Thursday, January 28, 2010

Are There Any News?

The on-screen description of the programming for BBC World News America says: “News from around the world are presented.”  Nowadays “news” are not often spoken of in the plural.

The word’s origin is the Anglo-Saxon adjective niwe, meaning “not existing before or not previously known.”  From it came the noun newes, which initially was used in the plural, meaning “new things” or “novelties,” like iPhones and chocolate Martinis. By 1500 the word came to mean the report of recent occurrences—not the happenings themselves, but Anderson Cooper’s interminable telling of them.

The Oxford English Dictionary’s first instance of the word in the singular was in 1566. Thereafter it tended to be construed as a singular noun most of the time—but not always.

Shakespeare went both ways, as it were.  In Henry VI, Part 2, Queen Margaret favors the plural when she cries in despair, “Ay me!  What is this world! What news are these!” But Hamlet tells Rosencrantz, “Your news is not true.” From the sound of it, both of them were watching too much Glenn Beck.

Horace Greeley, the founding editor of the New York Tribune, always insisted that the word “news” was plural. The Bard of Buffalo Bayou, who may be construed in either the plural or the singular, described this newsy exchange between Greeley and a foreign correspondent:

            When Horace Greeley looked at his New York Tribune,
            Page One, he thought, had far too little to peruse.
            He wired a correspondent: “Must hear from you soon—          
            Let me know at once if there are any news.”

            The correspondent answered Greeley right away:
            “Last week you may recall that we had quite a few,
            But when I looked around again the other day,
            I must report I couldn’t find a single new.”

1 comment:

  1. I think that without doubt the Bard of Buffalo Bayou must always be construed as singular, for so he is.