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"L'Oréal did not immediately respond to a BBC request for comment." (BBC: Françoise Bettencourt Meyer: L'Oréal heiress first woman to amass $100bn fortune)

When you read the text, you understand the L'Oréal has not responded. (still no response up to the current time), but interestingly the text uses simple past tense, which create ambiguity "Maybe they have responded later on."

Furthermore, there is also the word "immediately" (It did not immediately respond..."), which strengthens the possibility They did not respond immediately but, sometime later. So, now, there must be a response. But when you read it, you understand there is still no answer.

So, why does BBC say "L'Oréal did not immediately respond...." instead of "L'Oréal has not responded yet."

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  • 1
    You mean "Maybe they responded later on". Don't use have there.
    – tchrist
    Commented Dec 29, 2023 at 15:55
  • How do you know there's no answer? Journalists are busy people, not just sitting round 24/7 waiting for an answer to update immediately.
    – Stuart F
    Commented Dec 30, 2023 at 11:49
  • The use of the simple past here suggests thinking about responding as a simple point-in-time event: either it happened or it didn't. I think this is a common phrasing for journalists. But "had not responded by publication time", or similar wording, is also sometimes used (which suggests thinking about a response as something that could come along at any time.) Commented Dec 31, 2023 at 19:41

4 Answers 4

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What the journalist has written is correct. They contacted L'Oréal, and L'Oréal didn't respond. So the journalist could have written "L'Oréal hasn't responded". But the journalist knows that the article will go on the web site, and L'Oréal might respond, which would make the article incorrect. So an alternative might be "At the time of writing, L'Oréal hadn't responded." That's possible, but (and I think this is your misconception) just because a perfect tense is possible, it doesn't mean it must be used.

So, I can write "I didn't drink coffee at breakfast" even though "I haven't drunk coffee yet today". The mere fact that it is possible to use a perfect form, doesn't mean you have to, and sometimes the past tense is correct, useful and simpler.

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    The situation is complicated by the BBC's apparent editorial policy of making major changes to an article without updating the URL... although sometimes they start a completely new story with no formal reference to a predecessor ("previously discussed at...") and no edit to the predecessor to alert a reader that there's an update elsewhere. Commented Dec 29, 2023 at 18:02
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    +1 but I think the BBC article is a more conservative CYA than "At the time of writing, L'Oréal hadn't responded." It could be that L'Oreal responded while the article was being written but the author wasn't going to check again before sending it to 'press'.
    – JimmyJames
    Commented Dec 29, 2023 at 21:28
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    That's right. Not the same, but both statements are true and you might say the first even though the second is also true and would imply the first.
    – James K
    Commented Dec 29, 2023 at 22:16
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    Yes, well the BBC doesn't have to be consistent. Some of these articles might have been made incorrect by a response from Apple. -- Don't over think this! What the author wrote was correct and true. That some other statement might also have been correct and true is not a problem.
    – James K
    Commented Dec 29, 2023 at 22:42
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    The phrase “immediately respond” also indicates how much time the reporter gave L’Oréal to respond: very little. It’s quite possible that the request for a response and this going to print happened the same day.
    – KRyan
    Commented Dec 30, 2023 at 6:45
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The article says the share spike happened on "Thursday," and the article was posted early Friday morning UK time. Any response in that interval would be remarkably fast, and they want to emphasize that so it doesn't sound like L'Oreal is evading questions.

News will traditionally refer to very recent dates by their day of the week for the benefit of people reading a few days later, even though we strongly prefer "yesterday" and "today" in conversation. In most other contexts "Thursday" would be ambiguous (at best) with the previous week.

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  • this point is also important, besides the grammar. Indeed, not only is it possible there is no evasion, but there might even be a response by the time the sentence is published or broadcast but it could not be processed appropriately
    – Mike M
    Commented Dec 29, 2023 at 15:30
  • This should be the accepted answer.
    – benrg
    Commented Dec 30, 2023 at 20:03
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That is a standard reporting figure of speech which is used by many journalists in many articles. If you search online you will find thousands of instances of the same phrase.

It is used to imply professionalism and immediacy of the reporting process whereby all sides have to be acknowledged.

It means that the story is too hurried to afford concerned parties with time to consider a comment and a response.

It can also be a way of letting the respondent know that they have a request to contribute.

0

This may just be more of an idiomatic expression than anything else. Journalists have long since used those specific words and I imagine it's become a bit of a tridition to do so, as opposed to some other combination of words.

Readers of news articles will often only read them shortly after publishing (and this was especially true in the past with the reign of physical newspapers). So for that purpose, "did not immediately respond" essentially means the same as "has not yet responded".
And if you think about it, the same statement still holds true even if you're reading in a more distant future. The fact that they didn't immediately respond isn't untrue.

Now you may have a moral qualm with the use of this particular set of words, if the writer is using it to obfuscate that the subject did in fact respond in reasonable enough time that the article could have been changed.
In fact, the writer might in bad faith consider "immediately" to be one single second. It still wouldn't be incorrect, it would however be incredibly dishonest.

Logically the expressions "did not immediately respond" and "has not yet responded" are both true. And in context they represent the same idea as a consequence of their idiomatic nature, even if they don't in a purely semantic sense.

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  • Verb tenses are not idiomatic expressions.
    – Lambie
    Commented Dec 30, 2023 at 1:24
  • @Lambie "why does BBC use simple past" was the question. my answer was that their use of it (the whole expression, simple past use included) might be more due to tradition than careful analysis of what verb tense they should be using. not sure I fully get your point.
    – TrisT
    Commented Dec 30, 2023 at 1:38

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