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Is there a mediatrician in the house?

An Amway Corporation advert in a recent edition of Life magazine discussed the plight of the Florida panther, observing that "Prolonged genetic isolation has resulted in high kitten mortality (and) odd fur cow licks on their backs and deformed tails...."

By arbitrarily halving cowlick, which all my dictionaries show as one word, the copywriter knocks the reader off track with a bizarre image of a cross-dressed heifer (a fur cow) lapping the back of the kit. Not content with one distraction, the writer omits his serial comma before the last and. This oversight asks us to believe there are cowlicks on their backs and on their deformed tails. (I shall resist with vigor all charges of hair-splitting.)

* September means school's open and school means pop quizzes and here's yours: I thank Paul R. Martin, assistant to the managing editor of The Wall Street Journal, for the quintet of swipes below; he ran them in his staff bulletin, style and substance.

"Find the flubs in the following passages from the Journal:"

1. Deborah Bronston, an apparel analyst, lowered her 1992 earnings estimate to $2.70 from her previous estimate of $2.60.

2. Over the past year in the housing market, appreciations have ben increasing 5% to 8% each month on a year-to-year basis.

3. Alongside 30-odd staples such as HBO are channels in Greek, Korean and Hindu. (Ed. note: HBO stands for Home Box Office; the topic is cable television.)

4. The chips will use technology called complimentary metal-oxide semiconductors.

5. The boom in municipal-bond issuances has lead to a pickup in hiring on Wall Street."

Paul's answers appear elsewhere in this column.

* Now that your head has flat-lined, what are you to do with this lead?

"WESTPORT, Mass. (UPI) -- Marjorie Newell Robb, the oldest living survivor of the sinking of he luxury liner Titanic 80 years ago, has died ... She was 103."

Living is redundant, right. I mean, to be any kind of survivor you gotta be alive, right? But soft! Could this mean Robb was predeceased by one who was older then she, that fact making Robb the o.1.s du jour? No! I say living goes. Those with an opposing view are invited to write. And those who use the echoic interrogatory right should be sat on by a 600-lb. fur cow.

* IABC consultant Cliff McGoon observes in a letter that "some creative rascals within our organizational communication ranks are collectively dreaming up a new definition of he word mediate. Something to the effect 'To distribute through the media.' Such a use sure ain't in my Funk & Wagnalls."

Nor in wordparks here, Cliff, including Richard Weiner's 1990 Dictionary of Media and Communications. Newer lexicons, including American Heritage III (reviewed in Communication World in the August column) display such forms as media event and mediagenic, the latter meaning "Attractive as a subject for reporting by the news media" (AHDIII), but mediate seems soundly established in the sense of settling a dispute as an intermediate agent. Using it in "Let's mediate the medical benefits piece Tuesday" is bound to confuse and irritate all who -- correctly -- thought they knew mediate's meaning.

And before some neologizer pounces on mediatize, be aware that AHDIII already defines it: "To annex (a lesser state) to a greater state as a means of permitting the ruler of the lesser state to retain title and partial authority." Why does that remind me of certain corporate maneuverings?

Cliff, what you may see next is a brief for mediatrician based on pediatrician. Or mediatrist out of podiatrist. Readers in the UK already know meeja, defined in The Oxford D. of New Words as "A respelling of media, meant to represent a common colloquial pronunciation of the word." It is considered humorous or dismissive slang, and "was perhaps partly a result of public debate about the role of the media (especially the intrusion of journalists from the popular press into people's private lives)...."

* Quiz answers: "1. That's the kind of lowering a company really likes. 2. Appreciations are increasing? Make it prices are increasing or appreciating. 3. Hindu is a religion. The language is Hindi. 4. It is complementary, which one might have guessed. 5. Get the lead out and the led in."

* The Problem With Fulsome: In her Newsweek article (Food, 6/15/92) lambasting TV chefs and cookbook authors for being too commercial, Laura Shapiro leads with this:

"{J}eff Smith, TV's most popular chef and the author of numerous best-selling cookbooks, has been endorsing products for nearly a decade, fulsomely praising everything from a garlic press to a garbage disposal."

Is Shapiro setting the table correctly here? Does she mean that Smith has been "offensively flattering or insincere" in his panegyrics, or that he simply overdid it with overabundance? Probably she doesn't want to condemn every product encomium, and if that is true, the reader is left to infer a mere surfeit of praise, no felony.

It is a bad idea to oblige the reader to make such decisions. Tell her what you mean, in words she can understand. Consider falsely praising, or overly praising.

Alden Wood, lecturer on editorial procedures at Simmons College, Boston, Mass., writes and lectures on language usage. He is a retired insurance industry vice president of advertising and public relations.
COPYRIGHT 1992 International Association of Business Communicators
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
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Title Annotation:Wood on Words; exerting caution in the use of words to facilitate clear and effective written communication
Author:Wood, Alden S.
Publication:Communication World
Article Type:Column
Date:Sep 1, 1992
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