Thursday, July 13, 2006
Naming rights
Proper names, like all words, matter. In some ways, they pack even more meaning. Geography and history — truth itself — are at stake. We've seen that reflected this week in the news:
  • U.S. media continue to hem and haw over Bombay vs. Mumbai, as Doug Fisher at Common Sense Journalism observes. Many stories use "Mumbai" and then mention somewhere that the city was "formerly known as Bombay." That's fine in that it recognizes the official name while also helping readers who may not be aware of the switch. But this is a "teachable moment" for newspapers: With the train bombings there such a big story, why not take a moment to explain to readers why this city seems to have two names? A quick sidebar or textbox would do the trick. (It also wouldn't hurt to describe the city as more than "India's financial capital." What about the Bollywood influence?)
  • Poland has often objected to references to World War II concentration camps that imply that they were run by Poles rather than the Nazis. Imprecise language such as "Polish death camps" often brings a slew of corrections and clarifications from U.S. newspapapers, as Regret the Error has noted. Now the Polish government has a deal with the United Nations to label the Auschwitz site as "the Former Nazi German Concentration Camp of Auschwitz." The intent is good, but that name is so cumbersome that it seems unlikely that any journalist would use it.
posted by Andy Bechtel at 9:19 AM | Permalink |