So the Guardian ran an Associated Press story on Saturday about Pope Benedict XVI approving recognition of martyrdom for an Austrian who was beheaded by the Nazis for refusing to serve in Hitler's army. The story ran far and wide. But thanks to the reader who brought the headline from the Guardian to our attention:
Pope Martyrs Austrian Beheaded by Nazis
Yeah, um, Guardian folks? Here's the definition for martyr when used as a verb:
1. To make a martyr of, especially to put to death for devotion to religious beliefs. 2. To inflict great pain on; torment.
So, uh, I don't think that's the word you meant to use.
One time, years ago, the veteran Baltimore newspaperman, H.L. Mencken, was checking copy coming in from the night editor and sighing at the rising number of errors he was noticing, errors of fact but also of syntax, and even some idioms that didn't sound quite right. He shook his head and said, as much to himself as to the editor at his side: "The older I get the more I admire and crave competence, just simple competence, in any field from adultery to zoology."
I'm with Mencken. And I'm not sure if this is another example of how the media don't get religion or how they don't get vocabulary.
UPDATE: Reader Thomas A. Szyszkiewicz, who alerted me to the problem, writes in the comments:
Unfortunately, it wasn't limited to The Guardian, Mollie. Do a Google News search under "pope martyr" and there are no less than 42 stories with that headline, even at such places as Forbes, The Miami Herald and the Times Picayune. It finally started to change with USA Today running "Pope approves martyrdom for Austrian, Japanese." That USA Today should get something right that The Guardian should have gotten right is maybe just a bit topsy-turvy.