August 8, 2016

Language Oddities on NPR

I’ve heard a couple of odd locutions on NPR in the last few days. One of these was on Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me!. The odd phrasing was part of an underwriting announcement. I can’t be too specific about what I heard because I wasn’t taking notes when I heard the program on the radio, and the podcast doesn’t include underwriting announcements. Anyway, the announcement warned against someone “pretending to impersonate” someone else.

Roger Ailes
Roger Ailes
To impersonate someone, of course, is to pretend to be that person. It isn’t clear what “pretending to impersonate” someone is. Presumably, if you are only pretending impersonation, you aren’t impersonating at all. Or maybe you’re just doing so badly. Actually, I don’t know what you’re doing. I suspect the warning was about actual impersonating, and the copy, which I’ve heard multiple times, is just poorly written. That I cannot remember the sponsor certainly suggests as much.

On today’s Diane Rehm Show, Gabriel Sherman used an odd phrase, though not really an incomprehensible one. The topic of the morning was sexual harassment at Fox News, particularly on the part of former Fox News head Roger Ailes. Writer Sherman reported having heard stories from many women who had worked under Ailes over the years. Although the women had not spoken to one another, Sherman described their stories of harassment as remarkably similar. “And so,” he concluded, “I find their stories incredibly credible.” Although “incredibly credible” seems oxymoronic, it is clear that Sherman simply meant that the stories were exceedingly believable. (It is almost unbelievable how believable they are, under the circumstances.) He should have said something more straightforward.

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