Editorial: A lesson in language

Trent Ernst, Editor


So, by the amount of disapproving glances I’ve been getting, I’m coming to the conclusion that there is bit of a misunderstanding happening. And, like most misunderstandings, it involves the way words are strung together.

For those of you who missed it, last week’s cover story was about the elections. Specifically it was about who got elected in Tumbler Ridge and how Tumbler Ridge had the most numbers of voters by population percent in the Peace region, which isn’t much to brag about, considering the Peace as a whole had what seems to be the worst numbers in the province.

So, to convey that, an alliterate phrase popped into my head, which I used as the headline: “Tumbler Ridge’s turnout best of a bad bunch.”

Sent the paper to print on Monday. It arrived here in Tumbler Ridge on Wednesday. And by Thursday, I was getting lambasted for it. “Read the headline,” said one infuriated person. “Just read the headline”.

So, yes. Let’s not just read the headline, but let’s parse it to understand it. Here it is once again: Tumbler Ridge’s turnout best of bad bunch.

Tumbler Ridge is a noun, as is turnout. The apostrophe s on Tumbler Ridge’s means that we are talking about something that belongs to Tumbler Ridge, in this case “turnout”. Those three words work together as a single noun, or noun string. We’ll come back to this.

The word best is an adjective, which is used to describe a noun, in this case, Tumbler Ridge’s turnout.

The word of is a preposition, which connects something to something else. So it establishes that Tumbler Ridge’s turnout is the best of … something. What is that something? It’s a “Bad Bunch.” Bad is another adjective, in this case used to describe the object, bunch. Because we use the word “of” we have connected “Tumbler Ridge’s turnout” to this bad bunch.

Is that what I was going for? Yes. Well, then, what is this bunch that is bad?

And here’s where things went horribly wrong. Because the headline is meant to encourage people to read the story. And if you do read it, you will come across this pair o’ graphs: “While turnouts were up across much of the province, the northeast saw a fairly poor turnout.

“Across the region, only 23 percent of people came out to vote, compared to 26 percent in the previous election.”

“Aha!” says the average reader who inhabits my brain. “I see the word “turnout” again. Back when I saw it in the headline, I assumed when he said ‘bad bunch’, he was talking about the candidates, because I didn’t know what it meant. If I had looked at a dictionary, I would have seen the definition of turnout is  ‘the number of people attending or taking part in an event, especially the number of people voting in an election.’

“Now, when I read this,” (the person inside my head continues), “I see that he was actually talking about the ‘23 percent of people who came out to vote.’ I understand. He’s not insulting the people who ran for office. He’s insulting me, because I was too lazy to get out and vote. The bad bunch? Is the 85 percent of people in Fort St. John who decided to give up their right to vote and allow the minority to decide their political future. It’s the 80 percent in Chetwynd who looked at their future and said ‘meh” It’s the 65 percent in Tumbler Ridge who sat on their butts at home. Hey, wait. The bad bunch is me! He’s insulting me!”

And if that’s the way it was taken and people got upset at me for insulting the voters who didn’t exercise their right of franchise, if I upset the people out there who have spent the last three years complaining about the fact that “what the town is doing is a disgrace,” and how it is run by “a bunch of crooks”, but then can’t be bothered to take the time to go down and watch a hockey tournament, shop 10,000 Villages and take the two minutes to duck over there and vote? If I managed to crack their shell, that would be worthy of discussion. Instead, most people didn’t make it past the first seven words.

A statistical aside: We had 122 more people come and vote in this election than last, at a time when the rest of the Peace has seen voter turnouts slumping. But five percent more than previous? Should we really celebrate that when the majority did not bother?

Yes, there are extenuating circumstances. With the troubles we’ve seen around here, we’ve probably lost a fair number of eligible voters, which means the number of people who showed up to vote, by percentage of the total number of eligible voters is probably even better than that. Unfortunately, there’s no real head count yet on how many people are actually still here and eligible to vote, so for now, it’s anyone’s guess. According to Civic Info, the number of eligible voters in Tumbler Ridge was 2124 . However, the District used 1886 as the number of eligible voters.

Still, some people made the leap from “turnout=councillors”, and interpreted the headline as “The people who got elected in Tumbler Ridge are much better than the people who didn’t.”

And because I had taken a picture of Tim (with his permission, I might add), to run with the story, it suddenly became “Trent hates Tim and Rose. They’re the bad bunch he’s talking about!”

Seriously? Where did that come from? I have nothing but respect for what Rose and Tim do in this community. This community is what it is in a large part because of them. There was no hidden message in the cover. It was a story complaining about poor turnouts and a picture of Tim collecting his signs. Any secret meaning that you read into it is extra-textual and uncorroborated.

While we’re on the topic: Tim, I meant what I said: I love you, man. Not, in that way, of course. Phileo. Agape. And if I don’t show it enough, it is not because of you or anything you’ve done, but because I’m too shy to come out and say it out loud.