Ups and downs

John Woolfrey writes from Canada:

Dear Mr Mangan,
I came across your site in this morning’s Montreal Gazette (Andy Riga’s column). I was immediately relieved to see that others are as appalled at newspapers’ overuse of certain words and puerile puns.

The said Gazette is guilty of both. In fact, the article just next to Riga’s in a story entitled “Elections Canada making list, checking twice.” I don’t know what happened at the Gazoo — it only starting getting really bad a couple of years ago.

I used to work for a weekly “alternative” paper as copy editor. Assignment editors there were constantly reaching for bad puns in their headlines. At least they had the excuse of their youth.

As for my pet overused word, I was surprised not to find them on your list!

Soar (“the dollar soared 0.5 cents”)

Skyrocket (“the dollar skyrocketed 0.5 cents”)

Plummet (“the dollar plummeted 0.5 cents”) It doesn’t matter how much the value of the dollar rose or fell (against the US dollar), the Gazette ALWAYS uses on of these three words. It uses it for pretty well any figure that increases or decreases.

I would dearly love to challenge all newspapers to publish for just one day without using these words.

Glad to see “literally” on the banned list. I allowed in on that paper only when appropriate, which happened in about one in a thousand instances in which writers were trying to use it. My fave was “Christmas is literally just around the corner.” I looked but couldn’t see it, so I deleted it from the copy.

My other two are one I came across in Toronto’s Globe & Mail: “Montreal is
literally sinking.” That worried me, as I live quite near the river. Then there
were the two I heard on the radio: “My blood was literally boiling.” (ouch!)
and “we worked literally around the clock.” (in my minds eye the clock is a
huge half-sphere set on the floor with the face on top in the cross-section,
around which they all toiled.)

Oh, how could I forget “ironically“! My young Hour colleagues found everything ironic, using it innapropriately as an adverb. I told them to chill.

Good cause to tune out

Robert Parson of WUFN Albion, MI, shares:

The two leads I hear on a regular basis that I can’t stand are

  • The City Council met last night.” This is simple Day 1 Journalism 101 class: City Council meets regularly. It’s not news. What they did is news.
  • We first told you last week about….” I don’t want to know what happened last week. I want to know what’s going on now. And I especially don’t care that you were the one who told me. Leave the puffery to your promotions department.

Make it the last time

Gene Maddaus of the Pasadena Star-News posits:

“This is not the first time that…” ought to be banned, along with all its variants (“He is not the first park ranger to be mauled,” etc.)

Kudos to the diligent journalist who bothers to dig up earlier
instances of the news-making phenomenon in question. But don’t
congratulate yourself by leading into the context with a coy cliche.
Readers know it’s not the first time. You are surprising no one.

Similar context set-ups probably ought to go, too. (“The park is no stranger to park ranger maulings.” “Park ranger maulings are not unheard of…” “While uncommon, park ranger maulings are nothing

Instead of saying what it isn’t, say what it is: “Several other
rangers have been mauled in the years since the park opened.”

Editors note: some of us have an outright ban on use of “several” if specific numbers are available.