Posts Tagged ‘Literal quotes dangerous with English as 2nd language subjects’

Watch Your Quotations, Sports Writers

May 6, 2016
Carlos Gomez Center Fielder 2016 Houston Astros

Carlos Gomez
Center Fielder
2016 Houston Astros

In a front page article on today’s May 5, 2016 Sports section of the Houston Article, writer Brian T. Smith wrote a column entitled “Hey, Go-Go, bring the sexy back when you can put bat on ball.” Continuing from that first page to page C5, the reference to “Go-Go” is to Astros center fielder Carlos Gomez and the problems he’s been having with the bat – problems that don’t quite earn him a base for emotional flamboyant behavior that isn’t earned by his slumping level of production since joining the Astros late last season.

Fair subject, but Smith chose to quote Gomez, who isn’t particularly skillful or grammatically correct in his use of English as a second language, but nevertheless, a lot more capable than any of us English-only people are in expressing any thoughts in Spanish beyond “Por favor” and “Si, senor” or “Caliente”. As a result, for example, Gomez is quoted by Brian T. Smith as saying the following: “For the last year and this year, I not really do much for this team. The fans be angry. They be disappointed.”

Craig Calcaterra of NBC Sports jumped all over Smith for using Gomez’s literal problem with English thought expression. Calcaterra wrote that “it’s  hard to escape the conclusion that the quote’s imperfect English fits satisfyingly into a column designed to rip Gomez and that it’s going to play right into stereotyping a certain sort of reader who has just HAD it with those allegedly lazy, entitled Latino players likes to engage in.”

Jose de Jesus Ortiz, now of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, but former colleague of Brian T. Smith at the Houston Chronicle then checked in with this comment: “Latino ballplayers work hard to learn English & deal with the media. No need to disrespect them and then taunt them.”

Watch Where You Step

What a mess. Again. For the innocent multiple offender writer, and we have no idea about the beliefs, record, or intentionality of Brian K. Smith in this matter, he may be like the guy who owns a Great Dane, but still refuses to watch where he steps whenever he goes out in the back yard. If so, he will not have a long wait to repeat one of these “wish I had not gone there” moments when he’s already late for his working trip to Minute Maid Park.

The Old Rules Have Changed

The old literal journalism lesson of using only the literal words of the subject doesn’t work if the interviewee is using English with limited grammatical understanding.  So, what could Smith have done, had he seen the need to avoid misunderstanding?

He could have used parenthetical inclusions to show the correct grammatical usage ….

“I can’t get no (any) satisfaction….” – but that could easily have been viewed in the Smith/Gomez case by sensitive critics (and ethnic offense ‘gotcha’ hawks) as condescending.

Where Brian T. Smith wrote: “For the last year and this year, I not really do much for this team. The fans be angry. They be disappointed,” I would have paraphrased those thoughts in this way: “Gomez is aware that he has not done much offensively to help the club since joining the Astros late in the 2015 season. He also gets it that the fans are both angry and disappointed in his work with the bat.”

OK? Clear enough? The paraphrase confirms that Gomez intelligently understands his Houston situation – and with no inference of blame upon him for everything that’s gone wrong with the Astros this year – so far.

It’s a quick and slippery slope from naivete to stupidity to literally quote anyone using a second language today. Worse, or just as bad as the sometimes innocent adherence to the journalism 101 rule about literal quotation, are the ethnic offense ‘gotcha’ hawks who quickly go to print to condemn the offender as an unforgivable racist – and without investigating or confirming all the facts behind each individual case of alleged transgression.

Chill, people. And as Jon Batiste, the music director on the CBS Colbert Late Show, likes to call his band: “Stay Human”.


eagle-0rangeBill McCurdy

Publisher, Editor, Writer

The Pecan Park Eagle

Houston, Texas