27 July 2008

A Spot of Semantics...

"The financial markets were roiling today..."

"Car sales numbers roiled the markets today."

Do you know what the word 'roil' means? As in to roil someone beyond their ability to tolerate? It's one of those words you almost never hear except when the economy is in trouble or the markets are being rocketed up or down by some particular news or event.

Roil:–verb (used with object)
1. to render (water, wine, etc.) turbid by stirring up sediment.
2. to disturb or disquiet; irritate; vex: to be roiled by a delay. –verb (used without object)
3. to move or proceed turbulently.
4. when a nearby member of the British House of Winsor sneezes on you. You can accurately then describe yourself as having been roiled.

Didn't we all learn about such words in journalism class? I took Journalism 101 for Broadcast majors where we learned that "yes, those words are available for use." But we were also told that the big words, the "$40 words," were best left for the folks in print. The reason for that of course, is because in a newscast the viewer (usually) can't go back and re-listen to the information. It's a one-time offering on our stories, therefore the information must be easily understood instead of full of sticking points.

Or snobbery. Who talks like that? People who went to schools where their education cost half the operating budget of a small Third World country and they rightfully want to make sure everyone around them knows it.

I'm for everybody knowing who bought what in a college education and all, but... isn't the use of such words also a bit divisive? It drives a wedge between the people in the Ivory Towers and the people in the plain states. And the Plains States, for that matter.

How can we wonder why the viewers are leaving us behind if we're not talking to them, but instead intentionally talking over their heads? If we direct our stories at the lofty few who understand what we're saying, can we really be surprised when the rest of the people get up and leave the room?

I'm not suggesting we need to talk down to viewers, but since most people (including the well-educated among us) don't use the R-word in every day conversation, should we be using it at all when communicating on television? I always heard that good manners were best defined as 'the art of making others feel comfortable.' Since we've always used the metaphor of being invited into someone's living room to describe the evening newscast, perhaps we need to remember our manners?

If we want to advertise the impressiveness of our education, we should stick to annoying, er, informing those in our immediate circle and perhaps post it somewhere on the Internet. That would allow our fans easy access to such information and at the same time, give others the opportunity to understand what the devil we are talking about.

By the way, I attended a small private university in the West. I graduated with 5 cents to my name and no debt. And yes, I do know how to use roiled in a sentence. (See definition #4 above. And see "Sucking Viewers In:" over under my picture on the left.)

"I went to London a few years back, but didn't see any opportunities to get roiled."


Jen said...

Well spotted, though I am the twisted sort who like to have a reason to turn to the dictionary on occasion.

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Marti said...

Health is a busy little twerp, isn't he? Twice... in one day. One would almost think he was well-read or something.