Misused Words, a Ridiculous Headline, and PEOPLE Magazine

A rose by any other name would, certainly, smell as sweet. Shakespeare had that perfectly correct. However, it you call something a rose, but it’s not a rose, this could lead to confusion. Substitute, say, a llama. You can call the bloody thing a rose, but it’s not going to smell good. And it’s going to spit. I don’t think anyone at the high school prom wants a llama corsage.

Words matter. It matters how you use them or don’t use them, and if your usage is accurate. For instance, last night, I sat down to read People magazine online. I like idle ridiculous gossip and clothing as much as the next girl. Sometimes, relaxing with an article about George Clooney’s latest ex-girlfriend is a good way to spent a bubble bath (side-note: does anyone else find it creepy that Elisabetta referred to him as fatherly? Ew.)

When I pulled up the page, my jaw fell open. Why? This headline (see if you can spot the one I’m talking about):

Right, it isn’t the one about Nancy Grace’s weighloss. That isn’t a big shocker. You do exercise, you eat right – you generally lose weight. No chocolate-coated miracle pill there.

No, I’m talking about the Baby Lisa headline, the one that describes the strange phone call as “tantalizing.” Does no one at People own a dictionary? Especially given the context of the situation (which you can read about here, if you don’t already have a background in the case). Here’s the explanation (no, too much, I’ll sum up): a baby is missing, the parents seem kind of dodgy, and one of them (the mother) was passed out drunk at the time of the baby’s disappearance.

Apparently, someone made a phone call on a cell phone that supposedly was unable to make calls. This is the mystery. It is not, as the Magazine put it, tantalizing. To use that word implies desire. It implies that something is inviting, desirable but unattainable.

Well, Vezzini, I don’t think that word means what you think it means. Because the word you’re looking for is tragic. This is not an alluring situation. It’s sad. There’s a kid missing. There’s a weird phone call. This is not a game of frakkin’ Clue. It wasn’t Colonel Mustard in the drawing room, with the candlestick.

The long story short is that there is a kid missing. I know that media, especially lately, is fed by sensationalism and hype. I know, unfortunately, that it’s not often about the STORY. It’s about spinning the story. It’s not about the facts or the people; it’s about selling an image.

I also know that People magazine isn’t the epicenter for hardcore journalism. (Honestly, who is anymore? I can’t tell.) But if you are featuring what is an actual news story, shouldn’t you have some level of decency and mindfulness? (Excluding the Inquirer and the odd assortment of things that old people read in the bathroom.)

To me, using the word tantalizing isn’t just incorrect word usage. (Although, it may be.) It is a complete disregard for a horrible situation. It made me angry. Because a kid as missing, and that sucks. Any number of other words would’ve suited that headline (perplexing, mindboggling, confusing, bizarre, suspicious, odd etc, ad infinite). Why not use one of those words?

Perhaps People should stay away for culturally relevant topics, if the Magazine cannot approach them with respect and a dictionary. I suppose that means more features on the Orange People (aka the cast of Jersey Shore). But, hey, at least I know what I’m getting when I see Snooki on the cover: nausea, boredom, and a lingering need to take a shower. Just don’t call her a rose when you do, ok?

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  1. November 10, 2011 at 9:18 am

    I suspect that’s a bit of author intrusion. The cell phone call is tantalizing to the reporters… *want*!

    • November 14, 2011 at 8:38 am

      Yes! You’re probably right. Good call. 🙂

  2. November 10, 2011 at 9:31 am

    Excellent article, and you hit the nail squarely, and the risk of sounding quite trite!

    I still love your work!

    Gosh I’m a poet, don’t I know it.

    (haha, don’t know what got into me)

    • November 14, 2011 at 8:38 am

      Thank you, Sharon!! Also, commenting without coffee?!?! I’ve done that before, but I usually leave words out. *grin*

  3. November 10, 2011 at 9:35 am

    gosh, I wrote my comment without having coffee first. What I meant to say was “at the risk”, not “and the risk” . Also I am the one sounding trite, not you. OK, off to get my cuppa coffee.

  4. November 10, 2011 at 11:46 am

    I agree that it’s author intrusion, if not media intrusion, that gives us a “tantalizing mystery”. Only the media is tantalized. (I am immediately reminded of Don Henley’s “Dirty Laundry”.) The family, the police working the case, people who actually want to FIND the baby alive and well are not tantalized. They are terrified, horrified, and doggedly determined to find this child.

    I was happy to see the magazine correctly asked if Faith Hill was better THAN ever at the CMAs.

    • November 14, 2011 at 8:40 am

      Author intrusion does seem like the logical explanation. I tweeted to the magazine, a bit before I wrote this; either they didn’t care, or they didn’t see it. Either way, that headline gets my goat! (Side-note: what the hell does that phrase even mean?)

      • November 14, 2011 at 11:17 am

        “Getting your goat” is a phrase that originated at the race track. Some owners would get their racehorses a goat for a companion, since being a racehorse is a pretty lonely life and you don’t get to run around in a pasture with your buddies. If someone wanted to upset your horse before a race, they’d steal your horse’s buddy, the goat. And, viola – instant bizarre phrase for us to use!

    • November 16, 2011 at 7:38 am

      For some reason, WordPress won’t let me reply to your goat comment. So, I’m doing it here. That explanation is beyond awesome. Thank you!! I’m totally amused at the origin of that phrase. I feel like I should’ve known that, with the horses and all, but NOW I DO. *grin* Thank you!

  5. November 11, 2011 at 3:06 pm

    :)! Wow, such carelessness!

  6. November 15, 2011 at 10:16 pm

    I agree with your media frustration. This reminds me yet again, why I no longer read magazines or papers, or watch TV, or listen to the radio. That said, I simply HAD to borrow the bit about the llama substitution. I did give you full credit. That was brilliant.

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