One of the most useful words in headlines is “irk,” a verb meaning to annoy, bother, irritate, bug, tee-off, peeve, irritate, and, well, there’s a long list of synonyms. It’s true journalese. Have you ever heard someone say, “I’m really irked at…”? Or, “That guy really irks me.” Probably never. The word is short and punchy, which makes it most useful in a headline. Like this one, over a New York Times story published in the Boston Globe Sept. 18, 2020:
And you know what? The story irks the hell out of me. It is full of generalizations, conjecture, speculation and reporters’ opinions. A few examples: “…some Democrats…increasingly anxious” and “… some polls…” and “…they are warning…,” and “…concern among Democrats….,” and “…compounding the challenge…,” and “Now Democrats…have worried…,” and “…may also have implications….”
Only one person is identified, way down at the bottom of the story: a “Democratic chair” in an eastern Pennsylvania county. OK, maybe the original NY Times story, which ran almost one full column in the Globe, was shortened. But it had three by-lines, and you’d think three reporters would come up with some names of those “irked” and would run some of those names at the start of the story. Nah, that’s old school reporting.
File under: Irked by generalizations in the guise of news.