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A Chat With Lisa Simeone

Lisa Simeone's picture
Date:Apr 2, 2001
Topic:Use and Misuse of Words in Media
Duration:One hour

Lisa Simeone is best known as the host of Weekend All Things Considered on National Public Radio. She has been in broadcasting for nearly two decades in a variety of programs.

Transcript of the Chat

Anu Garg (Moderator)
Welcome to the eighth online chat at Wordsmith! Our guest is Lisa Simeone, host of Weekend All Things Considered on National Public Radio. The topic of chat is "Use and Misuse of Language in Media."

Welcome, Lisa!

Lisa Simeone (Guest Speaker)
Thanks!

sg-usa
What are the most common uses/abuses in the use of words that you have experienced media indulges in and gets away without any trouble?

Lisa Simeone (Guest Speaker)
I find that it's simple things such as mispronunciations: inquiry, apartheid, et cetera, devotee, stuff like that. But sometimes it's misuse of words, such as the abomination "impact" as a verb.

JaJaJoe USuvA
Hi Lisa, I'm relatively new to AWAD, and this is my first chat. I'm an avid NPR person and like your voice sound. I'm listening to some of your Saturday show, and just finished the one on pronunciation pet peeves.

Lisa Simeone (Guest Speaker)
Well, I've been pushing for this Language Pet Peeves feature for many months now. We finally got it on the air, and it's supposed to be a regular thing. NPR listeners love talking/arguing about language. So I hope it'll be a monthly segment.

Anu Garg (Moderator)
Do you have any amusing stories of accent of the speaker causing unintended results?

Lisa Simeone (Guest Speaker)
I wish! I've heard of mondegreens (thank you, Wordsmith.org!) being used, but nothing like that's happened to me personally yet. I remember from my classical music dee-jaying days that listeners would request things such as Tchaikovsky's "March of the Slobs" instead of "March of the Slavs." No kidding.

JaJaJoe USuvA
I have yet to appreciate the Romanian ruminator [sp?] hear regularly via ATC.

Lisa Simeone (Guest Speaker)
Oh, Andre Codrescu. He's great, isn't he? Lives in New Orleans; you can subscribe to HIS newsletter--Exquisite Corpse--on-line. I just realized you said you have yet to appreciate him--he's not everyone's cup of tea.

sg-usa
And such differences in the use of words-in particular pronunciation- reflect the diverse composition of language users. Should it worry one? Or, should one welcome it?

Lisa Simeone (Guest Speaker)
Sg-usa: Good, and eternal, question. I just had a to-do with the editors of my show over the pronunciation of "inquiry" re: the Court of Inquiry after the Ehime Maru accident. I wanted to pronounce it "in-KWIRE-ee," but most of the reporters were saying "IN-kweer--ee" -- UGH! I didn't go to the mat on that one, but there are others for which I would.

JaJaJoe USuvA
Lisa, I initiated a 'pet peeve' e-mail based on your instructions, yet wonder if you'll take some as they occur to me/us during this gig, e.g., 'comfterble',

Lisa Simeone (Guest Speaker)
JaJaJoe: Oh, sure, but keep in mind that we got over 200 responses, so I have to pick and choose among those.

bridget USA
We've had a bit of a discussion about the general preference in the media for referring to Foot and Mouth disease as an epidemic, as opposed to an epizootic. Have you an opinion on this? Is this a symptom of misinformation on the part of the media personnel or simply "dumbing down" for the 'benefit' of the public?

Lisa Simeone (Guest Speaker)
Wow! Touche! (sorry, no diacritical marks on my keyboard). I remember from my study of Ancient Greek that "epizootic" would, indeed, be the correct word. But I gotta say, sometimes it makes sense to go with the flow. I realize that this kind of discussion becomes purely subjective and a matter of taste, and that, therefore, I don't have a leg to stand on!

JaJaJoe USuvA
As I think about it, 'language crutches / speech affectations' wear on me, e.g., my only sibling regularly ends many sentences with 'and that'.

Lisa Simeone (Guest Speaker)
It can become a bad habit. I've noticed that I ask a lot of questions in interviews by ending the question "or what?" So I've had to consciously stop myself.

