Saturday, June 04, 2011

The region

As a fairly regular listener to NPR, I'm perpetually annoyed by the network's utter lack of testosterone present in anyone behind a microphone, Car Talk excepted. I can't quite pin down why unctuous whispering is the default mode of communication exclusively on NPR and nowhere else in the universe (like the BBC, or at TED conferences, or on other leftist media outlets like MSNBC, let alone Fox News or talk radio), or articulate why it gets under my skin, but it is (Ira Glass and Michele Norris are among the worst offenders) and it does.

That's only tangentially related to this post, however. There are phrases that, like the eunuch's whisper, tend to raise my blood pressure when I hear them used by these same leftist media types. One of those phrases is "the region", which strikes me as a lazy, hazy way for a reporter or an anchor to describe a geographic location he is unable to to characterize in any detail because he doesn't have much of a clue what he's talking about. It may be because the phrase is often used in the context of the Middle East or the Muslim world (another one!) more broadly, but it seems to me that I hear it a lot more now than I remember hearing it in the past.

I get the sense that dabblers use "the region" a lot more than truly knowledgeable people do. I'd use the phrase to describe southern India, since I'd have no clue what I'm blathering about. Razib wouldn't, because he'd know what he's talking about.

To track this (never mind why I would actually want to), I compared usage of the phrase from 1960 to the present in the NYT and in all English-language books published in the US (via Google's Ngrams), under the assumption that the former would represent the dabblers and the latter the experts. The graphs show what percentage of NYT articles and published books, respectively, contained the phrase "the region" somewhere in them:



NYT usage has increased five-fold over the last half-century, but my claim of having detected it (prior to the "Arab Spring", anyway) looks to be illusory--it came in vogue during the late-seventies, presumably in the context of the Iranian hostage crisis and increased media focus on that region (!) of the world, and it has been steady state since then. Meanwhile, among actual authors, it's usage has remained steady (and much less frequent, especially considering how many more opportunities there are to squeeze it into a book than there are to put it in a newspaper article).

4 comments:

DC Handgun Info said...

I want to know why Michelle Norris pronounces her name "MEEE-shell" instead of the standard American "Mih-shell" or even "M'shell". Is she putting on airs as if she were French, or is she just trying to "improve" her name or differentiate herself from the other "M'shells" on radio? Just wondering.

DC Handgun Info said...

P.S. The Onion deals best with journalistic cliches like "the region" by frequently highlighting the "Area Man": "Area Man Makes It Through Day" http://www.theonion.com/articles/area-man-makes-it-through-day,2426/

Ed Tom Kowalsky said...

Perhaps we could prevail upon AE to track the frequency of first names with the prefixes La, Sha, Ja, and Ty. My guess is these began appearing roughly the same time multi-culti struck.

Audacious Epigone said...

DC Handgun,

Relatedly, I've often wondered why the surnames of NPR anchors and correspondents are so unusual, at the national level, anyway--Ulaby, Inskeep, Montaigne (is she French?), Totenberg (didn't check for spelling accuracy). Are they pseudonyms?

Ed,

Interesting! On the to-do list.