Does This Count As a Form of Dyslexia?

By Maeve Maddox

Admittedly, my sensitivity to diction is probably a few degrees more intense than that of the average newspaper reader, but sometimes I have trouble reading the paper with complete understanding. This failing, I believe, may meet the etymological meaning of the term dyslexia: dys, “bad, difficult” + lexis, “word.”

The other morning I turned with great interest to a front-page story “compiled from wire reports” about the men who prevented a massacre on a French train. The first sentence left me confused:

PARIS — Three Americans are being touted as heroes for subduing a heavily armed man who opened fire Friday aboard a high-speed train as it sped through Belgium.

“Touted”? Are they not really heroes, then?

The verb tout is heavy with connotations of unfounded hype (excessive publicity claims). Products are touted. Money-making schemes are touted. The supposed qualifications of political candidates are touted.

Heroes, on the other hand, are applauded, commended, lauded, or praised.

I read on. Yes, it seemed that they really had performed acts of great courage. The word touted was definitely out of place in the context.

Next, came this bit of information:

The three tackled and disarmed the gunman, with the help of a Briton businessman.

What, I wondered, is meant by “a Briton businessman”? I’d always associated the noun Briton with the people who lived in Britain before the Anglo-Saxons got there. That can’t be it.

Well, I thought, the events had occurred in a French train. Perhaps Briton is a typo for the adjective Breton: “relating to Brittany (a region of France).” Perhaps the man who joined in with the Americans is a Frenchman. After all, I reasoned, if the businessman were from Great Britain, the writer would have used the adjective British, no? Later, from other sources, I discovered that Briton was in fact intended to mean British.

As I have belatedly learned, the noun Briton can indeed be used to mean “a native or inhabitant of modern Britain.” Next time I see the word used as a noun, I will not falter. So far as I can discover, however, the adjective is still British. A businessman from Britain is a British businessman.

As for the verb tout, I shall continue to view it as a word to be used only when the writer’s intention is to cast doubt on the sincerity or accuracy of the person or thing being touted.

Note: The “British businessman,” Chris Norman, was born in Uganda, raised in South Africa and has lived in France for the past 25 years. He did attend university in the UK and holds a British passport.

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5 Responses to “Does This Count As a Form of Dyslexia?”

  • Michael W. Perry

    You’re not dyslexic. You simply know what words mean. Many news reporters and editors only have a vague feel for words. “Touted” has the same emotional feel to it as “praised,” even though the meanings are quite different.

    Obama’s use of “not optimal” is another illustration. To many reporters when Obama claimed that the deaths of four of our embassy staff in Benghazi was “not optimal,” he was using a nuanced, highly intelligent term for “bad.” For them, the meaning of both is the same, with “not optimal” being the choice for smarter people.

    The opposite is true. As others have pointed out, “not optimal” isn’t a synonym for “bad.” It has totally different meaning. It refers to the best in a range of values. If four was “not optimal,” then what was optimal? Would the deaths of just two embassy officials be “optimal” or, going in the opposite direction, would the deaths of six be “optimal.” Neither Obama nor his media fanboys understood that what he was saying was utter nonsense. It felt smart.

    In the same way, the reporter you quote did not grasp that “touted” has a different meaning than “praised.” Living in a media cloud where image is everything, being touted is the same as being praised. Both refer to what is being said about someone. The justified or not justified distinction does not matter.

    This last observation you make is also interesting: “Note: The “British businessman,” Chris Norman, was born in Uganda, raised in South Africa and has lived in France for the past 25 years. He did attend university in the UK and holds a British passport.”

    It’s a different failing, that of attempting to label people in simplistic ways to fit a dominate narrative, in this case defining his nationality by his passport.

    News stories will “tout” such an identity when it suits the story they want to tell and omit or distort it when it doesn’t fit their pre-determined story. In this case, the born in Uganda, raised in South Africa, lived in France interfered with a simple story line that the Brits had a hero in this fight.

  • venqax

    I agree that this situation does not present a case of dyslexia, but one of questionable connotation and definitions of terms. I can’t really say I see a problem with the use of “touted” in this case. I don’t infer from that word an implication of illegitimacy– i.e. to me, saying someone was touted as a hero does imply he is not one.

    As for the issue of the nationality of the businessman, I think that is a product of 2 things: 1) everyone, in theory, has a nationality and the most common, at least legal, way of pegging that is according to one’s passport. He has a British passport, so he is British; 2) despite number 1, some countries’ rules regarding passports are so loose as to make their use a standard for determining anything of substantive relevance to nationality pretty useless. IMO, among the worst sources of confusion regarding this are the Commonwealth countries (we have Uganda, South Africa, and the UK in this case) and the Arab Muslim world where passports seem randomly distributed by various countries with no connection to where anyone actually was born, lives, or goes to terrorist camp.

    My invaluable contribution ends up being toward your last point:

    “I’d always associated the noun Briton with the people who lived in Britain before the Anglo-Saxons got there.”

    And you are correct! I have always been bugged by the term “Briton” being used to refer to modern inhabitants of the UK. The perfectly good noun Britisher exists, inexplicably unpopular though it is. I know the usage is old, but that doesn’t matter. It’s unnecessary and inaccurate. May as well call them all Picts or Cumbrics. In the example, of course, the usage is triply annoying because it is also grammatically simply wrong—the sentence calls for an adjective not a noun at all. He is a British businessman. And in the specific context of the article it does create some tendency toward confusion with the term Breton.

  • venqax

    Should say, “to me, saying someone was touted as a hero does NOT imply he is not one.”

  • CJ Flynn

    Conspiracy much Sir Michael? cause that’s quite a reach on each. There are many rightly highly touted authors and musicians, and many who verbally use the alliterations of their questioners, a nice verbal attempt, even if the exact wording isn’t entirely optimal.

    Though you know that, of course, you couldn’t resist stinking up a grammar story with hateful politics. So if a dominant English newspaper, The Guardian, wants to use the term ‘Briton’ in their article – for they used the term – and if a man wants to self-describe as Brit even if he has spent many years in the South of France, then let it go instead of doing what you are attempting to accuse others of: “… simplistic ways to fit a dominate narrative…”

  • WalksOnDirt

    The optimal number of deaths would be zero. I think this is an example of litotes.

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