Monday, March 29, 2004

Verbs? Not needing them

The start of this New York Times story is classic:
At 5:30 p.m. last Monday, Shepard Smith, the 40-year-old host of Fox News Channel's "Fox Report," was hunched over his computer in the company's bustling Midtown headquarters, poring over the script for his evening broadcast, and searching for verbs. Mr. Smith, let it be known, does not like verbs. Whenever he finds one, he crinkles his brow in disgust like a man who has discovered a dribble of food on his tie. He taps furiously at his keyboard, moves the cursor to the offending word and deletes it, or else adds "ing," turning the verb into a participle and his script into the strange shorthand that passes for English these days on cable news:

" celebrating a birthday! The Internet company 10 years old."

"Texas! A school bus and two other vehicles colliding in Dallas. The bus rolling over on its side."

"Outrage in the Middle East! A vow of revenge after an assassination and reportedly threatening the United States. Tonight ? how real the threat?"

Shepard Smith! Explaining to a reporter, why not the verbs?

"We don't communicate in full sentences anyway," Mr. Smith said as he continued working through his script. "We don't need all those words. And it allows us to go faster."
Note: Three full sentences from him. All contain verbs.

I don't watch much cable news, I guess, because I didn't know about this verb hatred. Of course, the reason they give for the success of Smith's show is that they're "formatting his program for a younger audience used to getting its information on the Web."

I'll give him that. I'm young. I'll read long pieces if they interest me, but I do enjoy the staccato hits of headline browsing. But I also like verbs.

What is this about? In the examples above, all the "ing" verbs can be replaced by simple present-tense verbs to make complete sentences without adding any syllables. It's no longer, and it doesn't sound like it's coming from a non-native speaker.

And it's hard to take this fast-talking seriously, anyway. It can get him in trouble. Remember this?
"J.Lo's new song 'Jenny From the Block' is all about Lopez's roots, about how she's still a neighborhood gal at heart," Shepherd declared innocently enough, before veering horribly off his teleprompted script. "But folks from that street in New York, the Bronx section, sound more likely to give her a curb job than a blow job!"


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