Saturday, May 25, 2024

Buyer, beware

 The Kentucky Derby and the Preakness are past, the Belmont Stakes yet to be run. In Maryland we're all agog over the recently approved plans for Pimlico, spending $400 million in taxpayer funds to offer life support to a declining industry that kills horses. So the language of the track is all around us. 

And it is the track that give us a journalistic affection that annoys me almost above all others, reporting to the verb tout

We have it from late seventeenth-century Britain, where it means variously to get the secrets of the stable for betting purposes (to spy on) and to give a tip on a racehorse. The noun is for the person who exhibits such behavior. From that the senses extend to canvassing for customers, soliciting patronage, urging with annoying persistence, and soliciting importunately. 

Particularly in U.S. usage, it has come to mean to proclaim loudly or overly publicize. 

It owns its popularly in journalism to copy editors, always searching for a short word to fit into a tight count, and from the headline it descended into body copy. 

No doubt I am oversensitive from reading too many books, but whenever I see that some public official is touting a program, or some developer is touting a project for which, yes, again, taxpayers will bear the costs, the whole smarmy connotation from racing echoes in my mind. Boost, plug, and pitch, similarly, suggest that someone is enthusiastically offering dubious merchandise. 

Promote, publicize, and even proclaim do the job reporters want, without the seediness. They can always put their money on some other horse.