That, of course, is arguably wrong, pedophilia being a psychiatric condition or psychological tendency, not an act. You wouldn't call someone found guilty of stealing from a store a convicted kleptomaniac, would you?
No. He or she is a convicted shoplifter. Similarly, Sandusky is not a convicted pedophile, he is a convicted child molester or abuser. (The pairing of convicted and serial is problematic, too, unless serial attacks are a crime separate and distinct from individual attacks.)
The Times' imprecise use of pedophile reminds me of a similar unacknowledged Times mistake, a post about which I reproduce below. In neither case is the Times' mistake likely to confuse readers. But in neither case is the language precisely correct, either. It's disappointing that that is good enough for the New York Times.
The New York Times recently published the following in its online edition:
NEW NFL RULE IS LIKELY TO LIMIT KICKOFF RETURNS
By JUDY BATTISTAIn The Joys of Yiddish, Leo Rosten defined chutzpah as "gall, brazen nerve, effrontery, incredible 'guts,' presumption plus arrogance such as no other word and no other language can do justice to." He also called it "that quality enshrined in a man who, having killed his mother and father, throws himself on the mercy of the court because he is an orphan."
c.2011 New York Times News Service
It takes a certain amount of chutzpah to be an NFL kick returner, to peer toward the sky, hoping to catch a wobbling ball, while thousands of pounds of opponents thunder toward you. It is going to take more — maybe much more — this season.
Chutzpah means audacity, in other words, not, as the Times seems to think, bravery. Sure, nerve is a component of and near synonym for both, but this does not mean audacity and bravery are themselves synonymous.
That is, though the Times has in recent years given space to Bono and allowed usages once considered mistakes ("Prosecutors like Rudolph W. Giuliani busted the mob, or tried to," New York Times, Aug. 25, 2011), it is surrounded by outlets that care even less about getting things right: newspapers that have de jure or de facto eliminated their copy desks, Web sites that make the most basic editing mistakes and refuse to acknowledge and correct their errors, crime novels that misuse loathe for loath or think that the vibrating organs that enable human speech are vocal chords rather than cords.
So, who decides what's right? Standardized English spelling and, possibly, grammar, meant little before the rise of mass literacy from the middle of the eighteenth century; who says they have to mean anything now? Read loathe for loath or vocal chords for cords, and you'll still probably get what the author intended. Is literacy, beyond the minimum functional level, a luxury? Does getting it right matter?
Comments from readers, writers, editors, and, if any wish to join in, publishers welcome.
© Peter Rozovsky 2011, 2012