Correcting NPR

Am I the only one who corrects the announcers’ grammar during the news on NPR? I think it’s the sign of a true writing geek when you correct (out loud) the mistakes radio newscasters make. “Oh, please!” I say while chuckling. “There’s no such word as ‘irregardless.’” I shake my head and have another sip of coffee, secure in my smugness.

Looking back on moments like that, I shouldn’t be so smug. There’s a reason why radio and TV personalities say things like “That’s live television, folks!” when something goes wrong. People screw up in the heat of the moment. Broadcasters don’t have the luxury of editing and reediting their work numerous times before it’s consumed by the public.

Well…some don’t. Radio news folks who prepare packaged stories do have time—at least a little—to edit their work. The other day I heard someone say, “the deliverance of services” and wondered if James Dickey had anything to do with the delivery of that gaffe. And there are others. They’re minor, but sometimes irritating. People should know better. Family is singular. So is team, and so is company. If we were in the UK, then they might not be. But on American National Public Radio, a family, team or company is a singular unit, composed of parts.

And what’s with the use of “she” as a substitute for the personal pronoun “he”? For years, our grade school teachers taught us that if the gender of the subject were unknown, to use “he.” Of course, that’s biased—but no less biased than using “she,” and it makes me wonder if the speaker has an agenda. And this is coming from the owner of a woman-owned company! A fair compromise, given the lack of gender non-specific pronoun (“it” won’t cut it), is to use the plural form, “they.” For example, “When a doctor sees a patient, they’ll often order additional, unnecessary tests to protect themselves from a lawsuit, driving up the cost of health care.”

Further, it may sound odd, but let’s get the use of “I” and “me” straight. “I” is a personal pronoun and is used as the subject, or on the receiving end of a comparison. “Me” is used when you’re the subject. You can say “I’m going home,” or you can say “He runs faster than I,” but you can’t say “He runs faster than me.” If you did, you’d also have to able to say “Me runs slower than he,” which makes you sound live an inebriated caveman. (Likewise, you don’t say “just between you and I.” It’s you and me in that case.)

I don’t fault NPR. They do the best they can with an ever-decreasing budget. But so does the rest of the world. I only ask that if there are errors to be made, make them factual, not grammatical. Facts can be hard to dig up and get straight, and even the best newscasters get the story wrong sometimes. But get the grammar right, please. It’s a little difference that can make all the difference.

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