Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Wikipedia 1, Journalism 0

So here's the story: Oscar-winning French composer Maurice Jarre died on March 28. Soon after he heard about it, a media student in Dublin created a too-good-to-be-true but totally fabricated quotation and added it to Maurice Jarre's Wikipedia entry just to see what would happen.

Here's the quotation: "One could say my life itself has been one long soundtrack. Music was my life, music brought me to life, and music is how I will be remembered long after I leave this life. When I die there will be a final waltz playing in my head that only I can hear." It was designed to be a great quotation to put in an obituary, too good to pass up.

The quotation didn't stay on Wikipedia for long. It appeared without an attribution, and Wikipedia's mass of volunteer editors checked it out and quickly removed it. But not quickly enough to keep dozens of blogs and newspaper Web sites, including the UK's The Guardian, from reprinting the fake quote.

A definite warning about trusting everything you see in Wikipedia. You can read more about it here.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Today's Word: malapropism (or just malaprop)

malapropism: The French had a phrase, mal à propos, meaning inappropriate or in an inopportune way. That has entered the English language all scrunched up as malapropos. In his 1775 play The Rivals, Richard Sheridan introduced a character by the name of Mrs. Malaprop. Mrs. Malaprop, always trying to sound well-educated and in control, wasn't the brightest crayon in the box — she would misuse words in ridiculous and hilarious ways. For example,

"She's as headstrong as an allegory on the banks of Nile."
"I am sorry to say, Sir Anthony, that my affluence over my niece is very small."

So now a malapropism is this sort of ridiculous and often

hilarious misuse of words, often in an attempt to sound more intelligent or well-bred than one actually is.

My vote for today's Mrs. Malaprop is Michael Scott on The Office. Take a close listen next Thursday — they slip malapropisms in surreptitiously, just to see if you're paying attention.