Disastrous dialect

Something has been bothering me and I wonder if I might run it by you.

Has anyone else noticed that people who are interviewed on television after witnessing a disaster or other extraordinary occurrence often use horrendous grammar?

I don’t know if it’s television news media exploiting innocent bystanders, whether disasters tend to occur more often in places inhabited by the less educated or if the combination of trauma and a news camera causes people to bungle their speech.

It seems to me that, far more often than not, when asked what they saw, these witnesses begin with “I seen it…”  Whether it’s a tornado coming at them or a crime taking place before their eyes, they say they “seen it comin’.” 

I have noticed this consistently over time, on local stations, major morning programs and network evening news. It pains me to be so judgmental but the pattern is too prevalent to ignore.

You might have heard that yesterday severe storms hit the Washington, D.C., area, crippling much of the Metro region with fallen trees and power lines. As one of the fortunate few who had electricity, I was able to watch the news coverage on television. I heard “I seen it” from multiple witnesses on multiple channels throughout the day.

Not only do these witnesses say they “seen” something, but some also use “come” as past tense, as in, “it come up behind me.”

One doesn’t have to travel far to find pockets of people who either never learned the basics or have chosen to abandon them. It troubles me enough that I find such poor speech distasteful, but it troubles me even more to see the spotlight on people who speak this way. I can’t quite pinpoint why.

Please don’t dismiss “I seen it” and “it come up” as colloquial because frankly, I’m tired of colloquialism being used to condone poor grammar. Admittedly, I am the first to begin a sentence with a conjunction or end one with a preposition when style authorities allow it in certain instances. It’s a fine line but, if we accept “where are you at?” before long every violation of good grammar will be embraced in the name of popular culture. 

If any members of the media happen to read this, perhaps they’d be willing to offer insight into why the witnesses they interview so often seem to speak this way. Perhaps they could also explain why, when people appear in the studio after seeing someone fall into a well or take a steak knife through the temple, they almost always appear in t-shirts and ball caps. If you were being interviewed on national television, from a studio in Midtown Manhattan, would you show up in shorts and a cap? Do producers believe this lends some particular folksy charm and, if so, are they intentionally making witnesses look like bumpkins? Worse, are they coaching people to say “I seen it?” 

I doubt this is the case. Either way, if anyone has answers, I am eager to put these haunting thoughts to rest.


Filed under All Things Wordish, News

4 responses to “Disastrous dialect

  1. Penny

    I remember this Mr. Show segment, whose writers apparently noticed the same thing. (It’s around the 1:35 mark)

    • That’s great. I don’t know where you find this stuff. I thought I had a good YouTube vid to include but my computer couldn’t pick it up for some reason. It was about someone who “seen a UFO.”

  2. Sheree

    Grammar is not taught in school anymore. I am not even sure the teachers can speak correctly. I have senior papers from Zach that are corrected, but only half the mistakes are noted. And frankly, had he been my student…he would have failed. He got an A. And in elementary school they are so worried about not leaving any child behind that none of them get educated. It is no wonder we are 12th in education. We do not even teach our own language. Very sad.

    • Sharon

      To my mind it’s fairly obvious. Would you, a well educated person who had just witnessed a serious crime or narrowly survived a natural disaster want to be interviewed by a TV reporter on a street corner? If the former, you probably wouldn’t want your name and image out there where the perpetrators might view them, and if the latter, you’d probably be more focused on your good fortune at having escaped unharmed and your desire to check on/reassure family and friends. (There might also be some thought given, at least by women, to the likelihood that one’s hair, makeup and clothing are probably not camera-ready.)

      This is obviously a generalization, but I feel that many of the people who want to have their several minutes of on-air fame are not the most erudite or well-groomed. What else could explain the kind of people who go on shows like Jerry Springer’s and Maury Povich’s, both of which are now filmed in my community? A friend offered me a ticket to one of them and I thought she was out of her mind! Now if you have an extra ticket to the Colbert Report…..

      Finally. if any readers or their acquaintances have been on camera following a disaster, I meant no disrespect, as there are always exceptions to any generalization.

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