‘BBC English’ used to be touted as an exemplar of how my native language should be spoken, but if it still is then something is seriously wrong. The BBC is as guilty of shoddy use of language as every other media outlet providing news coverage. The standard of its journalism has slipped alarmingly in the last two decades, which probably reflects the abandonment of the teaching of English grammar in the UK that began with the introduction of ‘comprehensive’ education in the 1960s (for non-British readers, ‘comprehensive’ here refers to the heterogeneity of a school’s student population, not to the breadth of the curriculum).
The item that caught my attention on the BBC World News last night was not an especially egregious example of this trend, but it is entirely typical of the state of play. According to the newsreader, a prominent Iranian nuclear scientist had been killed by a ‘car bomb’ in Tehran. This sounds reasonable enough, and you may be wondering why I took exception to it. However, a car bomb is a car used as a bomb, while the unfortunate nuclear scientist was actually killed by a bomb attached to his car. To compound the error, the newsreader continued by stating that the bomb had been attached to the underside of the car. This part of the report was voiced over footage of the scientist’s car, the top of which was covered by a blue tarpaulin. The underside of the car was clearly undamaged, but despite the tarpaulin it was possible to see that the passenger cabin had been severely damaged. The bomb was in fact a high-tech magnetic device attached to the side of the car.
The error was repeated this morning on the BBC News website:
The US condemns the killing of Iranian nuclear scientist Mostafa Ahmadi-Roshan in a car bomb attack in north Tehran.Is this pedantry? I think not. It is merely my reasonable expectation that when someone speaks, or writes, they set out their thoughts in a clear, precise and unambiguous manner. Pedantry is insisting that a word like ‘agenda’ is plural (technically it is, but it would be pedantic to labour the point).
Because, as I outlined above, the BBC’s use of English is now so lamentably poor, I propose to highlight particularly egregious examples from time to time. In fact, I’ve just found myself guilty of what I accuse the BBC of doing: its use of English is not merely poor, as I’ve suggested; it’s a-bomb-inable.
other posts in this series
2. Grand Slam.
3. More or Less.
4. Making an Impression.
5. Explaining Science.