JaJaJoe USuvA
Yeah, I try to avoid beginning comments with 'so'.

Lisa Simeone (Guest Speaker)
On the other hand, I love slang. I love regional dialects and colloquialisms. I revel in them. I also, as you can see, use things like "gotta" instead of "have to."

Rise
We use terms like "and that" or "or what" as a prompt to get some response to what we've said. Gotta be sure we've been heard. :)

Lisa Simeone (Guest Speaker)
Rise, good point. Especially when I'm trying to put an interview guest at ease, I use those prompts.

bridget USA
What about the incidence of "enormity" being used in place of "enormousness". It seems fairly commonplace in the media (perhaps a pitfall of euphuism?) Should the media be held to a higher standard, in an effort to 'preservation' of language, as opposed to being reflective of general use ('going with the flow')?

Lisa Simeone (Guest Speaker)
You're right about "enormity" vs. "enormousness." I think such examples reflect a true lack of understanding of the meaning of words. And yes, I do believe that the media should be held to a higher standard.

JaJaJoe USuvA
Regarding the 'could(n't) care less', I notice the mis-use, yet wasn't aware of edge your guest referred to Saturday.

Rise
We say language has to be responsive to our needs, but I really like the intricacies and shading of meaning and usage that make it rich.

Lisa Simeone (Guest Speaker)
(Having had a Texan roommate in college, I still use "y'all"!) I think advertising is in a class by itself. I don't think the same rules of usage apply.

JaJaJoe USuvA
It never ceases to amaze me what a difference it makes as to where the inflection is in a word, e.g, listening to BBC.

Lisa Simeone (Guest Speaker)
Ah, but the Brits are notorious for anglicizing everything in sight. I remember when the Beeb used to have a pronunciation guide for classical music announcers--they used to (don't anymore, thank God), for instance, decree that the French composer Bizet's name be pronounced "Bee-zet"!!

sarahfrances
Has the ongoing trend of one word sentences being used in advertising been addressed (y'all!)

Rise
I'm afraid that is where many children are learning the rules. I work with elementary students who pick up everything from ads.

Lisa Simeone (Guest Speaker)
Well, I can only say that it's a constant battle, Rise.

JaJaJoe USuvA
As a Motowner stationed in Georgia in the early 60s, I returned consciously using 'y'all'. First, as a dialect souvenir, and it just seemed to make sense to distinguish from a singular 'you' - even though y'all is also used singularly.

Cole
Do you think television is accelerating the decline in understanding and correct usage of language?

Lisa Simeone (Guest Speaker)
Oh, my, yes. I hear all kinds of execrable things on TV (and I watch very little TV). But that's also why I get really annoyed when I hear people on NPR, who should and often do know better, use words incorrectly or mispronounce things.

sg-usa
To add to Cole's question; and Internet?

Lisa Simeone (Guest Speaker)
Well, it's funny, isn't it, how many of us dispense with capital letters, punctuation, and the like in e-mail? I have friends who routinely do that on e-mail but would never do it in a written essay. It's a different context. I still like the normal punctuation and upper/lower-case, though; I find it much easier to read things that way.

sg-usa
Language use/usage differs from person to person as also its purpose. The difference between language used in a dialogue, say a NPR interview and a written story in the Washington Post is natural. The rules would be different. The context is different. What do you say Lisa?

Lisa Simeone (Guest Speaker)
sg-usa, You're quite right. I'm fond of saying "Context is everything" these days, for all sorts of subjects. And I do believe that written language is de facto more formal than spoken language.

sarahfrances
And I do suppose one has to consider the audience: I picked up a magazine the other day,waiting in line, and was stunned to see that it was aimed at barely a first grade audience--which I guess for an 'entertainment' magazine shouldn't have surprised me?

Lisa Simeone (Guest Speaker)
I've long been told that most newspapers are geared to people with an eighth-grade education. I don't believe that's true with The New York Times (just my observation), but perhaps it's not so bad that democratic organs such as newspapers try to make themselves comprehensible and useful to people who are not quite as well educated as the writers. This would be a long discussion, I think, but a fruitful one.

Rise
Maybe we have to accept that e-mail is always a rough draft.

