John Keith Communications Logo John Keith Communications   
Technical Writing Pronunciation Oral Fluency Vocabulary Grammar Listening Reading Links Client Services

On What Grounds was this B.C. Ferry “Grounded”?

© John Keith 2008

Hide or Show Text While Practicing Listening.

Last week I was startled to see an article in the Province Newspaper, just a small article on a back page, about the recent grounding of the new B.C. ferry, the Northern Adventure. This ship is “the replacement for the doomed Queen of the North” as an editorial in the same edition put it, and plies between Port Hardy in northern Vancouver Island and Prince Rupert on the mainland.

Less than two years ago, in the middle of the night, the ”doomed” Queen of the North went aground at full speed about 140 kilometres south of Prince Rupert, and it sunk an hour later; all but two aboard her were rescued. Another ferry, in June 2005, went aground while docking at Horseshoe Bay near Vancouver; it lost power, missed the ferry slip, and spectacularly, it smashed through a small boat marina, damaging or sinking almost two dozen pleasure craft. Both ferry groundings made headlines coast to coast, so why was this Northern Adventure mishap reported only in a small article in a back page?

Well, it wasn’t a “grounding” at all, at least in the maritime sense of the word. The Northern Adventure, the article said “was back on the water yesterday after a fuel mishap grounded the ferry in Bella Bella for a few days.” The ship “was grounded”, it went on to say, “after contaminated oil was accidentally added to the engine”.

In fact then, the ship was not “grounded” on some dangerous rock or hidden shoal; it was safely tied up to a dock in Bella Bella. And it did not in fact go “back on the water” as it was still floating and had never stopped floating. The Province newspaper reported the Northern Adventure “grounded” in the sense that aircraft are grounded and are literally kept on the ground due to mechanical trouble or perhaps in the idiomatic sense that teen-age children are often grounded – forbidden to leave home when they’ve been out flying too high with their friends and drinking and getting into trouble. However, when talking about ships, the literal sense takes precedence: a vessel stranded on reef or shoal.

The Province’s “Staff Reporters” should have known better and should themselves be grounded for running aground on a dangerous semantic reef of the English language. I don’t want to cut the ground out from under their feet, but on the grounds that word-smiths writing for a newspaper should have a thorough grounding in the ground rules of language, they should know the difference between literal and idiomatic meanings. Perhaps they were trying to break new ground, but they surely were out of their depth.

Nautically speaking, my dear reporters, ground fish are not fish out of water, a ground swell is an ocean wave not an earthquake, and a ferry grounded is not floating at a dock in Bella Bella with a hang-over from drinking bad fuel.

(Background in the Free Dictionary.)

(Top of Page)

Valid XHTML 1.0 Transitional         Valid CSS!