Words Gone Wrong: 8 Stupid Things Journalists Write

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Well, there’s good news and there’s bad news about the new do-it-yourself journalism. The good news? Theoretically, anyone with a keyboard and a modem can enter the global conversation. The bad news? At least in American journalism, a bunch of people who don’t know English very well are writing their heads off, producing a slew of words without knowing what some of those key words actually mean.

Just in the last few days I’ve collected a few outstanding examples of Words Gone Wrong.


  1. From a generally interesting Daily Beast story by Suzy Parker on the cultic Institute of Basic Principles (IBP),

“Dewitt told the Arkansas Times in 2006 that he based PAL off of the Character Training Institute in Oklahoma City.”

No, Suzy, you  don’t “base something off of something else,” you “base it ON” something. As in there is a base, and then you build something ON it.

2. From another DB article on Donald Trump, this time by the GOP writer Evan Siegfried, comes a misuse of “that” for “which,” PLUS the bonus of a misuse of the name of the logical fallacy “begging the question” all in two contiguous paragraphs!

Perhaps Mr. Trump’s statements that escalate in outrageousness can be explained by his reality star background. Each offensive utterance is a “ratings stunt” which preys on a particular bloc of voters who feel betrayed by politicians who they believe have over-promised and under-delivered. They are angry at how life feels harder than it was 30 years ago, and Trump, to them, is the perfect vessel for their anger.  

This begs the question of what do we Republicans do to win millennial voters and bring them into the fold?

So, Evan, an easy way to use “that” and “which” correctly is to remember that “that” introduces a necessary clause: the information following “that” is necessary for you to understand the identity of the subject. In this sentence, you’ve already identified the subject, “statements.” So the “escalate in outrageousness” is totally extra. When you have an extra piece of information like that, use a comma before it to separate it, and then use “which,” not “that”: “Perhaps Mr. Trump’s statements, which have been escalating in outrageousness, can be explained by his ….”

“To beg the question” is an often cited but poorly understood logical fallacy, but you don’t seem to recognize it as a fallacy at all, but merely as a turn of speech. It doesn’t mean “lead to the question,” as you have it here. It means “to presume that a question has been answered when it hasn’t.” Go back and review your logical fallacies, please. 

3. From a certain Amy Kremer, who wrote in 2014 about Katrina Pierson, now a bullet-necklaced Trump shill, this heartrending tale of woe:

Born into poverty, Pierson’s mother was only 15-years-old and her upbringing was certainly less than ideal.

Amy, honey, you only use the hyphens with someone’s age when the whole thing forms an adjective to describe a noun like “girl.”  So Pierson’s mom was a 15-year-old girl when she was 15 years old. This is so basic. Do not pass “Go.” 

4. From Josh Voorhees, who is a good writer generally, a story about Ted Cruz and his incestuous relationship with the religious right:

…the Texas senator has wracked up a string of high-profile endorsements from influential evangelical leaders…

Josh, W R A C K is a noun that means “seaweed on the beach.”  To R A C K  U P means to total up, or add up. 

I actually wrote to Mr. Voorhees about this one and he was kind enough to correct it immediately with thanks.

5. Again from the Daily Beast, by Barbie Latza Nadeau, who ought to know better, in a story about Ethiopian Christians trying to stay out of harm’s way:

Worshipers clamor up the sides of the buried rock cutouts to take part in the ceremony.

C L A M B E R.  It means to C L I M B, fast. Get it?  C l + m b means going up, up, up, whether it is “clamber” or “climb.”  It doesn’t mean “clamor” as in “make a whole lot of noise.” You’re killing me here. You’ve heard the word but never read it, which really makes me nervous since you are supposed to be a writer.

6. From Fox News, no author (whew!): the following comment on Obama and the Iran deal:

President Obama and others in his administration have argued that reaching a perfect deal would be nearly impossible and that this deal is better than no deal with a rouge nation that poses a regional and global nuclear threat.

Dear “Fair and Balanced,” R O U G E means “red” in French. You might want to broaden your horizons a bit. The word you want is R O G U E. But hell, given your obsession with long-dead ideological threats, maybe this one just slipped out.

7. From RealClearPolitics, in a story about Cruz, Trump, and Iowa by a Caitlin Huey-Burns, this little jewel:

Cruz is well organized in the state, and polls show him edging Trump there ahead of the Feb. 1 caucuses. While Cruz is running one of the best campaigns from an operational standpoint, the Texas senator has been through the ringer over the past several days.

Caitlin, if you had ever actually wread this word, you would know that “to wring” means to twist something hard, like twisting a dishcloth until all the water is wrung out of it. The verb is “wring, wrung, wrung.” It is not remotely like ringing a bell. The “ringer” is the little gizmo on your phone that makes a noise. A “wringer” was a piece of equipment for wringing the extra water out of washed clothes so that you could put them on the line to dry in the sunshine. 

8. From the generally very cool Wonkette site, by Evan Hurst, came this title. Expecting better from Wonkette, I had the sadz:

Track Palin Got Drunk And Beated Up A Lady With His Gun, Allegedly

“Beat” is of course one of the oldest verbs in the Germanic part of our language, and it’s conjugated like this:  “He beats her every day, He beat her yesterday, and He has  beaten her repeatedly.” It is NEVER “beated.” 

But then I realized Wonkette was way ahead of me. Elsewhere on the page was this image about Sarah Palin’s “devotional,” Sweet Freedom, which she “wroted,” acccording to Wonkette’s title-master.  I can just hear her praying, “Oh Lord Jesus, bring down lightnings and thunderbolts on all the lamestream media who keep tryin’a stop this good griftin’ thing I’ve got goin’ and also too, let the Donald pick me for VP ’cause I’m over Wasilla and Bristol’s new baby’s diapers stink.”
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You’re welcome, and Happy New Year!


5 thoughts on “Words Gone Wrong: 8 Stupid Things Journalists Write

  1. Greetings from a first-time reader. Enjoyed your post. However, I have a couple of notes.

    “Just in the last few days” — Are THESE the “last” few days? My editors taught me that unless the apocalypse is approaching, we should write “past” few days (and past few months, years, etc.).

    In your excitement over correcting “that” to which,” you missed a “which” that should be a “that” that followed immediately after:

    Each offensive utterance is a “ratings stunt” which preys on a particular bloc of voters who feel betrayed by politicians who they believe have over-promised and under-delivered.

    It should be “Each offensive utterance is a “ratings stunt” THAT preys …

    Also, overpromise (and thus overpromised) is a word and does not require a hyphen, according to Merriam-Webster.

    Keep fighting the good fight!


    1. On “last” or “past,” I don’t have a preference; “past” is probably more correct, however, as the time has “passed.” I expect that the immortal Kathy Hall of the late Whittle Communications (my copy-edit guru many years ago) has views on it, but I didn’t haul out the copy guide to look.

      On “which” and “that,” I am usually pretty much of a stickler, but I realize that the American usage is only one way of doing it. The one I missed conforms nicely to British usage and I didn’t consider it worth comment. But yes, if I had been consistent I would have noted it. The one I did note was dreadful, so that’s why I focused on it.

      I didn’t look up “overpromise.” I didn’t even look at it, to tell the truth.

      My purpose in the post was to focus on the usages that are egregiously bad, not to copyedit the entire documents. WordPress doesn’t pay me enough for that 🙂

      Thank you for visiting my site and keeping me up to snuff. I am honored you came by.


  2. It is worth it to read! Since I learned English, I use my language more carefully. I noticed that the language, which I was born with, I just use without thinking that much to respect it! Thank you for your post Em!

    Liked by 1 person

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