• Frenzied arrival reporting for the APEC dignitaries

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    THE multiple arrivals of 20 heads of state for the 2015Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit this week not only locked down traffic in Metro Manila to almost zero but also appear to have taxed to the hilt the English writing skills of the print and online media.

    This was particularly evident in how the online edition of a major Metro Manila broadsheet headlined its homepage arrival reports. It did use the verb “arrive” for its umbrella headline for all of them, “World leaders start arriving for APEC,” and also for the headline “US Navy destroyer arrives ahead of Obama visit” and that for the arrival of the President Barack Obama himself, “Obama arrives in Manila for APEC.”

    But clearly taking pains not to use “arrive” any further, that broadsheet came up with these peculiar variations of that verb for three other headlines (italicizations mine):

    “Chinese President Xi Jinping sets foot in Manila for APEC”

    “Mexican president touches down in Manila for state visit, APEC”

    “New Zealand PM reaches Manila for APEC meeting”

    I won’t go into the reporting protocol aspects of why some foreign leaders deserve only plain arrivals and others more eye-catching figurative arrivals. Instead, I will just examine the semantic aspects of those three headlines.

    The phrasal verb “set foot in” in the first headline above means “to enter,” strongly conveying the sense that someone on foot went through a certain boundary to the point of arrival. This obviously didn’t apply in the case of President Xi Jinping, who was flown to Manila by a Chinese government jet.

    As to the phrasal verb “touch down” in the second headline, its sense is “to reach the ground” or “to land.” This strongly implies that the one arriving piloted the plane himself. This, too, obviously didn’t apply in the case of President Enrique Peña Nieto, who came on board a Mexican Airforce plane.

    But of the three headlines, “New Zealand PM reaches Manila for APEC meeting” has the most seriously flawed semantics. The verb “reaches” strongly implies that PM John Key had a hard time making it to Manila; he could have come in late or not at all. But in fact, no such thing was reported to have happened on his way to the APEC summit.

    Those three semantically faulty headlines obviously came about because of the notion that repeatedly using the verb “arrive” for each of the arriving dignitaries would be a cardinal offense against good journalistic writing. Well, that notion is wrongheaded in this case. With 20 arriving dignitaries involved, there was really no way to come up with 19 different phrasal verbs or synonyms for the verb “arrive” without making the headlines sound facetious or even ridiculous.

    This is why the print and online editions of two other Metro Manila broadsheets (including The Manila Times, I’m glad) sensibly bit the bullet and used “arrive” for all the arriving dignitaries in this wise: “Chinese President Xi Jinping arrives in PH for Apec,” “Mexican President Nieto arrives for Apec, state visit,” and “New Zealand’s PM John Key arrives in PH for Apec.” And as far as I can gather, they also used “arrive”—with no hint of equivocation or guilt—for the rest of the arriving foreign leaders.

    I have one suggestion to Philippine media though. The next time the country hosts an event like the APEC, their editors should just put up in their front or home pages a boxed section simply headlined “ARRIVALS FOR (EVENT).” The individual stories under it can consist simply of the name and designation of the foreign head of state and the details of the arrival. That’s all.

    This should nicely do away with wracking brains looking for alternatives for the verb “arrive” and avoid inadvertent breaches of reporting protocol for the heads of state.

    Visit Jose Carillo’s English Forum, http://josecarilloforum.com. Visit me on Facebook. Follow me at Twitter.com @J8Carillo. E-mail: j8carillo@yahoo.com

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    4 Comments

    1. Peter Mauricio on

      We Filipinos really have the penchant for shooting ourselves on the foot. Please do not waste paper and ink on this nonsensical criticism of our journalists’ writing ability. We have the best English language newspaper in the world! Lighten up a bit.

      • Peter, perhaps the bigger problem is that not a few Filipinos can’t take criticism whether valid or nonsensical. Take your case for instance. Instead of acknowledging the need for Filipino journalists to continuously improve their English usage taking into account their actual performance in covering an international event, you make the non sequitur that “we have the best English language newspaper in the world.” Really now! That’s an extremely tall and gratuitous claim that will take a lot of effort defending. You have definitely shot yourself in the foot by saying that.

    2. Jose A. Oliveros on

      Two lessons can be learned from this column, namely: (1) reading newspaper headlines is not the best way to learn correct English usage; and (2) consulting a thesaurus to find a synonym for a particular verb or noun is not enough. One must also consult a good dictionary for the nuances or shades of meaning of that verb or noun.