One of the things that make a reporter’s job difficult is the ever-popular “no comment,” uttered by politicians to reporters who make them squirm.
Even back in the ‘50s, the TV producers of the popular sit-com “Dobie Gillis” were aware of the face-saving remark and had Maynard G. Krebs tutoring Gillis, played by Dwayne Hickman, in saying “no comment” before running for high school student council.
A recent issue of the Journal North showed three unrelated, side-by-side articles, each with the tell-tale no-comment. Generally, when reporters fail to get a response from the source, they write that the person “declined to comment.”
But lately, perhaps in their zeal to economize on words, writers have simply written “declined comment.” Curious about whether it’s common practice or a mere aberration, I Googled “declined comment” and unearthed far too many instances to present here.
My concern is what’s happened to the language. The staid Associated Press, long the bastion of journalistic excellence, has been slipping, and even in articles that circulate world-wide, we find “declined comment.”
Let me explain:
“Declined to comment” simply means the source chose not to say anything about the issue. But “declined comment,” without the “to,” means something entirely different. It’s as if the reporter were offering the source some kind of boon. Imagine the reporter saying, “I have lots of comment I’d like to share. Would you, sir, like some?”
And the source declines: “No thanks. I’m trying to quit.”
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One of the things AP style dictates is expressing dates economically. In journalism, we abbreviate months that contain more than five letters when these months include a date. For example, we use cardinal numbers such as Oct. 17, but never October 17, and absolutely never as October 17th or October seventeenth.
Nevertheless, ordinal numerals contain a combination of letters such as “st,” for “first,” “nd” for “second,” “rd” for “third” and “th” for “fourth.” But observing that ever-popular City Schools electronic sign that announces RHS Cardinal numbers and activities, we find events advertised for “Oct. 21th” and “Oct. 22st.”
OK, we get it now: the events are on Oct. twenty-firth and Oct. twenty-secondst. We thought these letter combinations were taught in early elementary grades. Maybe they were, and the sign arrangers are merely testing us. And test us they do, as they keep spelling “soccer” as “scooer,” which represents at least the second time the word’s been mangled.
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The entry of Sarah Palin into big-time politics has certainly made the race ... well, more ... interesting. In one of her recent speeches, the moose-hunting hockey mom said, “It’s time that a normal Joe Six-Pack American is finally represented in the position of vice presidency, and I think that that’s kind of taken some people off guard, and they’re out of sorts, and they’re ticked off about it.”
Ah, shoot! I wish she’d specified exactly what she means by “Joe Six-Pack American.” Let’s speculate.
To some, the governor of Alaska referred to the Good Ol’ Boy whose after-working-hours entertainment is Miller Time with the boys. To these Joe Six-Pack Americans, “Bruschi,” (pronounced Brewski) is not a star player for the New England Patriots but the kind of libation one orders at the bar. Could Palin have had these party-goers in mind?
Or could Sen. John McCain’s vice presidential running mate have referred to something abominable/ abdominal? She might have been hoping to represent a slightly different class of American. For example, notice how many men, on the verge of developing a beer belly wrought by consuming six-packs, are making gyms their favorite haunts.
They do sit-ups, crunches, chin-ups and other exercises to help them develop six-pack abs. Might Palin have been referring to these people?
The ready-to-rumble Sarah Palin claims that Alaska’s proximity to Canada and Russia give her a solid grounding in foreign policy. And will this impress the Joe Six-Packs of the country?
You bet yer hunting boots it will!
It impresses even Mr. Six-Pack’s namesake, Joe the Plumber, who catapulted to fame in last night’s presidential debate, as his name was mentioned 10 times.
But what about Palin’s really vitriolic jabs at Barack Obama, whom she alleges “is palling around with terrorists”? She uses incendiary language to fire up her supporters and appears nonplussed when loose cannons in the crowd shout “Off with his head!” in reference to Obama.
For my part, I’d like to see a TV commercial that explains — in unambiguous tones — the assets of the candidate buying the spot, instead of dedicating the entire commercial to attacking the opposition. I’ve become like the 67 percent of respondents who last night indicated in a poll that they desire no further debates.
And as for me, I’d rather spend my time six-packing my way to better physical fitness. I impressed my family by telling them my “crunch” total is up to 50 a day.
Crunches are fine, but deep in my abdomen I prefer Hershey bars.
Art Trujillo is a copy editor at the Optic and a contributing member of the newspaper’s Editorial Board. He may be reached by calling 425-6796 or by e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.