Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Words, words, words - Get it right, media!

You might expect me to be picky about word usage, being a lawyer and a writer. You'd be right, I am. Some pet peeves include:

"There's less people here than last time." It's fewer. If you can count whatever you are talking about, i.e. there's a specific number, it's 'fewer.' So, "There are fewer grains of sand on this beach," but "There is less sand on this beach."

"Her and David took the train." No, she and David took the bloody train. Take away the "and David" and read it.


"He gave a ride to Peter and I." Again, take away the "Peter and" and then you'll get it right.

So why do I care? Well, maybe I shouldn't. After all, it's high blood pressure for nothing, right? But yesterday I saw, for the millionth time, the media screwing up one that I do care about, because it's more than incorrect word usage, it's a factual mistake:

Saturday afternoon in the streets of Paterson, N.J., [mixed martial artist] Jon Jones and his trainers applied their gym techniques when they spotted a robber, chased him down and subdued him.

Thank you Yahoo News. Except the dude wasn't a robber. At all. He was a car burglar.

Does it matter? Well, it sure as heck does if you're charged with the offense. I can't speak to California law, but in Texas if you are a first-time robber you are looking at 2-20 years in the penitentiary. If you use a weapon, you face 5 years to Life.

If, on the other hand, you commit burglary from a vehicle as a one-time lark you cannot receive more that a year in the county lock-up (where you will actually do six months).

All the reports of this incident use the word 'robbery.' Is it actually a robbery in California? No, it's a second degree burglary according to my cursory research. According to one website, "Second degree burglary is most frequently seen in connection with Penal Code 484 shoplifting offenses." Not exactly robbery, then.

Is it laziness on the part of the media? Yes, I think it is. Laziness and a desire to make the story as dramatic as possible.

And as a lawyer and former newspaper reporter, it bugs the heck out of I.


  1. Let me just give you a head's up then--

    For folks in the business of 'words', they haven't got a clue! It is like reading a 5th grade class newspaper.

    It annoys the hell out of me!

    It is past scary when the newspaper can't spell or write gramatically correct headlines.

  2. And me. Almost as much as the aircrafts sitting on the ramp with their landing gears down.

    Or: The deers crossed the runway.

    I have an excuse, I was educated at a community college in the Fire Tech program. I don't have a four year journalism or communications degree. You would think editors would do a better job picking that stuff up.

    Thanks for the post

  3. That would bother me, too. Makes me wonder who writes these articles. And more importantly, who edits them?

  4. I would have directed my cursory research to New Jersey, rather than California, law.

  5. Agreed guys, thanks for commenting. Except you david. I don't expect my readers to pay that much attention to what I say and then draw attention to my, exceptionally ironic, inattention to detail. :)

  6. Thank you. At least I'm not the only one who's driven nuts by this. After more than a decade as a prosecutor, I caught myself practically railing at my poor five year old child about the difference between robbers and burglars. Oops. Well, SOMEONE needs to know there's a difference, don't they?! Maybe she can now educate her little classmates and we'll at least save the next generation...

  7. There's more than one problem with 'There's less people here than last time.'

    and david, good one!


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