Archive for April, 2014|Monthly archive page

“Obama Tells Putin: Reign in Troops in Ukraine” MSNBC Headline 4/14/14

In media laziness, significant insignificancies on April 21, 2014 at 8:14 pm

I’d promised myself that cable-news tickers and headliners were just too easy prey for this blog. I’ve tried for a whole week to let this one go. But I see it happen too much, and I haven’t published anything else here for far too long. Besides, it so deliciously turns the meaning on its head.

You can buy t-shirts, mugs, and posters to display you at least recognize that there are three different theres. I don’t actually see the contraction, they’re, misapplied all that often. That could be because, well, it does take that apostrophe, which may give pause to think a moment. Or maybe so many apostrophes have been used in inappropriate places that people are becoming sensitized to them. No, I don’t think so.

There’s no apostrophe to help rule out one of the three rains. I must say the one about precipitation, perhaps because it’s such a simple and familiar word, probably the first use most of us ever made of the word and needed to spell, doesn’t get confused with the others all that often, at least in public. I have seen an occasional “rain of terror” or “rein pelting down from the sky.” The former could be an attempt to understand a cliche as metaphorical, the latter a simple typo. But what can forgive the confusion of the forms of power with and without the silent g?

Maybe they’re both just too familiar, too similar, and too far from the origins that distinguish them. I’m ready to blame it on the French, the source of so many mysterious silent letters. The difference is clear in the Latin verb roots, regnare (from regnum and rex) and retinare, to hold back. The g was still there in the Old French reigne, though silenced, but the clarifying t had slipped to a silent s in the other. By the time they got to Middle English, even the s was gone from the restraint, and both of the silent middles were replaced with is, at least sometimes. In fact, a Middle English reine is shown for both in the online source based on the Random House Dictionary.

So President Putin seeks to extend his reign into eastern Ukraine, and President Obama calls him on it. NBC’s main news says Putin initiated the “frank” telephone conversation. Who can say what words the translators used, or whether rein ever came up at all? Context would have helped all participants, but I can be pretty sure that Obama never suggested that Putin reign in Ukraine. I would suggest that MSNBC put an editor on those interns or whoever types out the headlines. Some of us are paying attention.


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