When I was in school, I had some great english teachers. People with more than just a simple commitment to preparing the kids well enough for the 10th boards. People with a real passion for the language who went to great lenths to make us understand its subtleties and possibilities.
Their instinct for the language and the accuracy and consistency of their work was always an inspiration for me. When I was in school, I learned that I had a soft-corner for the written word and that the only way I could really learn a language was by reading stuff written in it. Listening didn’t help me that much. Why that should be the case… I am yet to figure out. When I conveyed this feeling of mine to a teacher she told me that the best way to learn how to write without grammar mistakes(which for some hard-to-fathom reason seemed like an incredibly important thing to me at the time) was to consistently read The Hindu. Especially the editorial section.
This advice was repeated to me over the years by all my subsequent teachers and even the Principals who headed the school during my last years there.
I used to follow that advice with great zeal and I always found the clinical precision, character and quality of the language to be deeply comforting to my somewhat needlessly sensitive passion for the language.
Also, apart from the language I also used to think that the content of The Hindu was a cut above the rest. But, of late I have noticed a marked deterioration in the quality of the editing and it was deeply unsettling to me. It was till now the only english language daily I knew of which I could count on to be correct. In school, I even used to use sentences in The Hindu to argue about usages with my friends. Everyone trusted it to be correct.
Today, I read a report that was so chock full of mistakes that it was hard for me to not take note of it. I think I have to spend a few moments to bemoan the loss of a ready standard against which I could sharpen my fallible linguistic abilities everyday.
Here is the report I read –
Yet another bunch of innocent lives — “Bunch” is an unbecoming way of conveying an idea of the number of lives that have been lost.
has been snuffed out — Again, a rather crude usage that conflicts with the tradition of dignified english that the paper is famous for.
on the highways in Karur district courtesy — This is the first time I have seen the word “courtesy” used in a context like this. The author obviously doesn’t think that what happened was something that would make someone deserving of “courtesy”. Was this then an attempt at sarcasm? Isn’t it a little insensitive to resort to such rhetorical devices in a piece conveying such tragic news,
some unscrupulous road users who extended their long arm beyond the pale of law. — This is where things start to really fall apart. Seldom have I seen such a confused deployment of idioms resulting in a sentence that can actually make one wince. “The long arm… ” is generally used to allude to the reach of law. Here it has somehow gotten mixed up with carelessness and criminal disregard of law and wound up on the other side of the fence vis-à-vis “the Law”.
Social activists have called for a revisit of the road safety rules, especially those governing extended vehicles that are termed “Articulated Vehicles” — “which” should have been used instead of “that”. The reason for this is rather subtle. When “that” is used, it gives the feeling that the road safety rules in question concern only those extended vehicles which are termed “Articulated Vehicles”. But, from the context, I think, what the author meant is that the rules concern all extended vehicles, which are collectively called Articulated Vehicles by the Transport Department. Of course, one can argue that since the meaning is clear from the context, semantic consistency to such a high degree should not be insisted upon. While this is arguable, what I feel is that a newspaper that boasts of the kind of pedigree that the Hindu has should pay attention even to such subtle details.
I know that my explanation sucks. Those willing to pursue it more can try reading about non-restrictive relative clauses and how they ought to be inserted.
in Transport Department parlance.
Sources told The Hindu that Thursday’s accident occurred when an articulated vehicle suddenly veered to the left side of the highway near Tadakoil on the Karur-Madurai section of NH 7 when its extended tail carrying the leaf of
the wind mill — “a wind mill”.
came in the way of the private bus trailing the carrier.
Five passengers of the bus were killed in the accident that also saw more than a dozen getting injured. — “get injured”.
The leaf simply sliced through the left side of the bus hitting all those who were seated on that side.
Activists have called upon the State government and the Transport Department in particular to regulate operation of such class of vehicles. — It should either be “classes” or “this class”. Also “the” should be there before “operation”. It just keeps getting worse…
“We wonder whether there exists any set of laws governing the possession and operation of such huge vehicles that have a potential — “the potential”. “A” is used mostly when “potential” is used as an adjective.
to endanger other road users,” says S. Gopalan, Chairman, Consumer Protection Council, and member of the District Road Safety Advisory Council.
In pointing out that the Transport Department officials must implement road rules freely without any influence, Mr. Gopalan packs a punch as many such articulated vehicles are owned by influential fleet operators meaning any slapping of charge on them for violations is met with a mobile response from powers that be to leave them alone. — This sentence is so damaged that it would be understandable if some people refused to attempt to make sense of it. Starting from the first word(“In” instead of “while”) this sentence is an affront to the english language. What is really sad is that the sentence is wrong not merely because it fails to convey a simple message using simple words. The degree of the abomination that the sentence is is aggravated by the inopportune and inexpert deployment of phrases like “packs a punch” and “THE powers that be”.
Those articulated vehicles, like many multi-axle trailers and hazardous vehicles, are on the prowl on the highways sans most of the prescribed guidelines or safety norms. — “on the prowl”? Really? When words like “sans” are used in a report that simply reeks of linguistic inepitude it does very little to improve the article.
While the sanctioned length is 18 metres, the operators invariably extended the tail to carry the payload violating law straightaway. — Never seen such a twisted sentence before in The Hindu. Why didn’t they simply write, “Operators routinely extend the vehicles beyond the sanctioned length of 18 m to carry extra payload thus violating the law.”?
Sometimes, they get exemption from States such as Maharashtra and ply here much to the chagrin of Transport Department officials here.
They must be operated only with escorts and pilots, get permission from local authorities such as highway and municipalities for travel in the region and most importantly must be on the road only between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. They must submit a fixed route chart clearly mentioning the stops, fuel refilling, maintenance halts and so on, sources in the Transport Department say. Those things are never ever done by the operators who care two hoots for public safety.
Experienced drivers for manning the articulated vehicles is a must and is borne out by the fact that the driver of the vehicle involved in Karur accident Neeraj Kumar is 22. Many fleet operators in Tamil Nadu would hesitate to give such vehicles to people of his age.
Most importantly the rules must be ensured even as the articulated vehicles enter the State, says Mr. Gopalan to minimise chance of road danger due to them. He hopes the accident serves as a wake up call to implement the much-needed road safety norms.
— Just too many mistakes to point out!
This article merely served to confirm my long standing suspicion of editorial paralysis at The Hindu. This is really sad. All that is required to report a sad news like this is simple language devoid of literary contrivances. In fact, that is the way it should be reported. When bumbling attempts at an appearance of linguistic virtuosity are made at the expense of the gravity of the news, it does nothing but provoke revulsion in the readers. Recently, I have been noting that words are being skipped and a lot of obvious mistakes are being made even in articles by good journalists and authors. This points to a lack of care and attention to detail on the part of the paper.
It is sad to note that one of the few papers that have some content is witnessing such a precipitous fall in the quality of its language.
I hope that the trend is reversed so that the language is once again keeping in line with the reputation for quality and precision that The Hindu has built up over the years.
P.S. It is quite possible that what I wrote contains a lot of mistakes. But, I don’t think that that should prevent one from responding to the obvious fall in quality of the language used by The Hindu.