One of the best-loved clichés in journalism is “jaw dropping.” Our dictionary’s definition: “Reporter says you are going to be so shocked you’ll look like an idiot with your mouth wide open.” What brings this up is a page one story in The Boston Globe, Sept. 7, 2018, about what’s going on in Washington these days: “It’s as if the reality television show that has consumed the nation’s capital for 20 months is working its way toward a jaw-dropping season finale, but the tension is never relieved. It’s the cliffhanger that won’t end.”
This got me wondering about how many and how long have reporters seen jaws been dropping. The archives of the New York Times, with all the news that’s fit to drop jaws over, came up with 884,956 hits. The Times has been seeing jaws drop for a very long time: Its first use was in a story in Sept 19, 1852. By contrast, jaw-dropping was evidently rare in Boston, where folks are obviously less prone to look like idiots with their mouths open. The Globe archives produced only 1,341 hits, with the first on April 26, 1890.
A quick web search found a great site, https://www.powerthesaurus.org/jaw-dropping, with 72 words or expressions that had a similar meaning as jaw-dropping. Reporters and editors will ignore it. Old clichés never die.