[Update. I'm giving the update its own post because it considerably changes the situation reported below, and it's only fair to make it prominent considering the hyperbolic outrage of the initial post. I hereby retract the excessive frothing and accusations below, though I continue to regret the low value the Times places on linguistic accuracy as compared to making sure they have the exact words of whatever celebrity they're quoting.]
Every time I think I’m inured to the idiocies of the press, even what are allegedly its finest representatives, something comes along to get me frothing in rage again. The latest comes via Bill Poser at Language Log, who writes:
The New York times contains a brief article entitled One Pot describing the Spanish dish known variously as cocido or olla podrida literally “rotten pot” According to the dictionary of the Real Academia Española, podrida may have an admiring connotation, similar to the use of “filthy rich” in English. Curiously, instead of the correct olla podrida, the article gives the name of the dish as olla poderida, which it explains as a derivative of poder “strength”, because it gives you strength.
Reader Jim Gordon wondered about this and emailed the author of the article. Her response: she and her consultants and editors were aware of the correct name and etymology but thought that some readers might be put off by the notion of rotten food, so they changed the name a little and made up a fake etymology. It seems clear that they were not trying to deceive anyone with evil intent, but I am still taken aback that a respectable newspaper would make up a fake name and etymology.
“Curiously”? “Taken aback”? I guess I admire Bill’s sangfroid and charity, but I’m not going to mince words: I think this is a complete dereliction of the first duty of a newspaper, which is to tell the truth. What’s next, not reporting on vote fraud or covering up a slaughter in the Congo because “some readers might be put off”?
Furthermore, they’re not just making it up themselves, they’re putting their lie in someone else’s mouth:
“Olla means pot, and the original name was olla poderida, which comes from poder, which means strength,” said Alexandra Raij, an owner of Tía Pol, the tiny Spanish restaurant on 10th Avenue in Chelsea.
I presume Ms. Raij (a Spanish equivalent of Reich, apparently) said no such thing; if I were her, I’d put the fear of a lawsuit into the paper for knowingly making her look like an ignoramus.
How on earth do you justify making things up and putting them in “the newspaper of record” with such a ridiculous excuse? I think the reporter and every editor who approved this should be fired and a memo sent out to all employees of the Times that conscious deception of the readership will not be tolerated.
And don’t tell me “it’s only language.” Language is how we communicate and how we understand the world. If you’re capable of lying to me about words and etymology to spare my supposed feelings, you’re capable of lying about anything, because you don’t understand the value of truth. Our world is made of words, and the Times is degrading it. Shame on them.
[As I say, the above outrage is inoperative now that more information is available.]