Dangling modifiers go wild

With the disappearance of copy editors, it’s a wild time out in media-land for dangling modifiers. Once upon a time, in the good old days of letterpress, reporters could be saved by linotype operators who knew English grammar. Alas, they are long gone, and we get AP stories like this one, on Jan. 28, 2021: “WASHINGTON — Speaker Nancy Pelosi intensified pressure Thursday on House Republican leaders for their handling… Read Article →

Underscore this.

Have you noticed the rampant use of “underscore” in news stories? Everything is underscored by something. The New York Times used it 1,691 times in the past year. Maybe it’s just the prevelance of the media’s “interpreting” in the guise of news. There are a dozen other ways of saying the same thing — such as accentuate, highlight, stress, call attention to, emphasize — but underscore sounds fancier, at least… Read Article →

Amazing sources in the know

Our Journalese Dictionary has a chapter devoted to “Source Sorcery.” It solves the mystery of who reporters’ sources really are. The Washington Post illustrated this in a story Dec. 14, 2020, on Russians’ hacking into U.S. treasury and commerce internet systems. In the first seven paragraphs, the story repeats five times that its source is “people familiar with the matter.” No names, of course, since those people familiar with the… Read Article →

Clearing up unclear.

Classic journalese calls for using the word “unclear” when a reporter or editor has absolutely no idea of the facts. “Unclear” sounds much better than, “We don’t know what the hell is true, but we’ll report it anyhow.” A great illustration was in a cutline of a page 1 photo in the Boston Globe, Dec 3, 2020, showing a bunch of Trump supporters. Cutline read: “It’s unclear how many will… Read Article →

Editors as believers

The classic way of a reporter’s saying that he or she is skeptical of something is to write that “it is believed…” Sometimes this is carried to the extreme, as in a Thanksgiving Day editorial in The Boston Globe, about the 400th anniversary of the Mayflower Compact, a written agreement by the Pilgrims aboard the ship Mayflower, anchored in Provincetown on Cape Cod. https://www.bostonglobe.com/2020/11/26/opinion/mayflower-compact-turns-400 The editorial says, “…Provincetown — where… Read Article →

Marinating and prissy NYT’s word.

How a man who never drinks can marinate is a mystery only the New York Times believes. A story on election day, headlined in the Boston Globe, “As campaign closes, a frustrated Trump boasts and vents,” has this lede: “President Trump arrives at election day on Tuesday toggling between confidence and exasperation, bravado and grievance, and marinating in frustration that he is trailing Joe Biden, whom he considers an unworthy… Read Article →

The Law of Hifalutin Words.

An obscure law in the New York Times Styebook requires that reporters use at least one hifalutin word in every story. It’s the kind of word an average reader would ponder over and ask, “What the hell does that mean?” It is intended to indicate that the reporter passed college English 101. An example of the hifalutin law was in a Times story, published in the Boston Globe Oct. 28,… Read Article →

Like the Energizer Bunny

Headline of the Day: That’s what you gotta use when a storm passes through and knocks out the power lines. “Somerville officer charged with battery.” — Boston Globe, Oct. 10, 2020

Story that irks a reader

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… Read Article →

News and views from the crystal ball.

The New York Times boasts it publishes “All the news that’s fit to print.” Great. Except that the paper’s definition of news includes its own opinions, agenda, guesswork, imagination and speculation. Great example was in a Sept. 3, 2020, story headlined (in the Boston Globe): “Democrats game out an early Trump lead.” The story says that Democrats (only two are named) are thinking of what happens after the election. What… Read Article →