January 08, 2007

AP bollixes WOTY coverage (again)

A year ago, when the American Dialect Society selected truthiness as the 2005 Word of the Year, the Associated Press article on the vote managed to omit any mention of the word's vociferous booster, Stephen Colbert of "The Colbert Report." At the time I predicted that the snub would "serve as more fodder for Colbert's put-upon persona of perpetual outrage." Sure enough, Colbert waged a splenetic assault on the AP (with wordanista Michael Adams caught in the crossfire). You would think the folks at the AP might have learned their lesson this time around, making sure that their '06 WOTY reporting was error-free. No such luck.

Here's how the AP article appears in dozens of news outlets both in the US and overseas (such as ABC News, CBS News, FOX News, the San Francisco Chronicle, the Miami Herald, the Houston Chronicle, the Toronto Globe & Mail, the Guardian, the International Herald Tribune, etc., etc.):

'Plutoed' Chosen As '06 Word of the Year
ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) -- Pluto is finally getting some respect - not from astronomers, but from wordsmiths.
"Plutoed" was chosen 2006's Word of the Year by the American Dialect Society at its annual meeting Friday.
To "pluto" is "to demote or devalue someone or something," much like what happened to the former planet last year when the General Assembly of the International Astronomical Union decided Pluto didn't meet its definition of a planet.
"Our members believe the great emotional reaction of the public to the demotion of Pluto shows the importance of Pluto as a name," said society president Cleveland Evans. "We may no longer believe in the Roman god Pluto, but we still have a sense of personal connection with the former planet."

Language Log readers might recognize that quote from Cleveland Evans, which I cribbed from the the ADS press release for my post about the news from Anaheim. And the more eagle-eyed might also recall that this quote was not actually WOTY-related: it was about the selection of Pluto as Name of the Year by the members of the American Name Society, rather than the ADS vote for the verb pluto as Word of the Year. Indeed, Cleveland Evans is president of the ANS, not the ADS, as the press release makes clear. (For the record, the incoming ADS president is Bill Kretzschmar, taking over for Joan Hall.)

Since the ADS hosted the ANS vote this year, and the two winners ended up being similarly Plutonic, it's easy to see how the AP slipped up. Still, it would only require a quick double-check of the press release (or, say, a phone call or email to someone involved with the selection) for the reporter to get the relevant facts straight. It's enough to make members of these two fine scholarly associations feel devalued... plutoed, even.

Posted by Benjamin Zimmer at January 8, 2007 01:04 AM