Monday, February 19, 2007

careful words

Because I am a pedant, I really enjoy reading the corrections and clarifications in The Guardian, and I particularly enjoy the always interesting 'Open Door' feature, by Guardian Readers Editor Ian Mayes. Take today's, for example, with it's two interesting examples of careful language in areas of great sensitivity. Well, I find this dead interesting, even if you don't...

An email I received a few days ago read: "Just so you know, the Iranian community worldwide is about to boycott your newspaper solely because you have decided arbitrarily to use the term 'the Gulf' in place of 'the Persian Gulf' in your articles." The writer, tacitly acknowledging the global reach of the Guardian, may have been reading the style guide, which is specific on this point: "The Gulf - not the Persian or Arabian Gulf." This is the form used on most occasions, as in "America is building up its naval and air forces in the Gulf to put pressure on Iran ... "

Despite the urging of the style guide, it is still referred to occasionally as "the Persian Gulf", for example when it is mentioned in a historical context, or when it is necessary to distinguish it in some additional way from any other gulf. The Guardian's favoured default dictionary, Collins, supports the idea that when we say "the Gulf" we generally know which gulf we are talking about. Its first definition of the word, with a capital G, is "the Persian Gulf".

The preference for calling it "the Gulf" is not something that the Guardian has suddenly or arbitrarily introduced...
The article goes on to explain why, so click here if you want to read on. The article then goes on to discuss the term 'friendly fire', which is just as fascinating for the pedantically inclined:

In a leader about Matty Hull, the same day, the Guardian referred to "so-called friendly fire". The Guardian's security affairs editor told me that he always puts the phrase in quotation marks to signal that he is using it without adopting it as his own. The quotation marks, he says, are nearly always removed in the editing.

Whether its origin is among soldiers in the trenches of the first world war or not, for many it is perceived as carrying the taint of military propaganda, and they therefore believe that quotation marks should be used as a distancing device, treating it like other euphemisms of our time: "axis of evil", "war on terror", "collateral damage".

The style guide editor believes that friendly fire has entered the language, and he thinks using it without quotes is all right. Collins says it succinctly: firing by one's own side, esp when it harms one's own personnel.
Fascinating stuff.

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