Lisa Simeone (Guest Speaker)
Yeah, I think e-mail is inherently different from letter-writing.

Lisa Simeone (Guest Speaker)
There's another of my BIG pet peeves: people using different "than" when the correct form is different "from"!

Rise
Thank you! It drives me nuts, too, that different "than" thing.

Lisa Simeone (Guest Speaker)
My husband's sick of hearing me complain about it.

yucateco
Actually, there's some dispute over that. I've read that American usage considers both acceptable while British usage strictly uses 'than'. But I've heard different reports from different sources...what does Anu have to say?

boychick
What about "different to"?

Lisa Simeone (Guest Speaker)
"Different to" is British. It's still better than "different than."

boychick
Oy! What's wrong with British English?

Anu Garg (Moderator)
Well, different than has its place. Consider, "Things are different for people living in western countries than for those in the Third World." for example.

sg-usa
Referring to your observation on the newspapers being geared to whom- did you say, 8th graders by education- think of what Anu feeds us with in his daily e-mails. 8th graders, hmm?

Lisa Simeone (Guest Speaker)
What Anu feeds us are mighty big words for eighth-graders!

Cole
When I was being educated (the 60's and 70's) I don't remember being bombarded with such a volume of mis-usage of language.

Lisa Simeone (Guest Speaker)
This is hard to gauge, I think. I, too, grew up in the '60s and '70s. But I'm not sure I could say that misuse of language wasn't as rampant then. I think those of who subscribe to Anu's newsletter and who love words are just more attuned to it than the average Joe (or Jane).

Rise
Cole, were we too young to know it was misused?

Cole
Probably, but I also remember having to learn daily vocabulary lists and sentence diagraming.

Lisa Simeone (Guest Speaker)
I think that study of foreign languages really makes one aware of proper usage and pronunciation. But, of course, Americans usually aren't required to learn foreign languages.

Anu Garg (Moderator)
Hi Lisa, what do you think about the use of "factoid" to refer to facts.

Lisa Simeone (Guest Speaker)
"Factoid," in my opinion, is almost as dopey as "guesstimate." I think when people use "factoid" they're trying to distance themselves from the purported veracity of what they're reporting.

boychick
No. Factoid to me means a "Brief Summary", CNN style. All the attention span the moderns have is six seconds.

sg-usa
And, what about the change in the meaning of words? Then-in 60s/70s- "good" was always good but in 90s, "bad" also sometimes means good?

Lisa Simeone (Guest Speaker)
But this is how slang develops. As I've said, I revel in it, even if I'm caught off guard by it or reveal myself to be out of the loop (another modern slang cliche). Just the other day I was told that "crank" means some kind of drug--methamphetamine? I thought it referred to a crank on a car.

sarahfrances
"Bad" also sometimes meant good in the 60's/70's too.

JaJaJoe USuvA
It amazes me that 'cool' has clung for decades, and is bigger than ever now.

sarahfrances
I still have slang words that I refuse to succumb to, "Hella" being one of them. And yes, crank, crank-head, meth-head. All common Bay Area, Cali slang.

Lisa Simeone (Guest Speaker)
I guess I don't know what "hella" is. "Hella" as in "helluva"?

sarahfrances
Yup! re: Hella

sarahfrances
Wait, not exactly interchangeable. Someone can be "hella cool" or "hella tight"

Lisa Simeone (Guest Speaker)
So is "hella" being used as an adjective, an intensifier?

Rise
As for slang, it gives us a double positive, opposite to double negative. When we say "yeah, right" with just the right inflection, it means "no."

claret USA
I don't think "hella" has hit the East Coast yet.

Lisa Simeone (Guest Speaker)
Aha!

sarahfrances
Yes, adjective/hella. A polite way of saying "f'in"

kevin USA
This goes back to a comment a few lines up, but I'm a little slow when it comes to forming thoughts into words. In any case, I'm reasonably certain the American education system is not at fault for the proliferation of lax grammatical usage. Though some may claim it weak, I think it does a fairly decent job of providing for the young of our nation, at least on the grand scale. But I wander from my original intent. Rather, I think our problem is this inevitable explosion in communication that has brought about such unforeseen and rapid exchange of ideas. Probably common knowledge to all of you, anyway.

