Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Surveillance Div (Spell checker / Alice in Wonderland subsection)

It always amazes me how the misuse of one word can wreck (and sometimes add a bit of humor to) an entire news story. One can't help but wonder if it's an inadvertent misuse or a lack of knowledge.
Consider this a piece (front page center, above the fold) from this morning's WaPo. Did you catch it ??

"It is unclear exactly how British intelligence services linked the Pakistani e-mail address,sana_pakhtana@yahoo.com, to a senior al-Qaeda operative who communicated in a kind of pigeon code to his distant allies." (Italics mine)

I'm sure reporters Finn and Miller weren't implying that the Brits used a shotgun, nets, arrows, highly trained pussycats or a guy passing out poisoned popcorn in Trafalgar Square (the meta-piegon method) to capture, disable, destroy or otherwise intercept the unfortunate avian courier helping out the terrorists. Seems like those clever terrorists were already attempting to circumvent the possibility of electronic eavesdropping by reverting to time-honored methods of communication. The images brought to mind are numerous ...... and the remainder of the story irrelevant.

Here's what we're dealing with:  A homophone is a word that has the same sound as another word but is spelled differently and has a different meaning.

I think what the writers were trying to get convey was the use of a "pidgin code" as in:

    noun /ˈpijən/ 
    pidgins, plural
    1. A grammatically simplified form of a language, used for communication between people not sharing a common language. Pidgins have a limited vocabulary, some elements of which are taken from local languages, and are not native languages, but arise out of language contact between speakers of other languages

      • Denoting a simplified form of a language, esp. as used by a nonnative speaker
        • - we exchanged greetings, communicating in pidgin Spanish

    Years ago, I scored writing samples from high schoolers. Believe me I've seen some pretty humorous and egregious butchery of the English language. I once saw the words "to,"too," and "two" used incorrectly in the same sentence.
    Here's hoping the WaPo style manual doesn't cover this one.

    ** 'When I use a word,' Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, 'it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.' Lewis Carroll - "Through the Looking Glass

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