The Gentleman Fled on Foot

By Maeve Maddox

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My local TV news team never lets me down when it comes to egregious misuse of the English language.

This week they reported on a man who killed his two-month-old son by crushing his ribs and slamming his head against the side of his crib. You’ll never guess what the reporter called this monstrous sicko in the introduction to the story. She referred to him as “Frustrated Dad.”

Surely a more neutral noun than “dad” would have been preferable in this context–“parent,” for example. (For that matter, “frustrated” seems mild for the circumstances, but that’s another post.)

Newswriters would do well to weigh their choice of words against the context of the story being reported on. “Moms, dads, and kids” might be acceptable in reporting on Little League or a school picnic, but such folksy terms don’t belong in stories about child abuse, poverty, or juvenile delinquency.

The title of this post comes from a news story about a man who robbed a bank branch and escaped on foot. I can’t remember if it was the reporter or the policeman being interviewed, but one of them said “the gentleman fled on foot.”

This bizarre use of the word “gentleman” to refer to a bank robber is similar to the tendency of writers to apply the honorific “Mr.” to felons. Unless your publication has a specific policy, don’t imply respect for the criminal by calling him “Mr.”

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8 Responses to “The Gentleman Fled on Foot”

  • Justin

    I wholeheartedly agree with your points here. It’s pretty unbelievable to me how unprofessional the media has gotten these days. Great post.

  • Pankaj

    I am not really sure of your implication here.
    Are you trying to say that formal words in an informal setting sound odd? Or are you implying that such respect should not be accorded to people in such circumstances?

    If its the latter, I beg to differ from your point.
    References accorded to any individual by another is a matter of taste and ultimately respect out of the said person’s association with the human species.

    Addressing prisoners by Mr., is very fine and is a reflection of a basic respect.

  • sophie

    it’s unethical to still cajole a criminal,did i say criminal?one who indulges in an ungodly act is not fit to be officially addressed.

  • gk

    Yes, yes I say. I repeatedly hear gentleman in reference to someone who has committed an ungodly act. No, such a person is no gentleman.
    By the way, in response to a previous post, respect has to be earned. No respect is due a heinous criminal.

  • martha

    All I can say is that I enjoyed your explanations and agree with you entirely. Those ‘reporters’ were probably just beginners and were too preoccupied with their grammar and sounding impolite… Obviously they had no practice at all in police or criminal reporting.

  • martha

    By the way, thank you for making us all aware of choosing our words for whatever we write.

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