story in the New York Times in July said Jerry Sandusky, the former assistant football coach at Pennsylvania State University, "was convicted last month of being a serial pedophile."
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
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.
(Ed. note: This error, published by the New York Times Aug. 6, 2011, remains uncorrected and unacknowledged as of
Oct. 3 Oct. 16 Oct. 28 Dec. 11 Dec 18, Jan. 23, 2012 Jan. 30, 2012 March 25, 2012 June 9 August 20. I don't know why an editor has not corrected the mistake. It's not as if the story's author is Bono, or anything.)
he New York Times recently published the following in its online edition
NEW NFL RULE IS LIKELY TO LIMIT KICKOFF RETURNS
By JUDY BATTISTA
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.
In 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."
, 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
are themselves synonymous.
r maybe they have become synonymous, which raises an interesting question: Who determines what's linguistically right and wrong? Respectable authorities, of which the Times is unquestionably one? Trouble is that, while writing and editing at the Times have become sloppier in absolute terms
, in relative terms, both may be stronger than before.
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
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
or vocal chords
, 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
Labels: bad editing, editing, miscellaneous, New York Times, newspapers, things that drive me nuts, Who needs copy editors?