[Now in MSM!] Lindsay Perigo Op-Ed: The Rice for the Putts

Lindsay Perigo's picture
Submitted by Lindsay Perigo on Tue, 2010-07-27 00:39

Stop press! An edited, updated version of this has just been published in the Dominion Post http://www.stuff.co.nz/stuff-n...

Lindsay Perigo Op-Ed: The Rice for the Putts

July 27, 2010

I wonder how many television viewers there are like me for whom watching the six o’clock news on TVNZ or TV3 was until recently a staple of their daily routine but who now repair to online sources for their news because the network bulletins have become unwatchable—or more precisely, unlistenable? An army of airheads has been let loose on the airwaves who have no business being anywhere near a microphone sounding the way they do. They don’t speak, they quack. Many newsreaders and most reporters on flagship news bulletins now sound like panicked ducks at the start of the shooting season. Their employers, far from being alarmed by the situation and sending their uneducated charges off for remedial speech training, embrace the barbarian triumph as a victory for the authentic Kiwi accent. It is nothing of the sort. The quacking epidemic spawned by TVNZ and TV3 is now a national plague and an international joke, an unseemly blight on a nation claiming to be civilised. In recent weeks, high-profile commentators Karl du Fresne, Deborah Coddington and Janet Wilson (herself a former television reporter) have rung alarm bells about it.

As I put it myself in my online Kiwis Don’t Quack campaign (lindsayperigo.com):

The barbarians have not stormed our ramparts; they have been bred within them—by our schools, universities and media. They are on radio and television, and on our sports fields; they are in our classrooms, theatres, medical schools and law faculties. Their quacking, droning, grunting and mumbling are our worst form of noise pollution. Their"yeah-no," "you-know," "like, like," "awesome," "cool," "wodevva," and so on are the bane of coherent conversation. Their mangled vowels and muddied consonants make swine sound educated. They are clueless about the distinction between “children” and “choowdren,” “Wellington” and “Wawwington,” “vulnerable” and “vunrable,” “the six o’clock news” and“the sucks o’clock news,” "showers" and "showwwwwwaz," “known” and “knowen,” “well” and “wow,” “health” and “howth,” “New Zealand” and “New Zilland,” etc. (And that's just the Prime Minister!) The locus of their emissions is not the mouth but the nose. Their assault on the English language is a [N]ational scandal. Theirs is not an accent; it is a disease.

It may be too late to stem the barbarian tide. Many people, including a revered former newsreader schooled, like me, at the long-defunct NZBC Announcer Training Centre, have ventured to me in private that the disease is entrenched and irreversible. Try to draw attention to it and you’ll be closed down. On Radio Live a few weeks back I played a couple of clips of leading news reporters in full quack. I neither named them nor specified for which network they were quacking—I had recorded 20 such clips from both TVNZ and TV3 bulletins. As it happened, the two clips I played were of TV3 reporters. TV3’s Head of News and Current Affairs, Mark Jennings, immediately fired off an e-mail to Radio Live Manager Mitch Harris calling me a “prick” and in effect demanding I be taken off air. When the Business Herald’s John Drinnan got wind of the story, Jennings acknowledged there was indeed a problem with his reporters’ speech, but Perigo couldn’t be the one to fix it since he had hurt their feelings! Mitch Harris, for his part, ordered me not to raise “old fart” concerns like speech standards again (I walked out).

People like Jennings, whom we expect to act as gatekeepers for the language, if not in fact militantly committed to its destruction, certainly behave as though they are. At TVNZ’s birthday bash celebrating 40 years of network news last year, Jennings’ TVNZ counterpart, Anthony Flannery, said it was a matter of pride for him that a voice-over leading into the six o’clock news now called it the “sucks o’clock news.” Flannery declined an invitation to discuss the matter with me over a drink, fobbing me off with, “I’m sure you’ll continue to keep us on our toes.” These linguistic thugs are part of a Media Mediocrity Mafia that, while not illegal, is certainly criminal. Ostensibly the two channels are in competition with each other; the only discernible contest between them as best I can tell is a race for the pits.

It’s no longer just that the content of the bulletins is braindead—someone pointed that out 17 years ago; it’s that the delivery is now braindead too—a clear case of arrested development. In their childlike glottal stops (“thuh office”), their selective emphasis that is 100% wrong (hitting conjunctions and prepositions—”Woow arroyv UN Wawwington ET sucks o’clock”), their spluttering nasality, their unprecedented capacity to combine dim-witted droning and silly sing-song, their inability to scan ahead and phrase intelligently, our reporters are stuck at the level of an infant. It may be that they are not truly the “airheads” that I just called them, but they certainly seem like airheads with such retarded speech patterns. No, one is not demanding they speak like the Queen, but is it too much to ask that they sound like educated adults? All that attention to how they look, and none whatsoever to how they sound! (Except when articulating Maori words. If it's good enough for Maori, why not English?)

