The Effrontery of “Torino


         It’s a shame.  I was really looking forward to watching this year’s Winter Olympics televised from Vancouver, Canada.  The spectacular combination of grace and speed on display can hardly be matched anywhere else in the sports world.  And this year the naturally beautiful games were taking place in the most beautiful city in North America, if not in the world.  On top of that, this would be the first Winter Olympics available on high-definition television.  Then NBC had to spoil it.


         It’s still a feast for the eyes, but the continued abuse of the English language by the folks at NBC has made it punishing to my ears.  It seems like about every five minutes they have an occasion to mention the previous Winter Games, and they’re still calling the city in northern Italy in which it was held, “Torino.”  Four years ago they could offer the thin excuse that they were doing it out of consideration for the locals, because that’s what they call it.  But now they’re in Vancouver, for goodness sakes, and the people there call it “Turin,” as do English speakers everywhere.


         Even from Turin it sounded ignorant, like the rube showing off what he’s just found out:


         “Hi, Blanche, it’s Wilbur.  You’ll never guess where I’m callin’ from: “Tuhreeno.”


         So why do Bob Costas and everyone else on the NBC team insist on using this wrong name for the city?  Here’s the official explanation offered up by NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams, and I don’t know about you, but I find this explanation even more offensive than NBC’s determined abuse of the English language:


         “NBC Sports Chairman Dick Ebersol, during his first visit here years ago, loved the way “Torino” rolled off the tongue. So, Torino it is.”


         Just like that, or so they say.


         It might sound nice rolling off an Italian’s tongue, but from the tongue of Bob Costas and the Anglophone crew, in its complete wrongness, it’s fingernails on a blackboard.  And would any roving NBC newsperson ever sign off, “Reporting from Roma, Firenze, or Napoli, just because he or his boss thought it sounded nice? Could we even conceive of talking about the Moskva Olympics or the München Olympics?


         Can we really believe that this was Dick Ebersol’s prerogative?  Don’t they have editors there to uphold basic language standards? Wouldn’t president and chief executive officer, Jeff Zucker, have had the final say on a matter of this importance? Are we to believe that Zucker and a consensus of NBC executives all liked the way Torino rolled off the tongue so much, that on such utter capriccio, they would break with journalistic and linguistic convention and call the host city by something different from its familiar English name of Turin?


         As the young folks like to say these days, “Give me a break.”  How stupid do they think we are?


         We may not be that stupid, but apparently Americans are sufficiently ignorant to put up with what Zucker and the boys have foisted off on us.  Television watchers are a sort of lowest common denominator of society.  So even though the newspapers have, all along, used the city’s right name, I dare say that the majority of American TV viewers don’t even realize that NBC’s 2006 Winter Olympics venue was the major Italian city that we know as Turin.  When would they have even heard of it, anyway, except in connection with that famous piece of cloth known as the Shroud of Turin?  (Sindone di Torino for those who prefer the way it sounds.)


         Aha!  I think we’re onto something here.  If you say “Loch Ness,” people think of a prehistoric creature that some people claim to have seen there, and if you say “Turin,” they think of the cloth that is believed by many to be the actual one in which the crucified Jesus of Nazareth was wrapped.  In fact, the term “Shroud of Turin” probably puts more people in mind of Christ and the Christian religion these days than does the word “Christmas,” so secularized has that holiday become.  Nevertheless, as we all know, there has been a concerted campaign in the U.S. in recent years to get people to replace the expression “Merry Christmas” with “Happy Holidays.”  “Christmas,” to those who are hostile to Christ and Christianity, continues to be an offensive and threatening word.  How much more threatening, then, would be the expression, “Shroud of Turin,” to certain powerful people who feared that every time the Olympics watcher heard “Turin,” the Shroud of Turin would at least be in the back of his head?


         So forget NBC’s absurd public rationale for its language butchery.  In this great big insular country of ours, we don’t generally go for foreign or foreign-sounding words any more than we like foreign movies.  It’s not Torino because of its pleasant sound to Dick Ebersol; it’s Torino because of the unpleasing association, to the ears of those above him, of the correct English name of the city, “Turin.”


         David Martin

         February 24, 2010





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