Monday, 8 February 2016

How I hate emphatics

The motto of the modern media reader or viewer is "I'll be the judge of that". It may lead them to death by natural disaster as they ignore warning signs but they stay true to it. And perhaps truest when it comes to the use of emphatics in newspaper copy.

In his book My Trade, Andrew Marr points out that the number of noughts in a statistics is in inverse proportion to its veracity. He also says that you should answer any headline that starts 'Is this...?' with the answer 'No'. To these, I would like to add rules about emphatics, which have spread like disease into press releases, and from there into the media itself. We know that words such as 'some' and 'very' mean nothing. There's a new breed of word, led by the iniquitous 'stunning'. I hate stunning. I do not feel stunned when I read the word 'stunning'. I am sure I do not want to feel 'stunned'.

Not only are these words worthless, they are overused. Nearly 30% of the emphatics I come across are the words 'luxury' and 'luxurious'. That is followed by 'excellent' on 20% and 'perfect' on 12%. Imagine that. 12% of everything I read about is perfect. How happy my life must be.

Press releases fulfill a valuable function for me. They are a source of facts - of numbers, of descriptions, of amounts. I use them for that. I can see that sneaking the word 'stunning' into a press release that eventually makes it out as broadcast or news copy gives a sense of third-party endorsement from the media. But I believe that is now knocked out by the numbness that readers feel towards these words. They look at something which is 'stunning' and they say "I'll be the judge of that".

Here is an example of a proper reaction to an emphatic. The WCs in trains used to carry the message 'Do not flush in any station', to which wags could add the words 'except Yeovil', 'except Doncaster' or 'except Paisley' depending on which part of the country they were. The train companies have cleverly spotted that this graffiti is due to a wayward emphatic: the tawdry 'any'. The signs now correctly and efficiently read 'Do not flush in station'.

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