 UTC 2005

At 7:23 AM -0700 8/25/05, Jonathan Lighter wrote:
>New York.--Aug. 25 (Special to ADS-L)  Flash !  A bizarre incident
>involving Fox News anchor E. D. Hill today fueled doubts about TV
>journalists' ability to judge the truth of elementary statements
>about language.
>The unusual incident began early today when Hill, veteran co-anchor
>of Fox News Channel's morning show "Fox & Friends," called attention
>to a published British study claiming to show that men's IQ's are
>five points higher than women's, on average.
>After questioning the objectivity of the report, because it written
>by male researchers, Hill pointed out the article's subhead stating
>that men may be "cleverer" than women.
>"_Cleverer_ ?" Hill asked the camera in a tone described
>alternatively as "bemused" or "indignant."   "_Cleverer_ ?
>_Cleverer_ is not a word."  Observers believe she intended to cast
>doubt on the competence of researchers who would write "cleverer."
>Later, however, Hill stated on air that a colleague had looked up
>"cleverer" at Dictionariesonline and discovered that "cleverer"
>actually was "a word."  Hill admitted that her assertion that it was
>not a word was in error. It is widely believed that Hill's admission
>of error in a comment on language is the first in journalistic
>But in a surprising twist that left linguists in the viewing
>audience reeling, minutes before the show ended, Hill laughed as she
>said, "We've received an email from a viewer [name unintelligible]
>who has a _doctorate_, and she writes as follows :  " 'Cleverer' is
>not a word.  It is not a verb

Well, she's right about that, anyway.  It's not a ham sandwich
either, and cannot be sailed across the ocean.

>and cannot be declined or inflected.' "  Hill concluded, "So I was
>right all along ! It's not a word ! "
>In a telephone interview with himself, Dr. J. E. Lighter, a
>lexicographer and contributor to the Oxford English Dictionary,
>commented,  "What is most troubling in this case is the show's
>readiness to accept the gibberish word of an essentially anonymous
>member of the public over the evidence of a dictionary compiled by
>professionals.  This would seem to violate
>a basic principle of journalism."
>We declined to reach Hill for comment.
>                                                            -- 30 --
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