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Public Editor: I’ve had a few calls for language checks – or Czechs

Globe and Mail Public Editor Sylvia Stead.

The Globe and Mail

A reader on Twitter raised this "Language check" question yesterday. "Why is a move to Status of Women necessarily a 'demotion?' " Demotion was a description used by Ottawa bureau chief Robert Fife to describe Maryam Monsef's move from democratic institutions minister to status of women minister.

He noted that Ms. Monsef "was widely criticized for the way she handled the government's plans to change the voting system." If you've forgotten, here's a video link to the controversy. Mr. Fife said he used that word because she is moving from a very controversial ministry to one with little or no controversy.

That seems entirely fair to me. Journalists need to not only report the facts but explain the context and reasons behind such a move.

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Over the past few weeks, I've had a few other calls for language checks or Czechs.

Word plays, especially in sports, are a time-honored tradition. After all how many times can you say team X beat team Y without having some fun with the words.

But last month, one reader wrote to say please ease up on the play on Czechs/checks in hockey.

"It's old and, for those of us of this ethnic background, tiresome. Would we use this terminology if Czechs were, say, a First Nation? Of course not," he kindly asked.

He didn't say which word plays were annoying, but his e-mail was followed a day later by a reader noting this headline; "Canadians quash Czechs in quarters."

The reader joked: "I trust your headline writer received a 2-minute penalty for quash-Czeching."

So I agree with the reader that word plays could be overdone, but sometimes, used without malice or demeaning any group of people, it's just a funny play on words.

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Not so funny have been a few recent errors about names. A good reminder came from one reader to pay attention to Chinese names where the custom is to say the surname before the given names.

Or from an author whose name was misspelled in a byline.

Finally a reader upset that a recent travel piece incorrectly dubbed Horseshoe Falls as the Canadian Falls. "Shame on the Globe for letting that article pass without correction. American and Canadian Falls?? There is no such thing. That is Canadian nationalism run rampant. It's the American and (the international) Horseshoe Falls. The border runs through the Horseshoe Falls, albeit putting about 80 per cent on the Canadian side."

It's been corrected.

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