Thursday, 31 January 2008

Oopsie-Beebs-a-Blog™ (refute) (fixed)

I get unreasonably and unhealthily irate over the lazy misuse of words like "refute". The Beeb's own very fine Styleguide (275k PDF) says, on p. 72:

Refute has a particular meaning.To refute a
statement means to prove it wrong. So do not write
The Chancellor refuted opposition claims that he had
mishandled the economy
, because it is very unlikely
that he did so. Refute is not a synonym for deny,
disagree or contradict.

So while it is perhaps unfair to pick holes in particular stories, I couldn't help but feel the familiar surge of wrath at this story's use of it thus:

The ambulance service was accused of missing details about the victim but a spokesman refuted this and said getting to the scene quickly was the priority.

No, Beeb, the spokesman did not refute it. He denied it. To refute it he would have to provide proof that it is wrong, not just claim that it is. Did he prove it? I doubt it: he probably said "no, that's wrong". It's not the same thing.

Is this a minor and unimportant point? Maybe, yes. But if you don't defend the meaning of any words you will end up with a very strange language indeed. I do know that language changes and so on, yadda yadda yadda, I am always coming out with this chorus: but not all change is good, and this is, in the purest sense of the word, just ignorant. I honestly think the BBC, which I love, can and should do better, and it sometimes bothers me - even if it should not - how often you see bad writing on their News site.

PS: No, I have not gone mad and decided to seek dismissal by blogging in work time. I am on annual leave today. Ahem ... admittedly this is because I am having a voluntary work deadline crisis - the last ever of this sort I hope - so I shouldn't be doing this anyway right now. But at least they don't pay me and can't sack me ... and I am leaving in 71 days ... and I promise I will get on with it in a moment!

Update: it's now 1334 and they've already fixed it: it's now denied, not refuted. That was quick! Nice one Auntie.

No comments: