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THE IDLE AMERICAN
Wednesday, May 5, 2010 • Posted May 5, 2010

Bluffs, Blusters and Blarney…

In a gentler age, when "getting it right" was more important than "getting it first," representatives of both print and electronic media found ways to cooperate. They were good at establishing ground rules to lighten work loads and to simplify the processing of news by readers and listeners.

Such agreements would have come in handy when the Icelandic volcano erupted. A few decades ago, reporters might have agreed that the geographic location—Iceland—was all we needed to know.

Today’s reporters march right in where grandparents feared to tread. The new breed insists that we know the formal name of the lava spewer: The Eyjafjallajokull Volcano. One guy claims that you don’t "say it," you "sneeze it!"…

* * * * *

Radio and TV news personalities practice proper pronunciation countless times, the latter peering into mirrors, striving not only to pronounce the name correctly, but also to maintain serious facial posture, feigning absolute confidence.

Editors, on deadline, wonder if writers get the spelling right, and proofreaders, finally "up to here" with work pressures, whimper as they turn in their badges.

All the while, some top media moguls button their suits of arrogance all the way to the throat. "This is the way we say it, and this is the way we spell it," they sneer, their demeanor and cockiness conveying their wordless sentiments….

* * * * *

A multi-generational police yarn explains an easy way out of potential pronunciation problems.

You remember it—the one about a patrolman finding a dead horse. He calls the police station, telling the captain of his find at the intersection of Eucalyptus and Bois d’arc.

The captain, brow furrowed at the prospect of spelling the street names, orders, "Drag him over to Oak and Elm, then call back." (A similar joke has long been linked with New Orleans on Tchoupitoulas St. The policeman, with the help of onlookers, drags the horse around the corner to Camp St.)…

* * * * *

Then, there’s the story of a young radio news personality confounded by the local mayor’s name—"Sorrobobovitch." An active mayor, "his honor" was forever issuing proclamations, christening car washes and leading the Pledge of Allegiance. Thus his name popped up routinely in newscasts, and the young newsman always mangled it.

On a quiet Saturday morning, the youngster casually prepared what he thought would be a slam-dunk noon newscast. He smiled at the prospect of a slow news day, since the mayor was "conventioning" out of town. Suddenly, the alert bell rang, signaling a news wire bulletin. It announced that Mayor Sorrobobovitch had keeled over dead on the convention floor.

Sweat popped out on the youngster’s forehead at the prospect of butchering the mayor’s obituary. He interrupted a 78 rpm Merle Haggard record to announce the tragedy. Then, "a stroke of brilliance" provided a temporary calm. With a steady voice, he announced, "Ladies and gentlemen, the mayor of our fair city has dropped ‘graveyard dead’ at a convention; his name is being withheld pending notification of next of kin."…

* * * * *

Oh, we can bluff our way at times. Two paragraphs ago, I slipped in "conventioning," thinking it might pass muster if shielded by a pair of "King’s X quotation marks."

Sometimes, we are flustered by assignments in unfamiliar territory. Consider Don Henry, a respected newspaper sports figure for more than a half-century in Big Spring, San Angelo, Lubbock, El Paso and Ballinger. Henry met tens of thousands of publication deadlines, making good on delivering sports news with the dogged determination of "the mail must go through" postal folks.

One Sunday morning, probably following a harried battle with Saturday night deadlines, he had a speaking part at church—the offertory prayer.

Marching straight for the lectern, in front of the assembled ushers, he asked that "everyone bow their heads for the benefiction!" Giggles broke out as plates were passed. Henry slithered back to his seat, with a reddened face that felt as hot as the lava flowing from the Eyjafjallajokull Volcano….

* * * * *

Dr. Newbury is a speaker in the Metroplex. Inquiries/comments to: newbury@speakerdoc.com. Phone: 817-447-3872. Website: www.speakerdoc.com

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