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Video surveillance footage released Friday shows a rail car that was accidentally set in motion by a 13-year-old boy ramming an antique locomotive into a train station, sending passengers waiting for a train scrambling for safety.
That is the opening sentence of a Utica, NY news story issued by the Associated Press on July 31 at 5:18 PM ET (it was shown on the Canoe website). The diction is execrable and misleading. Where did the 13-year-old ever get the antique locomotive to ram into the train station? And "passengers" are people on a train - or, arguably, in the act of embarking or disembarking a train - not people waiting for a train (they are not yet "passengers"). The following is alternative wording:
quote:
Video surveillance footage released Friday shows a train station damaged by an antique locomotive. A heavy rail car, accidentally set in motion by a 13-year-old boy, had rammed the locomotive, sending it into the station. People waiting for a train were sent scrambling for safety.
But the following is more provocative (in that it focuses quickly on the absurdity of a wee boy's being able to loose a heavy rail car):
quote:
Video surveillance footage released Friday shows what happened to a train station when a 13-year-old boy accidentally set a rail car into motion. The heavy rail car collided with an antique train and sent it into the station. People waiting for a train were sent scrambling for safety.


"The smell of the dust they kicked up was rich and satisfying" - Grahame
 
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Picture of Kalleh
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Ah, yes. I prefer your first description, but I see your point from the second. You are right; the first description was a disaster.
 
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Execrable and misleading? We all understood it.
 
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I read it the way it was intended, but agree it is badly written. However, I'd take issue with your objection to 'passengers'. They'd certainly encompass people waiting for a train here is England. Often loudspeaker announcements at stations tell 'passengers' that such-and-such a train is delayed or whatever.


Build a man a fire and he's warm for a day. Set a man on fire and he's warm for the rest of his life.
 
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Yes, Arnie, your point is valid. Would-be passengers can be considered passengers, I suppose.


"The smell of the dust they kicked up was rich and satisfying" - Grahame
 
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Execrable and misleading? We all understood it.
... Nope, not true, for I really did not, at least not until I had re-read it more than once (and I doubt that I am alone in this). Anyway, that's not the point at all. Read Kalleh's story about the judge to see that not all audiences are benign ... even if this is not much of an issue here. This writer is, by courtesy, a language expert, and I am focusing on his language usage - as befits a forum like this - and not on the interpretive ability or machinations required by the reader to understand accurately!


"The smell of the dust they kicked up was rich and satisfying" - Grahame
 
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How does a thirteen-year-old "accidentally" set a rail car into such violent motion that it rams a locomotive into a train station sufficient to severely damage the station?
 
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What is it you're railing about? Wink
 
Posts: 6173 | Location: Muncie, IndianaReply With QuoteReport This Post
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Geoff; the story suffers from the following inadequacies or errors:

1. it states (or heavily suggests) that a 13-year-old boy rammed an antique locomotive into a train station. This was false.

2. the introduction to the photo focuses first and foremost on the rail car ("... shows a rail car"), and this is absurd. What makes the story - viz, constitutes its source of interest - is that a wee boy can (and did) so casually and innocently wreak such damage, and visit such harm, on a public place and the people using it.

3. A minor problem with the piece (and it is very minor) is that it talks of "video surveillance footage" that has little to do with the story. I would prefer it to refer to the picture that accompanied the story as "a photo taken from video surveillance footage" to properly introduce it as part of the story. I slipped up on this picayune point in my suggested rewording.

4. Also minor: The M-W dictionary defines "passenger" as "a person who is traveling from one place to another in a car, bus, train, ship, airplane, etc., and who is not driving or working on it". Thus, someone waiting to be a passenger is not one! Per Arnie's remark, this is a very picky matter, but if you are originating the diction why not be accurate?

The writer of this story is a language professional who is supposed to report facts. He is allowed to be colorful and imaginative in doing so, but he is not allowed to be wrong or inaccurate. He should understand the story's source of interest, and should keep that central to his report. So, our writer here has done at worst, an incompetent, and at best, a lazy, job in opening the story this way.

Pardon me, but this is a forum on writing and language, and is surely a place to discuss such language shortfalls. Goofy is consistently and predictably far too eager to excuse poor - and at times, quite wrong - diction. While Goofy was wrong here, I don't ever want to hear "we all understood it" put forward as an excuse for poor writing, for this is a comment on the quality of the audience, when I am focusing on the quality of the writing!

Cheerio.


"The smell of the dust they kicked up was rich and satisfying" - Grahame
 
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quote:
Originally posted by WeeWilly:
Geoff; the story suffers from the following inadequacies or errors:

1. it states (or heavily suggests) that a 13-year-old boy rammed an antique locomotive into a train station. This was false.


No, that is one way of interpreting it because the sentence is ambiguous. The clause "ramming an antique locomotive into a train station" can be read as having as its subject either "a 13-year-old boy" or "a rail car". I agree it's poorly worded, but "execrable" is an overreaction.
 
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Originally posted by WeeWilly:
While Goofy was wrong here, I don't ever want to hear "we all understood it" put forward as an excuse for poor writing, for this is a comment on the quality of the audience, when I am focusing on the quality of the writing!


It doesn't make sense to me to ignore how it is interpreted. If your audience understands you, then your communication has succeeded.
 
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Picture of BobHale
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I've read that sentence at least twenty times and only just seen where the ambiguity lies. Though I agree that it's open to two interpretations and is awkwardly worded my natural inclination is to read it as intended.

I guess we're all different in how we first see things.

It's like that famous drawing that looks like an old woman or a young woman depending how you look at it. Whichever one you notice first it then becomes more difficult to see the other one.



Or the dancer who is spinning clockwise or anticlockwise. Once you get one direction fixed in your head seeing it as the other direction becomes quite difficult.



"No man but a blockhead ever wrote except for money." Samuel Johnson.
 
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I got your "railing" joke Geoff even if nobody else did.


"No man but a blockhead ever wrote except for money." Samuel Johnson.
 
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quote:
Goofy is consistently and predictably far too eager to excuse poor - and at times, quite wrong - diction. While Goofy was wrong here, I don't ever want to hear "we all understood it" put forward as an excuse for poor writing, for this is a comment on the quality of the audience, when I am focusing on the quality of the writing!
I think, Goofy and WeeWilly, this is an example of the difference between prescriptivism and descriptivism.
 
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While it is a valid use, I do find WW's frequent use of the word 'diction' regarding written work unusual. I'd expect it to be used for the spoken word.


Build a man a fire and he's warm for a day. Set a man on fire and he's warm for the rest of his life.
 
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Interesting, arnie. I'd agree. When I looked it up, it first says, "style of speaking or writing as dependent upon choice of words," which supports WeeWilly's use. Yet the next definition is how I've always used it: "the accent, inflection, intonation, and speech-sound quality manifested by an individual speaker, usually judged in terms of prevailing standards of acceptability; enunciation."
 
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