Copy-editing with a twist

The ins and outs of being a copy editor

Bailout to the rescue

Posted by Noel Sanchez on October 14, 2008

Are copy editors to blame for the public’s perception of the $700 billion financial rescue plan?

The plan has been called a bailout for weeks, and more recently it’s been referred to as a rescue. Has the change in semantics affected public opinion?

Kathy Schenck points out that “bailout” carries some negative connotations, while “rescue” sounds much nobler. I have to agree with her; even the first time I heard the bill referred to as a “bailout,” I thought it sounded a little opinion-tinged. But, to be safe, I checked out what the the ultimate objective authority, the dictionary, had to say.

From Merriam-Webster:

Bail out- v. to rescue from financial distress

Rescue- v. to free from confinement, danger, or evil

“Bailout” certainly seems like the appropriate word, but I still think that it carries a negative connotation. To me, when you bail someone out, you’re giving them a handout. You’re helping them out  when they’ve gotten themselves in deep trouble, and they probably don’t even deserve your help. As in, “I’ll bail you out this one time, but you owe me big. Don’t expect me to help you out like this again.”

Maybe that’s just me, but this article from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel talks about how the b-word might have influenced people’s perceptions, and consequently, the House’s initial rejection of the bill.

A rescue, on the other hand, is the ultimate form of selflessness and nobleness. Helpless animals and children need rescuing; drunk friends across town with no cash and no way of getting home need bailing out. Heroes rescue; annoyed roommates bail out.

I’d like to think of the Wall Street bigwigs as somewhere between helpless critters and inebriated college students.

Headline writers weren’t wrong in using the word “bailout.” It is, afterall, probably more accurate than “rescue” because its meaning deals specifically with finance. But writers should never underestimate how a simple word can shape a person’s perception.

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One Response to “Bailout to the rescue”

  1. Maggie said

    Not only is ‘bailout’ more appropriate, in terms of its definition, than ‘rescue,’ but also with respect to its connotation. Investors made mistakes: They were not helpless; they were not hopeless. Wall Street screwed up, went to financial jail and needed to be bailed out. They were in the wrong, and they do owe us big. It’s not the job of papers to present the situation in a positive light to help legislation pass, but to be accurate, which ‘bailout’ is.

    It guess it all boils down to this: Wall Street is to ‘damsel’ as Bush is to ‘hero.’

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