Lisa Simeone (Guest Speaker)
Oh, good, I'm going to go into NPR on Wednesday and throw "hella" about and see what people say.

sarahfrances
(laughing at the thought of corrupting NPR w/Hella)

sarahfrances
Could be, it was rampant in Bay Area 3 years ago--I've heard it now and again here in DC on the bus....

Lisa Simeone (Guest Speaker)
Is it that the explosion in communication makes us all respond faster and faster, and thus more carelessly? Or is something else at work?

Rise
As with so many things, speed brings carelessness.

boychick
Unless one is inculcated with a love of the language, education alone wont do it.

kevin USA
Our medium also propagates carelessness so much more effortlessly. See TV or even typographical errors in newsprint.

Lisa Simeone (Guest Speaker)
I've actually noticed many more typographical errors in newsprint than ever when I was growing up.

sarahfrances
Agreed, though I will say emailing/being on a mailing list with participants from other countries has made me choose my words specifically as I know they're already translating to Dutch, Serbo-Croat etc. Then there's the fun of swapping slang internationally.

boychick
Lisa - maybe you are concentrating more now.

Lisa Simeone (Guest Speaker)
And boychick is right--people who don't care one way or the other think we're all out of our minds for worrying about/talking about such things.

claret USA
I think there's been a big change in attitude about language use that corresponds to growing informality and "anything goes" attitudes in society in general. I think people used to be embarrassed more by errors, by realizing that they made grammatical mistakes --- just the way they wouldn't go to the opera in jeans -- or even the airport. Nowadays, people are not embarrassed -- they almost make you feel as if something's wrong with you for having noticed mistakes.

Lisa Simeone (Guest Speaker)
Claret: True. It's kind of like what Socrates predicted about democracy.

sg-usa
It is not presence or absence of care, whatever suffices is good enough in communication, particularly speedy communications?

kevin USA
Perhaps a more common goal nowadays is to simply "get the idea across"?

Lisa Simeone (Guest Speaker)
Yeah, this is a famous cop-out, isn't it? (There's a question--what word would I have used 50 years ago to convey "cop-out"?)

sarahfrances
cop-out =excuse 50 years ago

kevin USA
I would have used 'excuse' ;) But I haven't been alive that long.

Cole
Rationalization?

Lisa Simeone (Guest Speaker)
I think rationalization conveys the tone better.

claret USA
On the other hand, I'm actually rather impressed by the accuracy of spelling, punctuation, and usage on a lot of the major Web sites -- CNN, Bloomberg, etc. -- especially when you consider how fast those news stories are being churned out. I see more typos and errors in newspapers than on the Web.

Lisa Simeone (Guest Speaker)
Good point. Perhaps they're bending over backwards to be careful because they know the Web's reputation.

claret USA
What it means to me is that there are a number of young people out there who really do know the rules -- comma rules included. Rather reassuring thought.

sarahfrances
I will say that Bloomberg has made some errors in its facts though....Odd to see that in action & to see just how stocks were directly affected for a blip until the error was corrected.

Anu Garg (Moderator))
We are ot of time now. Thank you, Lisa, for being our guest today and thanks to all the linguaphiles for participating.

Lisa Simeone (Guest Speaker)
Thanks, Anu, and all who participated. This was a lot of fun.

Anu Garg (Moderator)
We look forward to your comments on today's chat. Please send your feedback to (words AT wordsmith.org) on how you enjoyed the chat and how we can make it better. Thank you.

sg-usa
Thank you Lisa for adding spice to our feed. Great.

JaJaJoe USuvA
'Enjoyed my first online chat, Good Night, Y'all !-)

Anu Garg (Moderator)
Our next guest is Sreenath Sreenivasan, a professor in Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism. This chat will focus on online journalism. This chat takes place on on Apr 9. For more details, please see wordsmith.org/chat/sree.html We hope to see you all there.

Lisa Simeone (Guest Speaker)
Anu, you have several fans at NPR--people who subscribe to AWAD.

Anu Garg (Moderator)
Thank you, Lisa. NPR is my favorite.


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