TV Journalists Conned by Language Prank !

Barnhart barnhart at HIGHLANDS.COM
Fri Aug 26 03:18:10 UTC 2005

American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU> on Thursday, August 25,
2005 at 10:23 AM -0500 wrote:
>---------------------- Information from the mail header
>Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
>Poster:       Jonathan Lighter <wuxxmupp2000 at YAHOO.COM>
>Subject:      TV Journalists Conned by Language Prank !
>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
>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 history.
>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 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
>a basic principle of journalism."
>We declined to reach Hill for comment.
>                                                           -- 30 --
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How odd that we should deliberate this this way.  After all, cleverer is
in the OED from the 17th century.  End of story, I should think.

The pathetic aspect of this all is that we should expect news "readers" to
be especially ept in matters linguistic.  A reporter is another story.
End of rant.

Barnhart at

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