Speaking of Which | Drawing the Line

26 Oct,2012

If I could manage without reading any newspapers at all, I would happily pick that option. But I can’t yet afford to live in a cocoon and, let’s face it, newspapers do give us the lowdown on the news that we may have sampled on the internet the previous day. I subscribe to the best option around, the Hindustan Times, and sometimes I browse other newspapers.


But I seriously wonder if I can take it much longer. There has recently been a steady stream of language-related atrocities, and this is in the very limited news reading that I do. It started with Mumbai Mirror which reported various details surrounding the death of Asha Bhosle’s daughter. It also mentioned Ashaji’s sister “Lala” Mangeshkar. On the front page. Once I had stopped groaning I realized that it isn’t totally wrong, as someone in my family pointed out – she does sing “La la la la la…”


But that one could have been what we call a “genuine typo”. Then came a report in Hindustan Times about the kidnapping of a boy, where the ransom note was written on a piece of “fullscape” paper. This was obvious an error of ignorance, because the term is actually “foolscap”, referring to the size of the typical “long book” that students use. I suppose a simple search for the term (even the wrong term) coupled with “paper size” would have cleared it up. That is, if the reporter or the sub-editor wanted to ensure it was correct. “Fullscape” is an unusual word. Why not look it up to make sure it’s correct?


More serious than that, a few days later in HT, was a report blurbed on the front page and carried in full on an inside page, which left me much alarmed. It talked about the India-China border, referring to it all along as the “MacMohan Line”. (Mac Mohan is a Hindi film villain-sidekick actor!) I find it really hard to believe that no one, at all, on the desk and especially on the front page, knew that it is the McMahon Line. All right, assuming that the average age on the average desk is 24 and that the average range of knowledge considers the 1980s as ‘history’, still… what about looking it up? If they cared enough to look it up. Or cared at all.


Why care? Why do a job well when you can get away with doing it slipshod? Because we are in the profession of disseminating information, that’s why. We should not be allowed to get away with doing it badly. Our job is not only to entertain (did I hear a gasp?) but chiefly to inform. And information needs to be correct. In my hierarchy of getting things right, facts are at the top. Then comes spelling and grammar. The McMahon boo-boo was an error of both fact and spelling. I don’t expect journalists to know everything. But I do expect them to look it up. In an era when search and reference tools are handier and more accessible than I have ever known them to be, there is no excuse for getting it wrong, at least on the front page. Besides, how else are we ourselves to learn anything new if we don’t find out?


This is not a case for perfection. In a business where everything moves fast, and is getting increasingly so with stepped-up technology by the day, it’s not possible to dot every i and cross every t. But “MacMohan Line” is beyond the pale. It was considered important enough for the front page. It is very much an important fact (the India-China border, after all). Was it not important enough to get it right?


PS: In despair, I turned to food. Reading about it, that is. BBC Good Food has been my refuge from the world, and I enjoy sinking into the luscious photographs and excellently presented recipes and articles. But the October issue brought great disappointment. For one, the brand Woh Hup was spelled Who Hup. Yes, the electronic spell checker “corrects” it, though the human eye should have been on the lookout for this particular word. Leaving that behind, later in the same issue I also came across “exhorbitantly” – a damning error if there was any. This is understandable and even forgivable if it appears in a high-frequency publication such as a daily, where a spell-check is sometimes overlooked in the hurry of meeting the daily deadline. But Good Food is a monthly and there is enough time to check everything. I know, I’ve worked in one and done it. Good Food is a publication of quality, not a two-bit magazine from which nothing great can be expected. It’s priced high enough that everything should be obsessively checked before it goes to print. And remember, a spell-check is only as good as the person carrying it out.


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3 responses to “Speaking of Which | Drawing the Line”

  1. Anonymous says:

    On a more serious note, I commend and applaud your article. The quality of language speaks volumes not only of the calibre of the writer but also of the sub-editing of the publication. Both, it is fair to say, are between patchy and execrable in broad swathes of the Indian publication business.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Exhorbitant is evidently a portmanteau coinage to convey an exhortation to exorbitance. See? They weren’t wrong after all.