Sunday, January 15, 2006

Misamprehension

I've been meaning to blog about this since Thursday, but I've been too lazy. Jim Gransbery's Jan. 12 Gazette story on Conrad Burns ended with this quote: "Selling out my country, my state, that is beyond my amprehension (sic)," he said. "Ain't no way I'm going to do it."

Amprehension?

Let me lay a little groundwork here. Journalism is a trade with no agreed-upon professional standards, so this is a tad haphazard, but here a few broadly accepted principles when somebody says something that is obviously butchered:

1. You don't qualify it with "sic." Even the AP Stylebook says that.

2. Mangled quotes typically are repaired by paraphrasing instead of quoting directly:

Sen. Burns said that he would never sell out his country or state. "Ain't no way I'm gonna do it," he said.


3. Some reporters think it's OK to repair mangled utterances even in direct quotes. Others frown on that. Either way, your ear does an amazing job of editing speech even when you are trying to get it exactly. Just compare a written transcript with what you thought you heard sometime.

4. Mangled quotes may be preserved in certain instances:

A. When quoting exactly is particularly important, such as a response to a criminal allegation or formal charge, or when the quote may have been heard by large numbers of people.

B. When the mangled quote is unusally revealing or apt. No one would ever want to correct, "Say it ain't so, Joe." Which is why I left the ungrammatical "ain't" alone in Point 2 above. And "amprehension," as a combination, presumably, of "apprehension" and "comprehension," ain't that bad a word.

C. When the reporter wants to subtly convey the message that the speaker is ignorant and unlettered.

The theory behind those principles is that everybody misspeaks, so it isn't fair to single out a simple misstatement and showcase it in a newspaper story. So what was Gransbery thinking? I have a lot of respect for Jim, so I wouldn't accuse him of "C." Possibly, elements of A, B and C were involved in the decision to use the messed-up quote.

Was printing the error a good idea? I wouldn't have done it, but I'm feeling fairly obsolete these days.

20 comments:

Anonymous said...

Well, the problem is that just HOW was Gransberry supposed to write it? You see, what Connie was trying to say was that it was "beyond his comprehension". But he's too damn stupid to get that all out without manglin' it. In Connie's besotted, greedy little brain, correctness with words is, along with intelligence and critical thinking skills, WAY low in the order of importance. So, Connie got daring. He figured he'd use a word like apprehension, which to him in his fuzzy little brain, sounds a lot like comprehension. ALL them -ion words are just too damn closely related to for Connie to figure out. So, out pops "amprehension". Don't be too hard on Gransberry. He was put in a helluva a spot. I mean, between the two definitions possible of Connie's coinnage, which ONE was he SUPPOSED to select?! That really sad part of the whole saga is that the press must have an interpreter skilled in Connieisms simply to write a friggin' story!

Anonymous said...

P.S. I wonder, do you suppose that the Repub hierarchy has already decided to dump our beloved Connie Burns, and so Burns has decided that he will not go gentle into that goodnight? Rarely do we get the rare priviliger of seeing Connie off leash. But now, his handlers are no where in sight, and Connie can and will say ANYTHING! I almost suspect that Connie has taken it upon himself to fight for the best job that an unqualified, uneducated ignorant oaf could possibly hope for. So, I say expect even MORE Connieisms in the future. This campaing will be nothing if not very damn interesting!............that is if Connie can keep his arse outta the big house long enough to run!

Kolman said...

David, I agree with you. Unless the butchering is essential to the meaning of the story, then I usually fix it by paraphrasing. But in this case, technology probably lends a different twist to it. Someone who reads the paper could then get on the website and hear Burns do the butchering in his own words. If the reporter had "fixed it" the website wouldn't match the paper. Paraphrasing is probably still the best way to go, but bloggers might still go nuts and wonder why you didn't quote him exactly and would question the motivations.

Grammaticus Maximus said...

David-- Obviously you have never listened to Kingfish from the "Amos and Andy Show":

“Uh, well, ya see, Andy, there’s the electron and the proton and the fig newton.”

Grammaticus Maximus said...

David-- Obviously you have never listened to Kingfish from the "Amos and Andy Show":

“Uh, well, ya see, Andy, there’s the electron and the proton and the fig newton.”

