Guy Keleny: Hit for six by yet another own goal

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The media is the message? Here is a comment on the Bulger killers: "It is the attitudes of sections of the public and the manner in which these attitudes can be whipped up by an irresponsible media that have made this injunction so very necessary."

The media is the message? Here is a comment on the Bulger killers: "It is the attitudes of sections of the public and the manner in which these attitudes can be whipped up by an irresponsible media that have made this injunction so very necessary."

Of course "media" is the plural of "medium". There are various news media - newspapers, television, the internet and so on. But recently a singular noun, "the media", has come to mean the many-headed monster that is supposed to rule the jungle of the new weightless economy.

"The media" is both a kind of Jabberwock that terrorises innocent families on council estates and a rich uncle who bestows largesse on those lucky enough to work "in the media". All I know is that the sentence could just as well have read "by irresponsible news media".

Hopeless fight: The other week I ventured the view that the use of "hopefully" for "it is to be hoped that" was not the outrage against public decency that it is sometimes made out to be. The editor ventured to disagree. On what grounds does he base his hatred of the usage? "Pure prejudice and baseless bigotry", he cheerfully admitted, rather proving my point, I thought. However, I know my place, and "hopefully" will remain on the banned list in this office.

And I have to admit that there is a good reason to mistrust it. Here is Bill Bryson, celebrated travel writer, onetime Independent journalist and author of the jolliest pedantry book I know, The Penguin Dictionary of Troublesome Words (1984): "If a newspaper article says, 'Hopefully the miners' strike will end today', who exactly is doing the hoping? The writer? The miners? All right-thinking people? All too often the word is used as no more than an easy escape from having to claim responsibility for a sentiment and as such it is to be deplored."

That objection, it is only fair to point out, applies equally to "mercifully" "sadly" and all the other similarly used words that nobody worries about at all.

He, she, they: "However, almost every other candidate lost their deposit," we wrote this week. Once upon a time that would have been "lost his deposit", taking no account of any candidates who might be women. Now we must choose between "his or her deposit" and using "their" in a singular sense. The latter still grates, but I think it is the way the language is going. The third person pronouns "he", "she", "him", "her" and "it", and the related adjectives "his", "her" and "its" are the last traces of grammatical gender in English. Will the century just started see them disappear?

Death of meaning: "It doesn't help matters that she is surrounded by one babe more fabulously thin than the next." The failure of that sentence, from a recent piece about the television drama Ally McBeal, to say what it means is almost heroic. What it seems to be trying to say is, "It doesn't help matters that she is surrounded by babes each more fabulously thin than the last."

Mixed metaphor of the week: "Here, surely, was a story that exposed the vacuity of the Prime Minister's mantra of 'education, education, education'. It should have provided the Tories with an open goal. But where was Theresa May, the shadow Education Secretary? Opportunities for oppositions to score easy runs are rare. This was an excellent chance passed up by Mrs May."

Presumably the poor woman was too busy tearing off her football boots and grabbing her bat and pads.

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