Over at the new American Copy Editors Society discussion board, Daniel Puckett of the San Antonio Express-News has posted a wonderfully dry explanation of various terms as journalists use them. It is reproduced here with his permission. (See the thread on the board for more examples.)
I've been thinking about what some words and phrases common in newspaperese actually mean:
ACTIVIST: Vocal busybody whom the reporter likes.
ARCHCONSERVATIVE, ULTRARIGHTIST: Since the world apparently holds no archliberals or ultraleftists, these must be people who the reporter thinks are very bad indeed.
BRIGHTLY COLORED CLOTHING: People from Washington state to Washington, D.C., wear all kinds of bright colors, so this signals that the reporter found the Third Worlders' native garb on this occasion particularly absurd.
DREAM HOME: Synonym for any house ever bought or built by any American.
EPICENTER: The very middle of the core of the center, a signal that the reporter doesn't know what the word actually means.
FRAGILE ECOSYSTEM: Since the term "robust ecosystem" is unknown, this means that the reporter adamantly opposes the development of this area and probably wants a substantial amount of money spent to keep it just the way it is.
GADFLY: Vocal busybody whom the reporter finds kind of funny.
IDEOLOGUE: Vocal busybody whom the reporter dislikes.
MAINSTREAM OPINION: The reporter's opinion.
MASSIVE: A signal that the reporter doesn't read enough to know any of those fancy-talk synonyms for "big" and doesn't really care about writing, anyway.
OF COURSE: Used to signal that the reporter is kind of irritated that this obvious piece of background information has to be inserted for the benefit of the readers, who are all cretins, especially by comparison with the reporter.
QUIPPED: Since no quotation attributed with this verb has ever been known to be even faintly amusing, this is used for those statements that cracked everyone up during hour 7 of the City Council meeting, but you really had to be there.
REVEALING GLIMPSE: In a nut graf, this phrase signals that the story will be a tiresome, especially long wonkfest that will in no significant way advance anyone's understanding of the issue, but that required a huge amount of work, so here's my story, where's my contest award?
TAXPAYERS' MONEY: Invoked only when writing about government programs of which the reporter disapproves.
YOU MIGHT THINK THAT ... : Since this phrase has never introduced any statement that a sane person of even average intelligence might actually think, the reporter must be embarrassed by his or her preconceptions heading into the story
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