Bedazzling with Byzantine

Byzantine is a standard journalese for any laws, legislation, regulations or politics that the reporter wants to dramatically and mysteriously describe, rather than simply saying that they are complicated. Our journalese dictionary defines Byzantine as, “Proud description of every big city’s political machinery.”

The Boston Globe, Dec 28, 2017, couldn’t resist pulling out the old “byzantine” in a liquor law proposal, as if Massachusetts is unique in having complicated alcoholic beverage laws. The top page one story begins: “The price of beer, wine, and liquor in Massachusetts would increase, but unpopular restrictions on the sale of alcohol would go away, under a radical proposed overhaul of the state’s byzantine booze laws that’s expected to be unveiled by a government-appointed task force Thursday.”

If you look up “Byzantine” in a standard dictionary, you would have to scroll down beyond definitions of its use in Middle Eastern geography, architecture, ancient history, and religion to find the journalese definition, as in this from Merriam-Webster: “a: of, relating to, or characterized by a devious and usually surreptitious manner of operation b: intricately involved.”

Of course, “byzantine booze laws” sounds far more sophisticated than “looney liquor laws.”

File under: Baffle readers with fancy adjectives.

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