We have another first.
Just think of the hundreds and hundreds of specialized dictionaries there are on the market.
We have a ``Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English’’, a ``Dictionary of Obsolete English’’, a ``Dictionary of Catch Phrases’’, a ``Dictionary of Confusable Words’’, a ``Dictionary of Epithets and Terms of Address’’, a ``Dictionary of Euphemisms’’, and a ``Dictionary of Sports Idioms’’, but not one on Journalese; that is, until now.
Thanks to authors Paul Dickson and Robert Skole and the recent publication of ``Journalese: A Dictionary for Deciphering the [Marion Street Press] this is the first dictionary devoted specifically to ``Journalese.''
Dickson, by the way, is author of another recently released book: ``Words from the White House: Words and Phrases Coined or Popularized by America’s Presidents’’ .
Journalese, for those not familiar with the term, is a code word for journalist jargon, distinguished by clichés, sensationalism, and triteness of thought, which usually appear in your local newspaper but is rarely spoken at the office water cooler.
The authors in their introduction make it clear, however, this dictionary isn’t intended to pass judgment, and neither is it meant to be a celebration of journalese. Rather, their objective is to ``describe and define it and, in the process, perhaps spike –or at least skewer-some of its more overwrought examples.’’
Any lover of words and newspapers will get a tremendous kick out of this A-to-Z dictionary. It’s a highly entertaining, light and breezy, and witty look at the good, the bad, and the ugly of newspaper buzzwords and phrases. Aside from its pure entertainment value, this is practically a mandatory book for any writer to have parked next to their computer or laptop-since it will undoubtedly serve as a handy and useful reference guide to prevent falling victim to some of the most worn-out and overused phrases in American journalism.
So how exactly did this book come about?
Paul Dickson, the co-author of this book and author of more than 60 books, including ``The Dickson Baseball Dictionary’’, ``The Congress Dictionary ‘’ (with Paul Clancy), and a ``Dictionary of the Space Age and Slang ’’, has been collecting journalese terms for years. Some of the terms, in fact, were so outdated they couldn’t be used in this book. So Dickson decided to team with Robert Skole, a Boston resident, who has worked as a reporter, editor and foreign correspondent.
They previously collaborated on another book, ``The Volvo Guide to Halls of Fame: The Traveler's Handbook of North America's Most Inspiring and Entertaining Attractions.’’ The dictionary took about a year to compile as they scoured Google, Nexis, and a number of other databases that could search newspapers' use of specific words. Skole told me they found WoPular , an aggregator of news, especially helpful. The New York Times’ historical archives was another helpful site in finding specific journalese words, such as with hackneyed examples of the word ``Many.’’ For their sidebar devoted to Bible phrases titled ``Gospel Journalese’’, the websiteThe Blue Letter Bible , an online resource packed with useful information and data of words used in the Bible was another gold mine.
As newspapers continue to plow forward with buyouts and the slashing of staff, with copy editors usually absorbing the brunt of these cuts-are journalese terms running amok in newsrooms today or slipping through the cracks (more often than they should) without the eagle eyes of experienced copy editors?
``Newspapers' cutting down copy desks has created a tsunami of journalese’’ Skole concedes. ``Back when I went to the University Of Missouri School Of Journalism, any reporter using "many" in a story on the Daily Missourian would get it tossed back to him or her. ``Today’’, Skole points out, ``nobody cares. It's all the Journalese that fits in print.’’
For anyone fascinated by newspaper style and usage, the authors have created a Facebook page on Journalese, which is most definitely worth a visit.
So to give readers a sense of (journalese, refer to page 81), an idea of some of the journalese terms defined in their book, the authors have given me permission to list some of my favorites.
Arguably: Arguably gives reporters the freedom to draw conclusions they wouldn’t dare on their own. No one wants to say ``certainly’’ when such a useful fudge factor is available.
Claim: We don’t believe what the person says, but here it is. A person who likes a source, never says he or she ``claims’’ something. Instead, it is ``firmly stated.’’
Compelling: Book reviewer already used riveting.
Cycles of Violence: At least two crimes in two days.
Firestorm: At least two people protest or complain.
Fledgling: A young and inexperienced person, but often used by fledgling reporters to mean faltering.
Frantic Search: The kind of search that people conduct when children are missing. A level-headed search won’t do.
Frenzy: At least three guys arguing.
Hero: Just about anyone in uniform or someone who gets a cat down from a tree.
High-speed chase: All police chases are at high-speed. It would be big news, such as O.J. Simpson, if the chase stayed within speed limits.
Highly respected: One degree above highly regarded. His mother and father both boast about him.
Machiavellian: Any actions by politicians the paper does not support. Politicians the paper does support are wise, savvy, strategic, shrewd or astute players of the political game.
Motion Picture: A very serious film the reviewer likes, and is often described as a ``major motion picture.’’ Otherwise, it’s a movie or film or flick.
Noted Authority: Said of anyone on a reporter’s speed-dial or Twitter feed.
Presumably: Codeword that the writer is about to take a wild-assed guess.
Punishing: Any storm, hurricane, tornado, flood, or other natural disaster. Also a military operation that the reporter doesn’t approve of.
Raw Data: Data that has not yet been cooked.
Sketchy: Reporter doesn’t know what the heck is going on.
Unconfirmed: It may not be true, but we want to print this before the opposition did.
March 4, 2013