Mark Twain famously said that the difference between the right word and the almost-right word is the difference between the lightning and the lightning bug. In journalism, the reverse is also true: drawing just one word from many can twist meaning like a soft drive into high British wind.
To wit: There's a big difference between "almost unplayable" and "unplayable," but that didn't stop the British tabloids from creating a something-out-of-nothing story Monday from an otherwise innocuous Tiger Woods quote.
Woods chatted with a few reporters after testing the course at Royal Lytham on Sunday afternoon. "Oh my God," he replied. "It's just that you can't get out of it. The bottom six inches is so lush. The wispy stuff, we've always faced that at every British Open. But that bottom six inches, in some places it's almost unplayable. I've never seen the rough this high or thick and dense."
Read that second-to-last sentence, speaking of the rough, again: "that bottom six inches, in some places it's almost unplayable." That's worlds apart from saying the entire course is unplayable.
That didn't stop The Daily Mail from blasting UNPLAYABLE! in its headline, while The Guardian and The Mirror offered similar breathless pot-stirring analyses. So, great ... now we'll see if Tiger warps space-time by saying LESS than nothing in his next press conference.
Look, tabloids, we know that Tiger doesn't give you much to work with in his quotes. (His actions? Gold mine, baby.) But careful with that cherry-picking; a newspaper whose tag line is "Late news, sport and comment" doesn't have room to screw up.
... what? It's not "late," it's "latEST"? Oh. Close enough, right?