One of my pupils, a budding TV actor barely in his 20s, confessed that he was in deathly fear of being made to sound “posh.” Sounding “posh,” he believed, would activate Tall Poppy Syndrome, be “uncool” and jeopardise his career. By “posh” he evidently meant “plummy, like Sam Neill,” whose career doesn’t seem to have suffered for it. I pointed to the impeccably Kiwi rugby commentary trio of Grant Nisbett, Tony Johnson and Murray Mexted, all of whom speak clearly and well without sounding remotely “plummy.”

What does it matter, the barbarians’ cheerleaders will ask, as long as we get the gist of what they’re saying?! Dominion Post columnist Karl du Fresne answered this recently:

I have heard it argued that none of this matters as long as we can understand what people are saying, to which my response is twofold. First, it's physically painful to listen to some of these awful voices torturing the language; and second, it's getting to the point where we can't understand them. It's only a matter of time before we'll need subtitles on the TV news bulletins to explain what some female journalists and newsreaders are saying.

And there’s more, a compelling reason why resistance to the barbarian onslaught is not just a quaint preoccupation of “old farts.” George Orwell said it best:

Most people who bother with the matter at all would admit that the English language is in a bad way, but it is generally assumed that we cannot by conscious action do anything about it. Our civilization is decadent and our language—so the argument runs—must inevitably share in the general collapse. It follows that any struggle against the abuse of language is a sentimental archaism, like preferring candles to electric light or hansom cabs to aeroplanes. Underneath this lies the half-conscious belief that language is a natural growth and not an instrument which we shape for our own purposes.

Now, it is clear that the decline of a language must ultimately have political and economic causes: it is not due simply to the bad influence of this or that individual writer. But an effect can become a cause, reinforcing the original cause and producing the same effect in an intensified form, and so on indefinitely. A man may take to drink because he feels himself to be a failure, and then fail all the more completely because he drinks. It is rather the same thing that is happening to the English language. It becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts. The point is that the process is reversible. Modern English, especially written English, is full of bad habits which spread by imitation and which can be avoided if one is willing to take the necessary trouble. If one gets rid of these habits one can think more clearly, and to think clearly is a necessary first step toward political regeneration: so that the fight against bad English is not frivolous and is not the exclusive concern of professional writers.

A New Zealand in which quacking is as universal as it’s threatening to become will be intellectually bankrupt. Its democracy will be a travesty of freedom as vapid voters who routinely quack inanities such as “Yeah, no, I’m like, oh my god, that’s so totally awesome” will thus mindlessly endorse the most unconscionable bribes offered by the most unscrupulous politicians.

Not only being able to watch the news again, but also freedom and civilisation themselves, are at stake.

Lindsay Perigo is a former television newsreader and interviewer

Lindsay Perigo
nokwak@lindsayperigo.com
Lindsayperigo.com
021 255 8715


Thou shalt not quack

Richard Goode's picture

Just been on ...

Lindsay Perigo's picture

... Newstalk ZB ChCh. Great fun. Bright interviewer.

the right stuff

Damien Grant's picture

Maybe the southern oracle of objectivism can use this as a play to get a permanent writing gig?

As my own efforts demonstrate, the standard for admission is not that high!

Great post! The article is

Tom Burroughes's picture

Great post! The article is getting attention far and wide. Because it speaks to a basic truth: broadcasters should be in the business of communication, and that requires clarity.

In the UK, during the 20th Century, the state-run broadcaster, the BBC, was associated with a sort of standard pronunciation of words. The expression, "BBC English", describes a neutral and clear form of expression, free from regional slang, biases or other traits. This has nothing to do with "plummy" or "posh". In fact, I find some "posh" accents (such as the self-parody accent of London Mayor Boris Johnson), as absurd, and quite hard to follow. When I listen to the radio or watch the television news, I want a clear, straightforward voice. An accent does not matter so long as I can easily understand what is said. As a result, you rarely hear a Glaswegian accent, or a north-east accent (such as Newcastle's Geordie, or West Midlands "Brummie" or Cornish twang). However, the BBC, in a fit of political correctness, began to put more "regional" accents on the air, with some notable exceptions. "Rural accents" such as Cornish, Hampshire or East Anglia, are absent. The Brummie accent is hardly ever heard on TV news or radio although it does come up occasionally. Glaswegian hardly ever appears, although the "posher" Edinburgh accent does.

