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Disturbing incidents

April 24, 2012 - Brad Siddons
We (Americans, especially English-speaking Americans — I can't tell if the others are doing it or not) seem bent on beating our language into submission. Words are being misused to the point where incorrect is being accepted as correct. When that happens, correct usage be hanged.

Today's example — I tend to write these things in the wee small hours of the morning — are the words incidents and incidence. Here's a simple but effective explanation of the correct usage of the two words: Incidence and incidents sound the same, but incidence is more often used in technical contexts, referring to the frequency with which something occurs: "Increased ultraviolet light is likely to cause increased incidence of skin cancer." Incidents is simply the plural of incident, an event: "The police are supposed to investigate any incidents of domestic violence." The form incidences should be avoided.

It would seem, then, that incidence should rarely be used in most everyday conversation. And, it's hardly ever proper to make the word plural. Never, never use incidences as the plural of incident; no matter what you might read — or more commonly hear on the TV networks — it just isn't so.

And I don’t ever want to see any of these mistakes in the Open Line. Oh, that Open Line. Some days, my heart just can’t take it. I know that many Sentinel readers turn first to page A4 each day, and it’s not to read the signed letters, or even the editorial or a syndicated column. Nope, chances are it’s the Open Line. Perhaps it’s my professional background, having worked in this business for more than 30 years, but I must view the OL differently from our average reader. You see, I really don’t like the bloody thing. I find it nasty, mean, confrontational, rude, selfish ... and that’s the stuff that gets in. You ought to see what we cut out.

Why do so many OL submissions wind up in the recycle bin? To me, it all comes down to credibility, or the lack thereof. Without a name at the bottom, Open Line items have no credibility (a noun defined as the quality of being trusted and believed in). So if there is any chance that the item is making a personal attack on someone, or is obviously incorrect, or is simply an attempt at free advertising or something that looks more like an item on the community bulletin board than anything else — it goes. Keep in mind that people defined as “public figures” such as a national official or a celebrity are pretty much fair game for criticism. But that doesn’t mean that we run everything thrown at them. In fact, I have a motto regarding the Open Line: “If in doubt, cut it out.”

If you have something to say, write a letter to the editor. Put your name on it, and exercise your constitutional freedom. That stands a much better chance of being published. And by the way, I absolutely love to publish letters to the editor. They are a strong part of any newspaper's heart.


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