Monday, September 5, 2011

What's the difference between "ferrets out" and "sighs"? (On Andrew Sullivan)

Actually, this is a post on speaker attribution, but it's sexier to say it's about Andrew Sullivan (meaning: Andrew Sullivan's blog).

I greatly enjoy Sullivan, even though he's frequently wrong (he generally admits it, eventually) and has a worldview (Catholicism, conservatism) that means that, on some level, we disagree about the foundational facts about existence. And this goes (broadly speaking) for his under-bloggers and interns--I have some differences with them, but I generally think they bring up interesting things.

But Sullivan & co. occasionally drive me crazy with their speaker attribution verbs--"says," "ferrets out," "sighs," etc. 

For instance, recently, ZoĆ« Pollock recently wrote that "Kristin Dombek ferrets out one reason for The Book of Mormon's success"; and then Pollock goes on to quote Dombek talking about the success of religion. That's an obvious mistake and a somewhat common one over at The Daily Dish: they often quote the part that seems most interesting (why is religion successful?) even when they point to the actual topic of the essay (why is The Book of Mormon successful?).

But that's not what bugs me. What bugs me is that Pollock refers to Dombek's speculation as "ferret[ing] out." Did Dombek hunt for this insight intensively? Did she bring this truth to light by following it down some rabbit hole? Or did she look at some stuff and say, "hey, here's an idea I have that isn't really supported by any particularly large body of evidence?"

Now, I enjoyed Dombek's piece, but I think Pollock throws a little too much weight behind Dombek's idea through her choice of words--and what's worse, does so without coming out and saying it.

To be fair, though, Pollock is just one person and you can see that this issue is pretty widespread at the Dish if you look for "sighs" as a speaker attribution; for a few examples: "Adam Serwer sighs" (and here), "Greg Scoblete sighs," "Amanda Marcotte sighs," "Felix Salmon sighs."

It makes me wonder if Sullivan sees other people as balloons with tiny pricks in them, slowly sighing out their disappointment.

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