Thursday, November 11, 2021

Wasted words

 You would do your readers a courtesy to omit from your writing some of the words tediously overused in journalism. 

Battle "Politics," said Mr. Dooley, "ain't beanbag." But neither is it an armed conflict. Neither are sporting events. And neither is the experience of having cancer. If you were to forgo military metaphors, you might discover how impoverished your imagination is. 

Controversial Conflict, they told you in your newswriting class, is one of the fundamental news values. If there were no controversy, there would be no news and thus no story. 

Currently If it's not happening now, why are you writing about it?

Dramatic This is a show-not-tell violation. If the circumstances you describe are not dramatic, using the word will not make them so to the reader. 

Firestorm The Allied attack that destroyed Dresden, which Kurt Vonnegut described in Slaughterhouse-Five, involved such a multitude of incendiary bombs that the heat of the fires created great winds that made the fires doubly destructive. A group of ill-informed people shouting at a school board meeting does not constitute a firestorm. 

First Are you sure of that? Are you really sure? You looked it up, didn't you?

Iconic Just don't. If you picked up a dictionary, you would be hard-pressed to find a common or proper noun that has not at some point been called "iconic." A word used to describe everything describes nothing.

Ironically Good idea to check whether what you actually mean is coincidentally

Prestigious See Dramatic

Saga Yes, you have a long, involved account. That does not make your story the Elder Edda. 

The public may wish to comment with suggestions of additional words you could shun. 


  1. Writers of real estate listings and travel destination websites have been abusing the word 'nestled' for years now. Food writers seem to never tire of describing foods as 'decadent' and 'to die for.' Some tiresome writers might therefore conclude that these words are 'iconic'—sorry, John, I couldn't resist!

  2. The same goes for "epic" as for "iconic". If that delicious meal you just ate is "epic", then what is Beowulf or the story of Gilgamesh?

  3. I've seen many, many articles lately (typically on the news outlets catering specifically to social media platforms) using language in headlines that would have gotten me kicked out of j-school. Things like "Teen Sadly Killed" or "Kids Unfortunately Lose Game" or "Victims Thankfully Survive." As opposed to...? In my few years on the desk, I think you would have given me a stern talking to if I didn't excise some of that nonsense.

  4. "Melts in your mouth" relates nothing about an item's deliciousness. As Bill Walsh noted, dog feces probably has this quality.

  5. And let's not forget "historic," a word now used to describe things that will almost certainly not be studied 500 years from now.

  6. "Epic" is a lost cause, at least for now. Based on listening to my teens, it has evolved into a simple intensifier. This has happened countless times in the past, including those we think nothing of today. The origin of "really" is transparent, once you stop and look at it. So too with "very," if you have a smattering of Latin. The objection to these to is not that they aren't being used correctly, but that they have had the life so drained out of them that they lack oomph. Verily, this is true. That's why words like "epic" get conscripted for service as intensifiers. Will it stick over the long haul? Heck if I know. A century from now it might sound totally early 21st century.

  7. "I feel like", for cable news journalists. I thought journalism, even opinion, was about thinking and not about feeling.

  8. What's with "passed away" lately? Don't people die any more?