NPR interviewers are actually mutating the English language into a new dialect I call “Commentatorese”.
Liane Hansen asked the following question today of Joe Sharkey:
Do you have a sense of how many flights were delayed?
Sharkey’s response was that about 10,000 fights were delayed. But that isn’t at all what Liane asked, at least not in English. She posed the question in Commentatorese.
Either Sharkey speaks this dialect, or the full, unedited interview must have sounded more like this:
LH: Do you have a sense of how many flights were delayed?
JS: Yes, I think so.
LH: Okay, what is your sense?
JS: Uhmm, I guess it’s a numerical sense. Maybe like the numerical equivalent of literacy? I’m not sure what you –
LH: Fine. What’s your numerical sense of how many flights were delayed?
JS: Well, I guess it’s what you’d call an “estimate” or maybe “estimation.”
LH: And what is the sense of your estimation?
JS: A numerical one.
LH: Do you have a sense of the number?
LJ: Is it a big one?
JS: The sense?
LH: (thinks) Uhmm, I guess I mean the number.
JS: Yes, I guess it’s a pretty big one, at least in the context of flight delays. In the context of, let’s say, cosmology, it’s actually really, really small.
LH: What is the size of it?
JS: A lot of zeroes.
LH: Can you give us a sense of how many zeroes?
(audible sighs from both)
LH: What is the sense of how many zeroes?
JS: Hmm. Are you asking about the way we scale a number by powers of ten so you can tell how big it is? Is this a show about math? I thought we were talking about weather-related travel delays.
LH: We are. You don’t get what I’m asking.
JS: What are you asking?
JS: Do you want my estimate of how many flights were delayed?
LH: Yes, I guess that’s it.
JS: Then why don’t you just ask me that?
LH: Okay, do you have a sense of how many flights were delayed?
JS: Yes, I do have a sense, but that’s not what I said. Ask me for an estimate of how many flights were delayed. Or better yet just ask me how many flights were delayed like my wife did when I told her I’d figured out how many flights were delayed.
LH: Uhmm. Do you have a sense –
JS: STOP! Just repeat after me: “How”
LH: Is your sense –
JS: I’m going to walk out of this studio right now if you don’t repeat after me. “How”
JS: “Flights were delayed”
LH: Flights were delayed?
JS: Much better. About 10,000 flights were delayed.
LH: And do you have a sense that –
Sharkey throws off his headphones and exits studio.