Anonymous said...

In politics, ya gets what ya elect! Unfortunately. If ya vote in an uneducated, not-real-bright, baarely literate country bumpkin, ya get bumkinisms up the wazoo! Some people call it bein' folksy, others call it bein' stupid. Some people think it's kinda charming. Others find it to be a huge embarassment. But let's face it. Montanans did NOT vote for Connie Burns for his brains! They voted for Connie cause they liked him. So, when Connie calls for bombing raids on Canadian fishermen, our friendly neighbors to the north, people tend to overlook it. When Connie uses the most degrading racial slurs, people think he's just bein' honest and folksy. When Connie slaughters his native language, many feel that Connie's simply not being elitist! But for how long this authentic buffoon can continue in this pathetic act is anybody's guess.

Anonymous said...

Amos and Andy?! Heck, can you imagine Burns and BUSH sitting down for a public chat! Yikes! That would make any reporter misamprehensive! You'd need a couple'a interpreters and a hillbilly dictionary!

David said...

Kolman,
Good point. When almost everything can become widely distributed, the rules probably have to change.

Mark T said...

Should not the public know when a speaker has a discomjumbled disorderly mind? Bush's misspeakments are legion, leading some to speculate that he is dyslexic. That's an important thing to know, maybe explains why he doesn't read newspapers. (He doesn't read?) Anyway, at what point is a journalist leaving objectivity behind and protecting a speaker form his own utterances?

Kim Woo said...

The only “style book” rule that applies to direct quotations is to advance the political agenda of the newspaper. If the newspaper hates someone, they will use as many mangled sentences as they can find and will perhaps even mangle a few “by accident.”

Conversely, newspapers will try to elevate the language of those they wish to promote. For example, nearly all American blacks speak barely intelligible English. To quote them directly in print would not only be futile for conveying any meaningful message, but such quotations would convey the “wrong” message about blacks generally.

Eric Coobs said...

You can't use senator Burns for an example this year. The media and the liberals have got the election year politics spinning already. They'll be smearing Senator Burns at every opportunity.

Anonymous said...

Kim Woo has a point. If Black people speak Ebonics, that means that Burns must speak Boobonics!

Rocky Smith said...

Unfortunately, Ebonics (or boobonics) isn't limited to black people or simple Montana Senators. I have been taken aback by quite a few white people butchering the Queen's english. I am certainly no expert, but it drives me a little crazy when people "axe" me a question or GWB says "nucUlar".I'm betting a lot of people (including myself) have at least one or two words they screw up.

Anonymous said...

Rocky, the only problem with Burns is that it's more than only one or two words that he screws up. Why, he's a regular one man boobonic plague!

Anonymous said...

Jim G. was right to quote Burns using a non-word. Burns has acquired a reputation for Burns-isms, some of them said purposefully, others not. At some point reporters have to let public officials fall on their own grammatic swords.

Dennis Gaub said...

David,

Gotta agree with our fine ex-colleague, Jim G, in quoting this Burnsism. It reminded me of how 'ole Casey Stengel was quoted, creating a whole collection of Stengelisms. Of course, Casey contributed a fine collection of, um, original English.

Here's an example: "All right, everybody line up alphabetically according to your height." (Source:http://www.caseystengel.com/quotes_by.htm)

David said...

Or: "Got a young catcher here, Greg Goosen, 20 years old. And in 10 years he's got a chance to be 30."

Anonymous said...

Hey, I agree! Elect stupid people, they're fun to quote! But hell, if you two fellas can't see the difference in errs in logic versus slaughtering the language itself, then YOU have a problem! I don't see Casey slaughtering the language in EITHER quote! And Casey didn't represent Montana in the most powerful deliberative body in the world! Sad, so sad.

Dennis said...

Geez, Anonymous, just because I pointed out the fun in Stengelisms doesn't mean I condone Conrad's butchering of the language and his representation of Montana. Man, lighten up!

Anonymous said...

Can't lighten up. Sorry. People are DYING as a result of these morons in charge like Burns and Bush. Somehow, people gettin' slaughtered for greed makes me a little angry. Burns is NOT folksy. There is a big difference between bein' folksy and bein' a friggin' idiot! Burns is barely educated, not too smart. So, that is not bein' folksy.