Thursday, May 27, 2004

Lessons from Bremner

This is the eighth lesson from editing extraordinaire John Bremner. (Anyone tired of him yet?) Click here for Tuesday's.

Bremner is discussing the sanctity of quotes.
Do we ever change a quote? Well, let me give you my principle.

I would never make an ordinary citizen look bad. I'd never make it appear that I were being condescending or, rather, that I were showing this guy up if he goofed in speech.

What do you do,however, if you get a public figure who goofs in a quote? Are you going to correct it? Suppose you have to use it. You can't paraphrase. ... No answers? Quote it the way he says it? I'm not talking about obscenity here, I'm just talking about usage, grammar. Anyone disagree?

[Comment from teacher] Very imporant, the television bit ... because if they read it in the paper one way in the afternoon and then see it on the television that night or the next morning or whatever. A great example of that--

Remember when Alexander Haig was president of the United States? Remember that, that day? What the hell happened? Ronnie was sick, wasn't he? Wasn't that it?

No, he was shot. That's right, I'd forgotten the circumstances. And they couldn't find George anywhere; he was flying around Texas, as I recall. And Haig stepped in and took over. There was no way under ... constitutionally, he had no right.

Anyway, they finally got George back to Washington and propped him up in front of all the cameras and microphones. And George said, I quote exactly, "I want to reinsure the American people."

Now, I was on the road the next day and able to see different papers. The AP story said "I want to reassure," which is probably want he meant to say to the American people. The L.A. Times/Washington Post story said, "I want to assure the American people." And one paper -- in fact, it was in Indiana, a small paper up here that said (and you may disagree with this, you may say it's editorializing; I like it) said, "As a sign of his nervousness, Vice President Bush began his remarks with, "I want to reinsure..."

I thought that was a great way to handle it. It got the thing across and explained it, and I don't think it's editorializing at all. Watching it, Bush was nervous.


At 1:33 PM, May 27, 2004, Blogger pero said...

I am always tempted to correct OBVIOUS grammatical errors when quoting people; but then, it IS a quote, so it should be left as it was spoken, right?

I know a person that uses "insure" in place of "assure" and she also pronounces "cereal" -- "cerio."

My senior year (high-school) English teacher frequently used "What you might can do is...(insert suggestion here). Not only would she use this in verbal communication but she would also WRITE it on essays or other papers. :-D

At 7:09 PM, May 27, 2004, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I believe in rendering pronunciation in standard spelling. I wouldn't write that a Bostonian said, "Sammy Soser hit it out of the pahk" unless it was a story about accents. I'd render "gonna" and "oughta" as "going to" and "ought to" because I don't assume a slurred "g" or a flat vowel really changes the word. But I would almost never change a word in a quote to a word I think the speaker should have used. "Might can" sounds like a version of a common Southernism, and I wouldn't assume she meant anything else. I'd be absolutely sure "reinsure" was the word he used and not just a sloppy pronunciation, then I'd use it. Brian.

At 6:51 AM, May 28, 2004, Blogger Peter Fisk said...

I guess if Bremner specifically said "Hague," we'd better not change it to "Haig."

At 8:52 AM, May 29, 2004, Blogger Nicole said...

Ugh. Thanks for the heads-up, Peter. It's fixed now.

At 3:58 AM, May 31, 2004, Blogger Peter Fisk said...

Nicole, one little typo is greatly outweighed by all the great info and ideas that you post.


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