Posts Tagged ‘The Associated Press’

AP headline grammar does not “add” up.

Monday, September 24th, 2012

Here is a headline that appeared in an online list of headlines this week.  It also appeared this way at the top of the actual story:

 

Whoops! The word AD is short for advertisement. It is a noun, not a verb, and cannot refer to Ashland putting an ADDITIONAL person on its board.  The word needed here is the verb ADD, as in "Her company plans to ADD ten additional employees next month."

This Associated Press headline should read as follows:

 

Ashland adds former Avon exec Janice Teal to board


Tough Times Only on Wednesday Night?

Friday, August 31st, 2012

Arranging all of the qualifying phrases in the lead sentence of an article can be difficult. How does a writer cram in the WHO, WHAT, WHERE, WHEN and WHY without writing something that is confusing?  It is important to play around with the wording, looking for the best arrangement.  It is also important to go back and proofread a final time once the wording seems correct.

elections,elephants,emotions,politicians,politics,Republicans,signs,smiles,smiley,smiley face,smiley faces,smileys,smilie,smilie face,smilie faces,smilies,smiling,smily,smily face,smily faces,smilys,symbols,US,USA,votesHere is a classic example of a lead sentence that has the phrasing out of order. Let's hope whoever is elected vice president gets it better than reporter David Espo of The Associated Press who wrote this yesterday about Paul Ryan's acceptance speech:

Seizing the Republican National Convention spotlight, vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan welcomed "the calling of my generation" to help lead the country in tough times Wednesday night.

 This sentence makes it sound as if Ryan thinks his calling is to lead the country in tough times, but only on Wednesday night. Which Wednesday night?  All of them?  What about the rest of the week? 

WEDNESDAY NIGHT refers to the evening before when Ryan seized the convention spotlight, yet those two words are nowhere near what they describe.  The sentence should read this way:

Seizing the Republican National Convention spotlight Wednesday night, vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan welcomed "the calling of my generation" to help lead the country in tough times .


Who is doing what–and when? Word order matters.

Monday, November 21st, 2011

I came across this sentence this morning in an Associated Press article about the accused al-Qaida sympathizer arrested yesterday in New York City:

He was under surveillance by New York police for at least a year who were working with a confidential informant and was in the process of building a bomb.

What was that again? When a reporter creates a prepositional phrase like FOR AT LEAST A YEAR, it is important to place it close to what it modifies, in this case UNDER SURVEILLANCE.  The subordinate clause WHO WERE WORKING WITH A CONFIDENTIAL INFORMANT refers to NEW YORK CITY POLICE, so it should be close to them.

Finally, it is the terrorist who WAS IN THE PROCESS OF BUILDING A BOMB, certainly not the NEW YORK POLICE, but when the reporter puts the word AND between WERE WORKING and WAS IN THE PROCESS, it sounds as if the police are doing both things.

This sentence needs a complete overhaul.  I would suggest writing it this way:

He was in the process of building a bomb and had been under surveillance for at least a year by New York police who were working with a confidential informant.

I hope you will agree that this is much clearer.


Watch the Wording: Blast kills 15–or 10 hours??

Tuesday, May 31st, 2011

An Associated Press online headline went through an interesting and amusing transformation this weekend. At least I found the headline struggle amusing even though the topic was a sad one.

The first incarnation of the headline read this way:

Nigeria blast kills 15 hours after inauguration

 I read the headline two or three times, then checked the text to figure out what the editor meant. How does a blast kill 15 hours, I wondered. 

This morning, when I returned to this online headline, I discovered that the AP editor must have recognized the same problem I had. The headline had been altered to read this way:

Nigeria blast kills 10 hours after inauguration

 My first reaction to this was that, oh, maybe only 10 people had been killed, but when I reread the text of the story I discovered that "10"  actually referred to the number of hours after the inauguration. Of course, this still didn't solve the problem.

When I clicked on the story itself, I found that the editor had adjusted the headline a third time (but only in the full text location). The meaning was not quite the same, but at least it made sense! It read:

Nigeria hit by multiple blasts after inauguration

The original headline might have been clearer this way:

Nigeria hit by blast 10 hours after inauguration. Death toll 15.

This is a little longer, but it gets the job done much more efficiently.

If you did not read this story, here are some of the basics: An election was held in Bauchi, Nigeria, and observers called it the fairest vote in that country in more than 10 years. Jonathan Goodluck, a Christian from the southern part of the country, was elected to a four-year term. Ten hours after the election, at about 8 p.m., a bomb blast at an outdoor bar in Bauchi killed 15 people.

COMMENT: It will certainly take good leadership as well as good luck for this new president to succeed.

 

 

 


Be careful when using the word NOT.

Monday, May 9th, 2011

A negative adverb like NOT can be tricky. If placed incorrectly, it might distort the writer's meaning. Consider this sentence from an article by Julie Watson for The Associated Press this week. The article talks about Americans who are frustrated because they won't have the chance to see the faces of the Navy SEALS they consider heroes for killing Terrorist #1.

