Radio Museum note: In this series, we point out both the Fun, and The Excellence of radio. A survey of radio professionals once concluded it takes one thousand to five thousand hours on the air to become skilled, to sound natural. Yes, it takes years to sound like an overnight success.
On-air mistakes crush an announcer’s ego and credibility. When an announcer speaks the wrong word, or chooses the right word but mispronounces that word, the mistake is instantly out there in the real world, never to be retrieved. Some people quit because the embarrassments are too much to bear. Some continue on, and embarrass the industry. Others are spurred on, committed to a lifetime of improvements. Bob Lang, a member of the Radio Museum’s Foundation, fell in love with the pursuit of word excellence. He kept track of words. He wrote a book on words He’s taught words in the classroom. Now You’re Talkin’ was his book to write, but it’s your book to enjoy. If you’d like a career in broadcasting, Bob’s book might help you avoid a few hundred on-the-air blunders. Bob’s book is available on Amazon. We recommend it. Even if you’re not going into public speaking, Bob’s book is a good read, which is the proper way of saying ‘it reads good.’
Every so often I find myself yelling at my TV. Not that it does any good. It’s just so frustrating to hear so-called professional communicators regularly mangling the language on our daily news.
For example, there is not a single weather person on the air these days who seems to know that the word temperature has four syllables. Nope, not a single one. That’s why we hear “tem’puh-chur” all of the time. These forecasters also tell us that temperatures will get higher or lower, but they don’t. Temperatures warm up or cool down.
In 2012, I published a book called Now You’re Talkin’, a reference book for media professionals. It’s a compilation of misused words and phrases in dictionary form with the intent to provide current and aspiring broadcasters, writers, speakers, and presenters with a guide for maintaining their professional integrity and credibility. The book contains sections on misused, mispronounced, and misspelled words and phrases; written communication including punctuation, foreign words and phrases, even announcing tips. For years now my book has been literally sauntering off book store shelves!
Someone once asked me what I considered the most common mistake heard in our media. The one that sticks out to me is when a reporter says, for example, that there were over a thousand people in the crowd. Actually, correct would be more than a thousand people! Over is spatial, like a plane flying over the mountains. Likewise, another correct word would be fewer instead of under.
The word less as a designation, however, is different. A correct use would be that the football team had fewer good linemen and less experience. Yes, it gets tricky, but a credible broadcaster should know that!
Another blatant mistake that we hear a lot lately is when we’re told that the president or his staff members appear behind the podium. They don’t! They’re behind a lectern. A podium is what Olympians stand on to receive their medals or a conductor stands on to lead the symphony.
Sometimes words are mispronounced because we’ve read them without actually having heard them pronounced correctly. When Harrison Ford reprised his role as Indiana Jones, the correct pronunciation would have been with a long “E” as in “ruh-preeze’,” not with a long “I” as it is spelled. In this context, it comes from the musical term which means the equivalent of “do it again.”
Occasionally, words have two acceptable pronunciations. Data is a good example. It can be pronounced with either a long or a short “A.” Heard less often is onerous. It means “arduous” or “tedious” and the preferred pronunciation is “honor us,” but most pronounce it with a long “O.” In those cases, my book suggests to the reader, “take your choice.”
Lately we’re heard a lot about a “return to normalcy,” an expression adopted and made a cliché by President Warren G. Harding. Shouldn’t it really be normality? That’s the first choice, although normalcy is also regarded as acceptable. Again, “take your choice,” even though, as a professional communicator, I would tend to opt for the first option.
Then, there are the meanings of words, and some are simply not interchangeable. Reluctant means unwilling to take action while reticent means unwilling to speak about something. But, lots of times, they get mixed up. Or, for an example nobody seems to get right, when you put pieces of something together, you compose the object. That thing then comprises the pieces. Don’t confuse these words. A CD is composed of individual songs. Conversely, the CD itself comprises the tracks. Or think of a musical composition that’s made up of chords and notes and lyrics. The word compose is right there! Here’s another hint: never say “comprised of.”
How about the way the word invite is used? Some broadcasters use it as if it were a noun. It’s a verb! And some of them say it with the accent on the first syllable—it’s on the second syllable. If you receive one, it’s an invitation. That’s the noun!
Have you ever made a concerted effort? Are you sure? Concerted means it was “in concert” with the efforts of others. You can’t do it by yourself! Perhaps you made a concentrated effort.
Finally, here’s a phrase to simply avoid. ‘Ever hear of a bad guy being forced to wear an ankle bracelet? There’s no such thing! If it’s worn on the wrist it’s a bracelet. If if’s worn around an ankle, it’s an anklet. More accurately, call it an ankle monitor.
Why is all of this significant? Potential mistakes like these become reflections on the integrity of those who have chosen to become our spokespeople. Correctly-used language is their most valuable tool. Think about it. A professional communicator really has one essential thing to offer and that’s credibility. For them, maintaining and protecting credibility is vital.
Speaking of being a professional communicator, I find it disappointing that so many of our spokespeople, both locally and nationally, care so little about the condition of their professional skills. There’s even one morning show individual who insists on referring to others as “you guys” and, at the toss, regularly greets reporters with, “Hey!” Worse, this person is often overly familiar with interview subjects and calls them “hon.” (Insert wide-eyed emoji here!)
Sorry, but, to me, this is extremely unprofessional. In fact, professional decorum prevents me from providing the complete identity of this individual. No, I must respectfully refuse to provide full identifying information on this person. It certainly would not be the thing to do.
That’s why I would definitely only agree to provide a first name: Hoda.