Not every post on this blog is as simple being correct or incorrect. Sometimes, it’s about clarification to ensure accurate communication, and I think that we could use some clarification about the use of the adjectives anonymous and unnamed when making reference to sources for news stories.
While both anonymous source and unnamed source might technically be correct ways to talk about a reliable source who prefers to not be quoted by name, there are difference connotations for the terms. Anonymous implies that no one knows who the source is–it’s an unknown source. An unnamed source implies that the reporter knows who the source is (and presumably believes that the source is reliable) and chooses to respect the source’s request to not be credited for the story.
That’s why it’s best for those who are doing the reporting to use the term unnamed source rather than anonymous source when they would like the audience to believe the story being reported.
If that’s not reason enough for clarification of the terms, then think about how a person who has been criticized by a nameless source reacts to such criticism. Invariably, he or she responds with a comment along the lines of I don’t give any credence to stories based on anonymous sources, not I don’t give credence to stories based on unnamed sources.
Sarah Palin recently reacted that way in a yahoo news story (Palin denounces anonymous sources as “cowardly“). She did this because anonymous implies a lack of knowledge by everyone of who the source is, and the other simple implies that just we, readers, don’t know that name of the person.
Paul’s book–Literally, the Best Language Book Ever