The 40-year-old freelance grant writer and photographer from Utica, N.Y., said in a follow-up e-mail to the AP that she is glad the SEALs' identities are not being revealed to protect them, but she wishes there was some way the nation could show its gratitude on a large scale.

 The writer wants to make the point that the identity of the Navy SEALS is being hidden in order to protect them from retaliation, but the sentence, using the word NOT, seems to suggest that the SEALS are not being protected or that revealing their identities would actually contribute to their protection. I am positive that Julie Watson meant the opposite of both of these.

Often, if you are struggling with a negative word in a sentence, the best solution is to find a wording that avoids the negative term while still getting the point across. I think that is the best solution here. I would reword the sentence this way, using CONCEALED instead of NOT BEING REVEALED:

The 40-year-old freelance grant writer and photographer from Utica, N.Y., said in a follow-up e-mail to the AP that she is glad the SEALs' identities are being concealed to protect them, but she wishes there was some way the nation could show its gratitude on a large scale.

As Americans, we can certainly honor these brave SEALS in many ways without having to see their faces. In this case, it is much better for everyone if we continue to see "through a glass darkly."


Pronoun Carelessness: Which of two women actually appeared in “Attack of the 50 Foot Woman”?

Friday, May 6th, 2011

The latest Hollywood death headline tells of a 1950s era Playboy playmate who appeared in several cult movies back in the 1950s. Her name was Yvette Vickers. An Associated Press article by Greg Risling (and quoted in The Birmingham News) contains an interview with one of Vickers' neighbors. The article uses the pronoun SHE in a confusing way. Here is the paragraph:

" There is a feeling of safety on this street," said author Terri Cheney, who has lived there since 1994. She was born Yvette Vedder on Aug. 26, 1928, in Kansas City, Mo. She took up acting and, in the 1950s, appeared in 'Attack of the 50 Foot Woman' and other cult films." 

 

Whoops! A pronoun takes the place of a noun, and the noun it replaces should not be far away. I'm sure the author Terri Cheney, a bestselling author and former entertainment attorney, would be surprised to find someone describing her as a cult film actress! It is the woman who died–Yvette Vickers–who was born Yvette Vedder in Kansas City, and it is Yvette Vickers who appeared in cult films in the 1950s. However, her name (which should be the antecedent noun for SHE) does not appear anywhere in this paragraph, which should read something like this:

"There is a feeling of safety on this street," said author Terri Cheney, who has lived there since 1994. Cheney's neighbor, Yvette Vickers, whose body was found this week, was born Yvette Vedder on Aug. 26, 1928, in Kansas City, Mo. She took up acting and, in the 1950s, appeared in 'Attack of the 50 Foot Woman' and other cult films."

Whenever you use a pronoun (SHE, HER, HE, HIM, for example), make sure its noun/antecedent is close by enough that the pronoun reference makes sense. Meanwhile, I'm wondering where the idea for a 50 foot woman came from–a wimpy man's nightmare, perhaps? SHE must have been quite a sight.

 

 


“Ladies happens”…”cash balances lags”…”gas prices pushes”…Agreement epidemic continues.

Tuesday, April 19th, 2011

The subject/verb agreement virus struck again with vengeance this week. I will share three examples from among those I spotted. The first appeared in this online Associated Press headline on April 14:

Rising gas prices pushes wholesale costs higher

Whoops! I clicked to the story itself to see if the online headline was just a momentary glitch, but the story headline contained the same error.  The subject of this sentence is PRICES, not GAS.  Therefore, the verb should be plural, which is PUSH rather than PUSHES. The headline should read this way:

Rising gas prices push wholesale costs higher

The second example appeared in a Business section news story by Birmingham News staff writer Russell Hubbard who created this sentence:

The cash balances at metro-area companies lags  that  of the country's largest publicly traded corporations, some of which hold tens of billions.

Whoops again! The subject of this sentence is BALANCES, not CASH. Therefore, because BALANCES is plural, the verb should be LAG, which is plural. There is also a problem with the pronoun THAT, which is singular. It is supposed to refer back to BALANCES, not CASH, so the correct pronoun choice is THOSE, which is plural. Here is the correction:

 The cash balances at metro-area companies lag  those  of the country's largest publicly traded corporatiions, some of which hold tens of billions  .

The final example appears in Alene Gamel's "Weddings 911" column in a discussion about the difference between a bridal shower and a bridal tea:

If there happens to be a few ladies who are invited to both a shower and the tea, it will not be a major faux pas.

Whoops for the third time! As I have mentioned in previous posts, when the word THERE appears before the verb, the actual subject (in this case, LADIES) comes after the verb. LADIES is plural. Therefore, the verb should be HAPPEN, which is also plural.

