Tuesday, January 22, 2008

What's In A Word? .....

This morning, as I was catching-up on news headlines, I watched this report by NBC's Richard Engel, from his interview with America's top soldier in Iraq.

"At a graduation for 1,830 goose-stepping police cadets, U.S. General David Patraeus saw encouraging signs," Engel reported, going on to note the mixed Sunni/Shiite make-up of the graduating class, increased stability in more Baghdad neighborhoods, and other encouraging signs in this war-torn country.

What caught my attention, in particular, was Engel's choice of the word "goose-stepping
" ..... In this entry, Wikipedia describes goose-step as a distinctive style of marching in which the troops "swing their legs from a vertical leg to a nearly horizontally-extending one, bringing it down with a loud simultaneous stepping noise and continuing the cycle in unison." It should be noted, this was NOT the style of marching shown in the video of the graduation ceremony that accompanied Engel's report.

So, what's the big deal? ... Quick ..... think of troops that goose-step! You may come up with the photo Wikipedia uses to illustrate the style ..... soldiers of the German Werhmacht marching through Warsaw at the start of World War II. Immediately beneath that is a more recent photo of Russian troops in Moscow, on ceremonial parade outside the Kremlin.

You can probably recall use of the phrase 'goose-stepping' - in a book or magazine, a newspaper article or column, a film or television script, whatever - to describe the actions of a group in a derogatory manner, to conjure images of Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia, and to relate said group to those images.

At the start of the report, the use of such a word, and the images it conjures, detracts from the rest of the report ..... I don't aspire to reach the heights Engel has in our profession, but I still think he could have done a better job in choosing his words.


Anonymous said...

I watched the report and went to the Wikipedia site. Hopefully the NBC reporter was simply ignorant of what a true goose-step looks like. Of course, if that's true, it doesn't say much for the education and knowlege of a reporter at that level at a national network.
Unfortunately, it was, more likely, a subtle interjection of personal belief (or perhaps just bias) in regards to the situation he is covering. I know reporters, especially those at his level, will swear up and down they are impartial and unbiased, but his little juxtaposition would seem to give the lie to that, now wouldn't it?
Incidentally, from what I saw in the video, and have seen elsewhere, the Iraqi style marching on disply in that report seems based on a British ceremonial style, with the high swings of the arms while marching on parade. That wouldn't be too surprising considering the Brits had a fair amount of presence and influence in that part of the world during the last century.
Thanks for pointing out the discrepency.

Jeff said...

Darrell, I'm inclined to agree with your second paragraph. You'd think the reporter in him would have opted for 'marching,' saving a syllable, and bringing his package nearly a second shorter.

A also agree with you on what style of marching WAS displayed ..... long after the sun has set on the British empire, the ceremonial style of marching inherited from that empire will long remain.

Eric Siegmund said...

I didn't see the piece in question, but if it was anything other than a live, ad-libbed commentary, I must believe that the phrase was deliberately chosen with a complete grasp of its associations.

As you observe, Engel is far from being the inexperienced and immature type who sometimes fails to understand the import of his words.

Jeff said...

Eric, I'm afraid you're right ..... the phrase came inside Engel's package (the audio/video report, produced in advance, that rolls following his brief, live introduction).

Rob said...

Even for those of us out on the trailing edge of the Baby Boomers fully understand what "goose-stepping" is and he use of that term immediately conjures a mental image of Nazis.

Engel is no rank amatuer, not a cub reporter, so you do have to assume some intent here...

Jeff said...

Hi, Rob ..... we're quickly developing a concensus, here ..... it would be nice to be a fly on the wall of Engel's cubicle, and hear if he's gotten any feedback at his level.

..... assuming, of course, that he might not be a daily visitor to ArchaeoTexture!