27
Jul
13

The “R” Word

Today the Globe reports the story of Charles Gastel, a Joplin teacher charged with raping a young girl from Lamar.

Oh wait, I’m sorry–I mean, “engaged in sexual intercourse with.” I did a word search before the paywall locked me out, and there’s no appearance of the “R” word anywhere. Never mind that that’s what it’s called.
Newspaper articles about sexual assault are notorious for being poorly written in an unconscious (or deliberate) attempt to downplay the crime. The most common journalistic faux pas is the passive voice (which isn’t such a big problem in this article), but there’s also the avoidance of the word “rape”. This article gets really long-winded and awkward to avoid it. We have “engaged her in sexual intercourse”, which is not only TL;DR but inaccurate. An old man does not “engage in sexual intercourse” with a young girl. The word is rape. He rapes her.

And then there’s this bit:

…[the girl] and Gastel began engaging in sexual acts when she was 10, according to the affidavit.

Not only do we skirt around that icky “R” word, we also get to implicate the victim in her own assault! This 30+ year old man didn’t rape a 10 year-old; they “engaged in sexual acts” together, as equals! Go team!

Mr. Kennedy, I ask that you put more thought into these kinds of articles in the future. Research shows that the weak phrasing rampant in these articles do actual harm in the real world.


2 Responses to “The “R” Word”


  1. July 28, 2013 at 7:53 pm

    Quite right, Johnny. Tippy-toe word-play like this always annoys me. But, at least the reporter didn’t revert to saying “alleged” about it all.

    In addition to overuse of the passive voice, other word-mangling that often gets me:

    1. Dressing words up pretentiously, such as using “utilized” instead of “used”, a perfectly good word that is, ahem, under-used.
    2. Combining superlatives with squishy modifiers, e.g., “That’s somewhat amazing!” Seems to me, it either amazes or it doesn’t.
    3. The misuse of the word, “incredible”. People often use it to mean “amazing” when the word really means something they don’t actually believe.
    4. Preceding each spoken sentence with, “I mean”, which is something of a word-fart.

    I mean, utilizing incredibly imprecise syntax kinda blows me away. :roll:

  2. July 29, 2013 at 2:15 pm

    Oh yeah, and here’s one more I forgot.

    5. Talking media heads who precede their comments with, “Look, . . . ” What? They need me to wake up for each gem that drops from their lips?


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