As for the quacking Kiwi accent, I find it pretty hard to follow, rather like some of the South African accents and Aussie ones. And the general profusion of the "whatevers" and other verbal fillers is awful. I find myself lapsing into it, so I am not without guilt on this score.

Style matters. A clear, well rounded voice strikes me as a sign of a clear, well-rounded mind.

Of course, Rand spoke throughout her post-Russia life with a heavy Russian accent, but at least you could understand what she said.

I just looked

Jules Troy's picture

388 comments

I watched the associated video and it appears that people have managed to speak(sort of) with a shirt crammed into their mouths!

Callum

Lindsay Perigo's picture

As you'll see from the date on the original, which I've re-stickied here, it was done as a SOLO-op-ed in 2010. As such it went to every major media outlet in the country, including Stuff. None picked it up.

A week or so ago I noted Stuff now had a section called "Our nation" or some such where readers could submit articles. I updated "Rice for the Putts" and submitted it with a new title, "Not an Accent but a Disease." I thought no more about it, imagining it would be ignored again. I heard nothing from Stuff (still haven't -- I would like to have, since they made a hash of the editing). This morning I had a bunch of messages in my inbox from people I didn't know or heard from in yonks, with subject headers saying "well done" etc., and I wondered what the hell they were talking about. Then the penny dropped. I went to Stuff and saw an edited version of what I'd submitted there, along with 100+ comments already (now around 300).

Baade -- I presume you mean *may* you steal it. We both know you *can*. You may, as long as you take the unprecedented step of acknowledging authorship.

Linz

Callum McPetrie's picture

I'm keeping a close eye on the site as we speak.

How did the op-ed make it onto Stuff Nation?

It's created waves of

Sam Pierson's picture

It's created waves of comments on Stuff.

Fire Flannery; give the job to Perigo.

Looked there and saw this

gregster's picture

Hilary_Barry: I can't wait to take the mickey out of Lindsay Perigo on the wireless tomorrow. #radiolive stuff.co.nz/stuff-nation/8…

Excellent

Richard Goode's picture

Can I "steal" it? Smiling

Callum

Lindsay Perigo's picture

I don't know what Radio Live does. Might pay to keep an eye on their site: radiolive.co.nz

Linz...

Callum McPetrie's picture

Will there be a podcast for us unfortunate souls who missed the show to listen to?

Just been on ...

Lindsay Perigo's picture

... Duncan Garner's show, Radio Live. Caused mayhem I don't doubt. Eye

ChCh Newstalk tomorrow, 11.15 am. Your neck of the woods, Bro Hubbard.

The Stuff post being

Mark Hubbard's picture

The Stuff post being discussed by some of the journos on Twitter this morning also. Wondering why the angry tone Smiling

Update

Lindsay Perigo's picture

TVNZ, the one you and I are "owners" of, dear Kiwi SOLOists, has now been forced to acknowledge it's paid out $1m on American potty-trainers to teach reporters to scream and wave their arms, etc. Story here:

http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/n...

Since we are involuntary stakeholders in TVNZ, the least we should do is demand they stop insulting our intelligence. At minimum, slimeballs Anthony Flannery and Rick Ellis ought to be fired, with no golden handshake.

Is Obama the exception to the rule...

Marcus's picture

...at least in terms of music Smiling

"Mr Obama however was happy to disclose the contents of his iPod, ranging from Jay-Z, to Frank Sinatra and opera star Maria Callas."

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/new...

I'm sure Obama didn't mention Maria Callas in order to appear "cool". So it probably IS really his own choice.

Certainly it is a significant

Scott Wilson's picture

Certainly it is a significant disincentive to ever returning to New Zealand, or at least turning the TV on at all in the country.

Having enjoyed five years of the various British broadcasters (even though the BBC has a fetish for regional accents to demonstrate it isn't London focused), few things are quite as nauseating as hearing the bastardised NZ accents on television. Sadly some Air NZ cabin crew do it as well (most do not), which frankly means you hear it without even arriving in the country.

Oh yes, Linz...

Marcus's picture

...not surprising it reminded me of that Smiling

Something called me away near the end of your piece.

I must have been hitting the bottle a little too hard lately.

Um, Marcus ...

Lindsay Perigo's picture

... did you read the op-ed? Eye

This reminds me of George Orwell's...

