Choices: The Choice of LanguageJust as authors must choose what to say, they must choose how to say it. The
choice of content and language are closely related. Choices of content and
language reflect and reinforce each other.
On August 31, 1998, after an unprecedented three-year period of rising prices,
the stock market dropped 513 points, the second largest point (as against
percentage) drop in history at that time. For USA Today, it was an exciting
day at the office:
The Dow Jones industrial average [the most common stock market performance
indicator] plunged 513 points Monday, erasing all of its 1998 gains as
investors fled a global crisis that is upending the longest-running bull market
in history.A reliance on statistics lends an objective tone to the coverage.
Nevertheless, the pattern of terms
The Dow's 6.4% decline to 7539 brought its six-week loss to 19.3%, less than 1%
shy of an official bear [selling] market. It now is down 5% for 1998. Damage
was even greater in the broader markets; the Nasdaq composite [another stock
performance indicator] dropped 140 points, or 8.6%, to 1499 in its worst-ever
"Dow's yearly gain gone on Wall Street,"USA Today, September 1, 1998,
http://www.usatoday.com/money/mphotof.htm. updated 02:21 AM ET.
plunged… erasing… fled …upending …down …dropped …worst-ever point declineclearly emphasizes the fall of the market.
Other newspapers viewed the event differently. The opening paragraphs of the
news articles below provide essentially the same information (content), but
they tell somewhat different stories, implying different implications and
consequences. For the Austin American-Statesman, it was a particularly
The stock market's summer swoon turned into a dramatic rout Monday as the Dow
Jones industrial average plunged more than 500 points, its second-worst point
drop in history. Stocks now teeter on the edge of their first bear market
since 1990.The selection of dramatic terms (summer swoon… dramatic rout…plunged… teeter on
the edge…) cannot be missed.
A writer for The New York Times saw the event in a more psychological vein:
James F. Peltz, "Dow dives 512 points,"Austin American Statesman, September 1, 1998, p. 1.
Gloom, fear, pain and queasiness. Around the nation, anxieties ran high
yesterday as investors big and small watched the jagged lines fall and much of
the year's profits evaporate in a breathtaking 512-point plunge on Wall Street.
Many called it scary, but almost no one seemed ready to panic.Gloom, fear, pain and queasiness…anxieties…breathtaking… plunge… scary…panic.
The choices of content and language focus more on the reaction of investors
than on the stock market itself. A pattern of terms of adverse psychological
feelings is apparent.
The choice of terms invariably shapes how a topic is portrayed. All of the
above articles convey the fact that the stock market dropped significantly.
All of the articles also interpret the significance of that drop through their
choice of language. Indeed, there is no way to convey the information without
coloring the report in some way! To use bland language would itself downplay
the significance of the event.
Robert D. McFadden, "It's Disturbing, to Put It Mildly, But Investors Say
They'll Hold On,"The New York Times, September 1, 1998, p. 1.
The stock market average dropped 513 points yesterday. It had dropped by more
once before.How we say something is often as important as what we say.