'Live', 'Exclusive' and Other Media Jargon

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The more NPR Senior News Analyst Daniel Schorr listens to politicians, TV talk show hosts and reporters, the more he thinks it's time for a linguistics lesson. For example, "the media" too often flings around the word "live" in its coverage.

LYNN NEARY, host:

The more NPR senior analyst Daniel Schorr listens to politicians, TV talk show hosts and reporters these days, the more he thinks it's time for yet another linguistics lesson.

DANIEL SCHORR: Some of you said you liked my little essay on this program a month ago about the misuse of words - using who instead of whom, saying nation when you really mean country, incorrectly using the phrase up for grabs. Well, less encouraged, I have a few more pet peeves that I wish to call to your attention.

They mainly occur in that all-encompassing place called the media. It's now become standard practice to announce that a program or an interview is live. Joe Dokes is standing by live. Larry King's program is called is "Larry King Live," as though we might doubt that he's a living human being.

Then there is the word exclusive. I've seen a politician do four interviews on a Sunday morning, each network boasting that it has an exclusive. When I was young, we used the word exclusive only if our subject did no other interviews.

Finally my greatest peeve of all - the word literal. Literal is used when people mean to say figurative. But literal is supposed to convey more intensity.

Back in January, former Senator John Edwards used the word literally four times in one speech. One example: speaking about poor people who need chemotherapy. You can literally see the fear and terror in their eyes, he said. Or Senator Hillary Clinton, on a cold night in Iowa, saying her supporters at a campaigning event were outside literally freezing to death.

Or Senator Joseph Lieberman objecting to an invitation extended to Iranian president Ahmadinejad to speak at Columbia University. Lieberman said he comes literally with blood on his hands.

I fear for the undermining of our wonderful English language - not literally, of course.

This is Daniel Schorr.

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