15 November 2004


One of the problems with being a pedant of language is that, while it seems obvious to you that a particular irritating error will in future lead to problems, it is hard to find concrete examples.

The overuse of quotation marks is one of the most annoying featuers of modern English, somewhere behind the confusion of "affect" and "effect".

So now we get the following headline from the BBC:

Powell 'resigns' top US job

The quotations there are very significant. They tell me quite clearly that he didn't resign, he was sacked. The only problem is that I have not heard that suggested elsewhere, and indeed there is no suggestion in the body of the story that he didn't just resign, rather than 'resigning'.

Another headline in the same section is

US to remain 'aggressive' abroad

The quotation marks there are justified: the writer is indicating that Powell used the word 'aggressive', and that it's not just his own interpretation of what was said.

Of course, 'aggressive' on its own, in the context of foreign policy, rather implies attacking or threatening to attack other countries, while the larger quote in the article is:

This policy had traditionally been "aggressive in terms of going after challenges, issues", Mr Powell added, and the president was "going to keep moving in this direction"
Which, arguably, isn't really the same thing. By pulling out the word 'aggressive' the BBC is deliberately misrepresenting what Powell said. But that's just ordinary BBC bias, and we're all used to that.

When I get misled by the BBC, I want it to be deliberate, and not just incompetence. I expect my TV license money to be spent on spouting left-wing propaganda in excellent English.

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