In the latest installment of OTM’s ongoing series, On The Media’s David Serchuk investigates the “evil” origins of the extra emphasis on the word “billion.”
April 21, 2001
BOB GARFIELD: In our ongoing feature Word Watch we track the rise of a word's popularity in public discourse and its use and abuse in the media. This week we're taking a different approach. Instead of examining the way newscasters and reporters use a word, On the Media's Dave Serchuk considers how they say it.
DR. EVIL: Gentlemen my name is Dr. Evil. In a little while you'll notice that the Kreblakastani warhead has gone missing. If you want it back, you're going to have to pay me-- [BIG SOUND EFFECT] one million dollars! [SEVERAL PEOPLE LAUGHING CRUELLY] Sorry. One hundred billion dollars!! [SEVERAL SPEAK AT ONCE/DRAMATIC MUSIC]
DR. EVIL: Gentlemen -- silence!
DAVID SERCHUK: While Dr. Evil may have failed to take over the world in Austin Powers' International Man of Mystery, he just may have influenced the strong emphasis some anchors place on the word "billion." Or should I say [DRAMATIC PAUSE] BILLION?
RENEE FALCONE: I think newscasters are secretly watching Dr. Evil behind closed doors.
DAVID SERCHUK: Renee Falcone is the assistant director for the Connecticut School of Broadcasting in Farmingdale, Connecticut. If what Falcone says is true, then there's a lot of tribute to Dr. Evil on CNNFn. On the March 12th episode of Money Line there were at least two instances of BILLION from just the first 30 minutes of the show.
WOMAN: ...208 volume was over 1.2 BILLION shares; we'll take an in-depth look at...
DAVID SERCHUK: Of course Money Line deals with big money, in addition to big stock transactions.
WOMAN: In other corporate news tonight the largest insurance deal in history, UK-based Prudential, no relation to the US insurer, offering more than 26 BILLION dollars in stock for American General.
DAVID SERCHUK: Ida Olsen, a New York-based speech language pathologist, said newscasters emphasized BILLION this way in order to get attention-depleted viewers to listen up and notice what they're putting across. IDA OLSEN: When you're dealing with a professional individual and you're trying to get them to improve their speech, most of what they have to do is sell, and so you want to get them to use a varied intonation. Maybe we need a little bit more hype in our news to get people to watch. I think it adds excitement. I think the attempt is to add excitement anyway.
DAVID SERCHUK: To thrill people with finance? IDA OLSEN: [LAUGHS] A billion is a lot; at least to me.
DAVID SERCHUK: Renee Falcone adds that in her classes potential anchors have emphasized BILLION without being instructed to do so! She says that some anchors may have picked up BILLION and it's mini-me, MILLION, from Dr. Evil; or more likely, from other newscasters.
RENEE FALCONE: I think it's subconscious because I don't think people can, like, properly say it any more; those that are wanting to do newscasting, they when they're doing a story regarding the market or national funds, things like that, they can't say million the normal way, even though they're trying to be very professional and matter of fact and authoritative in their newscasts, they have to, to inflect on the, the, the MILLION or the BILLION.
DAVID SERCHUK: And do you do it?
RENEE FALCONE: I do do it; I am a victim of BILLION dollars.
DAVID SERCHUK: Oh. Behave! For On the Media, I'm David--SERCHUK.