"The Vanishing Verb" in TV news

Beverly Flanigan flanigan at OAK.CATS.OHIOU.EDU
Sat Aug 25 17:40:25 UTC 2001

I just listened to the excerpt too and noticed, as Mai did, that the verb
isn't always absent (though it often is).  Instead, the progressive is used
but without 'be'.  As she notes, is it faster to say "Pres. Bush saying..."
than "Pres. Bush says/said"?  I don't buy the argument that this is "People
Speak," as Terence Smith said, but it may be taught in some style books
now, according to him.  The analogies with Shakespeare's "ellipticisms"
were bogus too; the quoted lines were simply exclamations, not full
sentences sans (partial) verbs.

At 10:13 AM 8/25/01 -0500, you wrote:
>In case anyone missed the NewsHour last night, here's the link to their
>piece "The Vanishing Verb: Examining the Changing Language of TV News":
>There are interesting clues about nonlinguists' views on language in this:
>the idea seems to be that, for more efficiency and immediacy, people
>delivering news on TV should eliminate verbs while also keeping everything
>in present tense... huh? how are they going to manage *that*? Well, from
>the examples given, I suspect that they actually advocate leaving out BE
>verbs, and that a structure with one or more auxiliary verbs is considered
>too lengthy and complex and labeled "not present tense".
>In an interview in the NewsHour piece, Shepard Smith, Fox News Channel
>anchor, explains:  "...sometimes the verbs just aren't necessary. It's,
>'President Bush in Washington today.' I don't need to say, 'He is in
>Washington today.' 'President Bush in Washington today, talking with Colin
>Powell, getting ready for a trip overseas. Telling others yesterday about
>what happened when, dah, dah, dah, dah.' You don't need all of those
>verbs."  Wait a minute... wouldn't it be a split second quicker to say
>'President Bush in Washington today, *talks* with Colin Powell, *gets*
>ready for a trip overseas, *tells* others yesterday about...' ? There
>seems to be something more going on beyond what the interviewees in this
>story explicitly state.
>"The biggest thing is getting used to not having a heartbeat."
>                 --Robert Tools

Beverly Olson Flanigan         Department of Linguistics
Ohio University                     Athens, OH  45701
Ph.: (740) 593-4568              Fax: (740) 593-2967

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