Hey, Watch Your Language

Someone who made a big impression on me when I was just starting out as a newspaper reporter for The Philadelphia Inquirer was an assistant managing editor of The New York Times. His name was Theodore Bernstein.  

Bernstein’s job at the Times was to get writers there to watch their language . . . to know the difference between affect and effect, between and among, that and which, which evolved into one of his books titled “Watch Your Language,” which left an indelible mark on me as my own career evolved.

The various entries in the book are drawn from a newsletter the Times did internally called “Winners & Sinners,” which was produced by Bernstein discussing not the news, but how it was told in the Times.

Grammarians, writers, teachers, editors, lovers of words in general would enjoy Bernstein’s pointers on the use of ellipsis and fused participles and his delightful way of dissecting non sequiturs in sentences.

In this tweets and posts era that we’re all texting and abbreviating in these days, language often takes a back seat or sometimes an awful beating that Bernstein would have a field day observing and correcting.

What made me think of teasing Teddy today was a PR colleague of mine saying we could get a lot of “notoriety” by doing something for one of our clients.

“Are you sure we want that?” I asked her.

Isn’t that nettlesome noun a form of infamy or being well known for some bad quality or deed?  “You want to lose the account? Make our PR firm infamous?” I asked her rhetorically like a modern-day Bernstein.

Of course there are times when infamy is intentional and   gets bawdy and broad attention because it’s so outrageously insulting.  The latest example is the British bakery chain replacing baby Jesus with a sausage roll in a Christmas advert.  It sure made headlines.

Greggs, which specializes in the popular delicacy, released the promo for its advent calendar featuring a nativity scene with the Three Wise Men before a crib containing pastry wrapped around sausage meat.  After the storm of publicity broke, they apologized.

While some were deeply offended by the image, others

were amused, setting off a Twitter storm of comments.

Right-wing pressure groups called for a protest against “sick anti-Christian Advent Calendar.”

It reminded me of that trite saying, there’s no such thing as bad publicity. Oh yea?  How about if you’re Harvey Weinstein.

Now that’s notoriety.


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