The problems of syntax

newspapersI am not sure if it is me just getting more irritable or if standards in the media are slipping (I appreciate the two are not mutually exclusive), but I get irritated whenever I see a story in which a reporter writes ‘lead’ for led or in which three or four things are listed followed by ‘and the latter’ (latter can only be used when there are two options).  However, most irritating is the way in which headlines are constructed.   Syntax is clearly a problem for some writers: ‘he opened the door in his pyjamas’.  A good example today is the strapline: ‘Secrets of a Police Marksmen, Channel 4: Tony Long recalls his career and the five people he shot in documentary’.   Either they meant ‘Tony Long recalls in this documentary his career and the five people he shot’ or it is a documentary that will have the police rushing to make an arrest.

About Lord Norton

Professor of Government at Hull University, and Member of the House of Lords
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4 Responses to The problems of syntax

  1. Dean B says:

    Could be worse, he could have shot 5 people in his pyjamas.

  2. Stephen MacLean says:

    Ah, I remember a wonderful Groucho Marx quotation: ‘One morning I shot an elephant in my pyjamas. How he got into my pyjamas I’ll never know.’

  3. No, it’s not just you – the media’s standards, sadly, are continually diminishing – both in style and content.

    Still, we must do what we can to assist them!

    Kind regards,

  4. maude elwes says:

    Syntax, in the same way words, change with the way a language is used and perceived.

    The mess you see in the way our journalists phrase a sentence or describe an issue is really due to the mess in politics. They are all at sea.

    Did politicians really believe that the acceptance of millions of people with foreign customs and cultures was going to keep Britain connected and accepting of its culture and expectations of grammar and language in general? Have you visited schools across the country where teachers are barely articulate? These are people in the profession of passing down to the next generation our language and understanding of it, yet they are unable to speak in perceived sentences. This is not new, it has been going on for years and is not only embraced it is encouraged. Cosmopolitan ‘ain’t’ it.

    The media, newspapers and any magazine published are expected to speak to the people in a language they understand. Yes, it is very sad, but, it was brought about by consecutive governments who despised the British way of life, its view of the world and most of all, the rules of its language. Toffee nosed is out. Syntax is unheard of.

    And the way we were! A day when struggling to understand the news was not an issue.

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