TV They-Speak

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By Casey Bukro

Ethics AdviceLine for Journalist

ABC7 Chicago television, they are inventing a new way to speak or mangling the English language.

Listen to the announcers on WLS-TV, a subsidiary of the Walt Disney Company. They include the word “they” in the oddest places. A sports announcer says, “The White Sox, they have been going…….” On a coronavirus story, the reporter says, “Don’t know how many people, they have been sent home.” Even the weather man does it: “The winds, they’ll be strong.”

They. Are they trying to copy the style of foreign languages? Is this a way to turn sentences into barking headlines? Did management circulate a memo mandating they-speak? It interrupts the flow of speech. It’s discordant. And maybe that’s the idea. It grabs your attention, but in an annoying way.

In the past, broadcasters were considered paragons of speech, showing how it should be done. It was an exalted position. But they (defined as those ones or people in general, a personal pronoun) seem to be resorting to phonetic trickery.

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The Ethics AdviceLine for Journalists was founded in 2001 by the Chicago Headline Club (Chicago professional chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists) and Loyola University Chicago Center for Ethics and Social Justice. It partnered with the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in 2013. It is a free service.

Professional journalists are invited to contact the Ethics AdviceLine for Journalists for guidance on ethics. Call 866-DILEMMA or ethicsadvicelineforjournalists.org.

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