I don't object to using THERE as a sentence construct, but I don't believe it is the best choice in this sentence. I would simply put it this way (with the plural verb ARE):

If a few ladies are invited to both a shower and the tea, it will not be a major faux pas.

That seems much simpler and more direct to me.


WHO addition confuses sentence + Answer to participle question

Monday, April 18th, 2011

I apologize for the unscheduled hiatus this week. I made the grave mistake of going out of town with my IPad and without my password codes.

Now, back to the Grammar Glitches. Today's Glitch comes from an article in Sunday's The Birmingham News about the devastating storms that raged across the South. I offer sincere condolences to all who were affected, including the families of seven people killed here in Alabama.

#1–Here is a 40-word sentence that became quite confusing because Associated Press reporter Tom Breen inserted the word WHO in a place that didn't make sense:

In the town of Sanford in central North Carolina, what could have been a deadly catastrophe was averted when a Lowe's hardware store manager who saw the approaching storm and corralled over 100 people to the back of the store.

The simplest fix for this sentence is to remove the word WHO. Then the sentence makes sense. If I were editing, I would suggest another change to improve the sentence even further. It is always a good idea to avoid passive voice when possible. Here we have COULD HAVE BEEN followed by WAS AVERTED for a double helping of passive voice. I'd suggest making the store manager the subject for a more direct approach and the elimination of one passive voice verb.

Here is my revision:

In the town of Sanford in central North Carolina, a Lowe's hardware store manager averted what could have been a deadly catastrophe when he saw the approaching storm and corralled over 100 people to the back of the store.

Hats off to this quick-thinking manager who probably saved many lives.

#2–Here is the participle question from last week: What is the difference between "All chairs are taken" and "All chairs were taken"? The reader wanted to know why ARE could be used with TAKEN if TAKEN is the past participle. I am sure this is confusing for non-native speakers of English.

Here is my answer: Both ARE TAKEN and WERE TAKEN are passive voice, and both are correct. ALL CHAIRS ARE TAKEN would be used in the present progressive sense. At the time (in the present) that I enter (present tense) the room, no chairs are available, so ALL CHAIRS ARE TAKEN. 

WERE TAKEN is past tense and would suggest that, when I entered (past tense) the room at a time in the past, ALL THE CHAIRS WERE already TAKEN.

 

Stop by again tomorrow to consider the latest epidemic of subject/verb agreement Glitches.


Better comma placement would help 59 word sentence.

Wednesday, April 6th, 2011

 

I had to read the first part of this sentence a time or two to figure out the main statement. It is an extremely long sentence (59 words!), but once the comma is relocated, I don't think the length is a problem. See if you agree:

Monday's offensive, which included air attacks on the ruler's home, as well as three strategic military garrisons  marked an unprecedented escalation in the international community's efforts to oust Gbagbo, who lost the presidential election in November yet has refused to cede power to Ouattara even as the world's largest cocoa producer teetered on the brink of all-out civil war .

Whew! That is a mouthful and an eyeful. The major problem here is an "earring comma" problem. The first comma in the pair is correctly placed between OFFENSIVE and WHICH. The basic subject and verb of the sentence are MONDAY'S OFFENSIVE and MARKED.

 

The second comma was placed between HOME and AS, but that is an incorrect location.  The phrase AS WELL AS THREE STRATEGIC MILITARY GARRISONS is also part of the material that is set into the sentence between the main subject and verb. Therefore, the second comma should be placed between GARRISONS and MARKED. (In other words, those air attacks hit not only the ruler's home but also the three strategic military garrisons.)

 

Beyond that, I think the length is okay if the commas make the meaning clear. I would offer one additional change: make the verb TEETERED present tense TEETERS because, as of this writing, the Ivory Coast is still teetering on that awful brink.

Here is my suggestion for improving this sentence:

Monday's offensive, which included air attacks on the ruler's home as well as three strategic military garrisons,  marked an unprecedented escalation in the international community's efforts to oust Gbagbo, who lost the presidential election in November yet has refused to cede power to Ouattara even as the world's largest cocoa producer teeters on the brink of all-out civil war .

 Does anyone else have a suggestion for rewriting this sentence, which appeared this week in AP feed to local newspapers?


Parallel Structure–more deeply…likelier?

Wednesday, December 29th, 2010

Perhaps I am overly picky, but see what you think.  Here is a sentence from an article by The Associated Press that appeared in my local newspaper this week:

As all politicians learn, the more deeply they delve into contested issues, the likelier they are to stumble.

 Both descriptions–MORE DEEPLY and LIKELIER–are in the comparative mode, but I don't think they are parallel enough for a smooth read.  I would have put them both in one pattern or the other as follows: 

   As all politicians learn, the more deeply they delve into contested issues, the more likely they are to stumble.

As all politicians learn, the deeper they delve into contested issues, the likelier they are to stumble      .

Is this too picky?  Please add a comment to let me know your opinion.

 

I suspect we will see many more stumbles by politicians on both sides as they scramble to run for President over the next two years!