When April shower activity comes your way

Hal Gardner

January 27, 1993|By Hal Gardner

ENTERTAINMENT, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. And since retirement I've found the principal source of my entertainment to be television -- particularly the weather reports, commercials and talks shows.

When I was in college I read an essay by Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch in which the Cambridge don defined "jargon" as the effect of writing around a subject rather than approaching it directly. (George Orwell noted the same thing a half-century ago, and his spirit lives on in the "Quarterly Review of Doublespeak," published by the National Council of Teachers of English.) One reason for jargon is caution. Writers want to avoid venturing out on a limb.

Thus, in a TV commercial touting a well-known treatment for hemorrhoids, the offensive word is avoided wherever possible and the phrase "inflamed hemorrhoidal tissue" substituted. Yet by any other name hemorrhoids are a pain in the rear.

One of the more enduring examples of tele-jargon can be found in weather people's reliance on the word "activity." We hear "meteorologists" prophecying "shower activity" for the forthcoming day. What, one wonders, is the difference between shower activity and showers -- or, for that matter, rain?

I view with something more than amusement the over-use of this device, for I anticipate its extension to ordinary news reports, such as pile-ups on the Beltway ("accident activity") and Saturday-night mayhem.

"Lots of murder activity going on out there tonight, folks."

Then there are the mispronunciations.

It took me a while to figure out that, in the phonetic confusion of the Baltimore accent, "hum unners" was "home owners" and "otto" was "auto."

"Let us take care of your otto," suggests a sparkling voice. "We'll insure you no mater how bad your driving record. With us, you'll soon be back on the road again" -- much, one suspects, to the despair of the other drivers.

A continuing battle among those priding themselves on the fastidiousness of their syntax has centered on when to use farther as opposed to further. A commercial resolves it in a single sentence:

"Because you go farther with us, we go further with you."

One TV commercial promoting the Bahamas, after posing the question of what place the commercial is referring to, declares, "If you said the Bahamas, you'll not only be right; you'll be close." I'm not going to try to explain that one.

Another, after rattling off an uninspired version of the news, concludes with, "We'll see you through." See me through what?

Best of all is the reference to "pure virgin vinyl."

The American Heritage Dictionary defines vinyl as "Any of various compounds containing the univalent chemical radical group derived from ethylene, typically highly reactive, easily polymerized and used as basic materials for plastics."

Virgin?

Since I began my journalistic career I've had nothing but admiration for David Brinkley. But the TV newscaster has an eccentric pronunciation. He announces the breaks in his Sunday show, "This Week," with "We'll be back in a moment."

Except he doesn't say "moment." He says something that sounds like "mement." Or is it "meoment"?

Well, whatever it is makes no difference. Mr. Brinkley is so good he can say anything he wants to. Meanwhile, on the talk-show circuit we are introduced to men who rape their wives' mothers, women who sleep with their daughters' husbands, fathers who molest their daughters, boys who strangle their little brothers.

Entertainment is in the eye of the beholder. People have always paid to see freaks in circus side shows. Today they have only to turn on their TV sets.

And now, as we go off, let us join hands and sing.

When April shower activity comes your way

It brings the flower activity

That blooms in May.

And if you have inflamed hemorrhoidal tissue,

Don't feel blue.

Preparation H will see you through.

I'll be back in a moment.

Hal Gardner is the retired drama critic of The Sun.

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