Marcus's picture

...essay on Politics and the English Language, written in 1946. First corruption of the written and now the spoken language. Look how far we have descended since then.

"Most people who bother with the matter at all would admit that the English language is in a bad way, but it is generally assumed that we cannot by conscious action do anything about it. Our civilization is decadent and our language -- so the argument runs -- must inevitably share in the general collapse. It follows that any struggle against the abuse of language is a sentimental archaism, like preferring candles to electric light or hansom cabs to aeroplanes. Underneath this lies the half-conscious belief that language is a natural growth and not an instrument which we shape for our own purposes.

Now, it is clear that the decline of a language must ultimately have political and economic causes: it is not due simply to the bad influence of this or that individual writer. But an effect can become a cause, reinforcing the original cause and producing the same effect in an intensified form, and so on indefinitely. A man may take to drink because he feels himself to be a failure, and then fail all the more completely because he drinks. It is rather the same thing that is happening to the English language. It becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts. The point is that the process is reversible. Modern English, especially written English, is full of bad habits which spread by imitation and which can be avoided if one is willing to take the necessary trouble. If one gets rid of these habits one can think more clearly, and to think clearly is a necessary first step toward political regeneration: so that the fight against bad English is not frivolous and is not the exclusive concern of professional writers."

http://www.mtholyoke.edu/acad/...

Never forget: "Prodjett" for

Chris Robertson's picture

Never forget: "Prodjett" for project. "Prymary" for primary. I notice that people often seem to kill the "K" sound by turning it into a "g" as in Taranagee and Pukegoee for Pukekohe.

Some examples I have kept: -

judith's picture

Some examples I have kept: - a norsome (awesome) response... - at the crumble (Cromwell) mall... - bee flam an drabbit (dog food) - Marcus Lush talking about 'the naivity scene' (Radio Live 8am Fri 21 2007)
'...it is automatically in their body clock to head to higher ground...'(if there is an earthquake) (Ming Moon Mayor of Gisborne 21/12/07)
'This is the place that may hold the mystery to the disappearance of Emma Agnew...' (TV3 News 21/11/07)
'...and if you don't get it right, it will stick out like a dog's breakfast...' (TV1 Back toBasics 7/1/08)
and my all time favourite:
'The body was found by a kayaker wrapped in a blanker and weighed down with a rock.' (Radio Live 7.30am 1/2/08)

Could it be that some of

judith's picture

Could it be that some of these young people have had such extensive dental work done the speech apparatus has been thrown out of sync? Some seem to have a real problem with adenoids or full sinuses. Others just seem to be able to say what they have to say without opening a gap between their front teeth. Some of the voices on air are harsh and without timbre. It's not just here in New Zealand. The best announcers seem to be foreign speakers who have made a point of developing received pronunciation.

aided by the volume being

Mark Hubbard's picture

aided by the volume being cranked up to twice that of the programme level.

They say they don't do that, but they certainly do.

I've found MySky (hdi) a Goblin-send.

I still watch TV 1 news, but only now for the first six or seven minutes of news stories. Most of my news is now gained from the Internet.

There are notes I'd made ...

Lindsay Perigo's picture

... for that now-infamous Monday broadcast on Radio Live. I'd intended a broad-ranging theme, "signs the world is mad." In the event, I stopped well short of any kind of comprehensive list, and ad-libbed for 10 minutes or so around Point 1) before opening the talkback lines. There's an article/book to be written here, which of course must include the ongoing worship of goblins in metaphysics and soiled underwear in art, the demonising of CO2, calling the good guys the bad guys and vice versa, etc. ... and what all these disparate abominations share in common: the abandonment of reason. Anyway, here's what I had in front of me in the studio:

*****************

Signs the World is Mad

Don’t mean America’s being in hock to Communist China who without a shot being fired are now in a position to call the shots.

Don’t mean the anti-American President’s having taken America a decisive step toward socialism with Obamacare (meaning Americans are now in for the same die-while-you-wait socialised system as we) and virtual nationalisation of the commanding heights of the American economy.

Don’t mean the anti-American President’s sharing of the anti-American views of America’s avowed enemies like Iran, before whom he cowers.

Don’t mean the fact that we’ll all have to learn Mandarin and Persian quite soon.

These *are* all signs the world has gone mad and bad.

I mean the homegrown parochial indicators that tell us the guardians and champions of sanity and goodness have been buried in an avalanche of mad-and-bad.

1) The state of television news.

