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There's A Reason We Say 'Self-Declared Islamic State'

Fighters from the self-declared Islamic State parade through Raqqa, Syria, in June 2014.
Raqqa Media Center
Fighters from the self-declared Islamic State parade through Raqqa, Syria, in June 2014.

Eight months after a notorious group of fighters in Iraq and Syria became regular characters in the news, NPR still begins most of its reports with words such as these:

-- "Self-declared Islamic State."

-- "Self-proclaimed Islamic State."

-- "The group that calls itself the Islamic State."

Some NPR listeners and NPR.org users have questioned why the qualifiers are still being used. As Weekend Edition Saturday host Scott Simon wonders, wouldn't people still know who we were reporting about if we didn't include a "self-declared" or "self-proclaimed"?

Yes, most listeners and readers would not be confused at this point. But, as we talk about in our latest "Word Matters" segment and as is explained here, NPR editors believe it is still important to add the extra words.

The primary reason: Not adding expressions such as "self-described" would by omission imply that the organization is a "state," when in fact it is not an "independent government ... within defined borders." Those are key parts of the word state's definition.

The latest Word Matters conversation also explores:

-- The overuse and misuse of the word "countless." In the past year, for instance, the word has been heard on NPR's airwaves more than 110 times. Most of the references have been to things that can be quantified, at least roughly. Did any 2014 congressional candidate, for instance, really visit "countless community festivals, civic group meetings and even a couple of high school football games," as we reported?

-- The "NPR Grammar Hall of Shame," and in particular the problem that we heard about most often when we asked the NPR audience to tell us about grammatical mistakes they come across every day. The No. 1 gripe, as we've previously posted about, concerns misuses of "I," "me" and "myself."

If you would like to take the "I or me" quiz we created earlier, we've attached it to this post as well.

Mark Memmott is NPR's standards and practices editor. He co-hosted The Two Way from its launch in May 2009 through April 2014.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Mark Memmott is NPR's supervising senior editor for Standards & Practices. In that role, he's a resource for NPR's journalists – helping them raise the right questions as they do their work and uphold the organization's standards.