We’ve known that the content has been braindead for some years now. Antony Flannery, Head of TVNZ’s N and CA, said late last year it’s been officially braindead for 15 years, ever since a certain person said it was. Now it’s not the content, it’s the delivery. Reporters don’t report, they quack. Especially the females. Quack! Quack! Quack! The males tend to more of a drone. But the females! One after another! Quack! Quack! Quack! Quack! Their lips seem to move, but it all comes out their beak. Quack! Quack! Quack! There are no distinct vowels, just interchangable squawks. Think I’m exaggerating? Listen to this, from a prime time news bulletin:

Tk 16.

What, pray, is a sow-phone? A phone made from or for a sow, as in female pig? “Wen yo go ta bed et noyeeet, tow me a liddooow bi abou wot yo do with your sowphone.” Anyone making noises like that shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near a microphone, let alone flagship news programmes. Journalism is a craft. Part of the craft of television journalism is speaking well. When that part of the craft is so shamelessly cast aside meaning any random bimbo can be put to air on the minimum wage, you know the world has gone mad and bad. The likes of Mr Flannery and his TV3 counterpart Mark Jennings, who allow and encourage this, should, in the words of Prof Higgins, “be taken out and hung for the cold-blooded murder of the English tongue.” This is not the pursuit of excellence. It is not even the pursuit of mediocrity. It is the gutter. Of, by and for airheads.

It’s not just the noises made by reporters that bespeak mad-and-bad. It’s what they do with their hands. Have you noticed how they constantly wave their hands around in the air like Italians on heat? They’re made to do that, folks, in case we stop paying attention. TVNZ pays some American potty-trainer outfit hundreds of thousands of dollars to tell its reporters that when doing their pieces to camera they must at minimum wave their arms about. Preferably they should also walk, run, dance and jump. The idea being that if there’s so much as a nano-second of stillness, the viewers will hit their remotes and change channel. It is assumed that all viewers have Attention Deficit Disorder: an assumption that unfortunately becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

2) The cult of cacophony

Crash! Bang! Scream! Clatter! Let there be frenzy! There must be frenzy! Harvey Norman don’t reason with us to buy their products; they scream, aided by the volume being cranked up to twice that of the programme level. The programmes themeselves are not exempt from the cult of cacophony—rarely now can one hear dialogue unencumbered by a jarring, intrusive soundtrack. It won’t be long before the news itself is read over a rock racket, with some current affairs interviews already being atrocitised in this way.

Last week I was at a bar in Ponsonby with Wille, JT, Mitch Harris and the two Matts, Hooten and McCarten. Initially it was easy to converse over the headbanging playing in the background. It was in the background. But as night fell, the staff decided to ramp up the caterwauling—really nasty aggressive unmelodious caterwauling it was too—to the point that it was nearly impossible to hear the person next to you. Simultaneously they turned the lights down so low you couldn’t see him either. Too loud to hear, too dark to lip-read. “Why do folk insist, in a place that exists for conversation, on making conversation impossible?” I shouted. “Because it’s cool,” Hooten yelled, tongue-in-cheek (at least, I think it was Hooten and I hope it was tongue-in-cheek). When the killing of conviviality by caterwauling is cool, you know the world is mad.

When I visit NZ...

Marcus's picture

...and notice the thick throttled vowels I always cringe.

That wouldn't be so bad if it were not for the grammatically incorrect idiocy that comes from their mouths.

Much of it comes from the increasing cultural dominance of the US over the UK.

For example last time I was there someone called spaghetti bolognaise, "spag bog" in as thick a kiwi accent as possible.

Why, oh why?

Then it hit me. That is the sort of “dumbing down” process people in the US invented.

For example expressions such as "grounded", "time-out", "like", "good to go" and "whatever" are prevalent.

There probably hasn't been a US sitcom in the last 15 years that has not used all these expressions at one time and got a brain-less zombie like laugh as a result.

The mangling of simple

Chris Robertson's picture

The mangling of simple English is not of course unique to New Zealanders. However it is so pervasive I keep a list of my favourites...here are a couple:

"Stardunta' = Starting to, as in starting to rain.
"Gunnagoda" = Going to go to, as in Going to go to Wellington.

Cheap New Zealand

Brant Gaede's picture

That sub in the second video must have been American nuclear. All such ships came to be banned from NZ. No gratitude for the United States effectively guaranteeing the security of the entire South Pacific regardless.

--Brant

Lest we forget

gregster's picture


(The irony of those vowels against the subject matter.)

No problem

Brant Gaede's picture

The more unintelligible the better.

--Brant

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