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Paper Monitor

11:08 UK time, Monday, 8 September 2008

A service highlighting the riches of the daily press.

When journalists are little cubs in journalist school they get told about a bad thing.

This bad thing is called "journalese". Journalese means words that no member of the reading public actually uses.

The young cubs nod respectfully but on their departure they fall into the clutches of older chief subs who care little about journalese and just want the words to fit in the boxes set aside for the headlines.

Journalists of the "quality" papers think they do less journalese. This is not always true.

On today's Daily Telegraph front page there's a classic in "postcode lottery". These lotteries very often occur in the NHS, apparently. According to LexisNexis, there have been 526 references to "postcode lottery" in the last year.

At the other end of the spectrum is the front of today's Daily Star which reads: "BB SARA: MY DRUGS, LESBIAN ROMPS & SEX TAPES." It's that word "romp" which is classic journalese. Has any civilian ever described a sexual encounter, no matter how unconventional, as a "romp". But the newspapers have used the phrase "lesbian romp" 39 times in the last year.

Then there's the word "axe". People are often "facing the axe" (today's Star), or a politician "hints at axe" (today's Daily Mail) or "jobs are axed".

In the Daily Mail a girl is involved in a "tug-of-love" in Russia. It's as journalese as it gets and has clocked up 82 uses in the last year.

Fundamentally, there are two categories of journalese - terms that are made up by hacks and are never used by ordinary people, and a second category that first appear in newspapers but feed back into the language.

Stealth tax is now definitely in the second category. This recent Mail headline manages to use two.



Some journalese crackers are more sparingly used because of their sheer ridiculousness - "mercy dash" fits neatly into this category.

And for the record, Paper Monitor's favourite bit of journalese is "love rat". It has clocked a mighty 655 references in the last 12 months.

If you feel there's any snippets of journalese we should have included, send in your suggestions using the comments form below.


  • Comment number 1.

    Don't forget sportspeople 'crashing out' of competitions, regardless of whether it was a tight match or a thrashing...

  • Comment number 2.

    I'd like to nominate "revellers". At no time have I ever heard this term outside of pages of the press. I know journos struggle to come up with something a bit more lively than "attendees", but "revellers" sounds rather quaint. A bit Pathé News, I feel.

    And, for the record, I've never been "quizzed" in my life. Whenever I see a suspect has been "quizzed", I always have this image of the police playing 10 clips of music to the suspect and asking them to name the artist, song, and for a bonus point, the year.

  • Comment number 3.

    You quoted, but didn't list, 'Middle Britain' - no-one ever knows who this is meant to refer to or whether they are included. It has replaced 'the middle class' as we're meant to be a 'classless society' (and 'Middle England' which ignored the rest of the UK), but no-one has ever described themselves as a 'Middle Briton'.

    And 'chattering classes' - a pejorative term which may be used by politicians as well as journalists, but which could include anyone who has ever moaned about the Government or the NHS!

  • Comment number 4.



  • Comment number 5.

    "Probe" is by far my favourite alternative to "Quizzed".

    "SO-AND-SO IN POLICE PROBE" always conjures up an image of an officer with a pair of latex gloves and some kind of pointy medical implement. It's guaranteed to make me giggle as I walk past the news stand.

  • Comment number 6.

    Ignoring the troubling juxtaposition:


    and "Fiend"

  • Comment number 7.

    "Scoops" as in THE OFFICE SCOOPS TWO GOLDEN GLOBE NOMINATIONS. Make mine coffee or pistachio with sprinkles (jimmies to some).

  • Comment number 8.

    how about the following nicknames: Roo, Lew, Becks, Cap, Kop.

    Also, does Jade count as Journalese? I mean I never talk about her in public, yet the papers do all the time.

    did you know she's got a book coming out? I bet the publishers are still jumping.

  • Comment number 9.

    The Sun is the world leader for "journalese"

    "caged" for when someone is jailed and "lags" for residents of such an institution

    "tot" for small child

    "sir" for a teacher as in "paedo sir sex fiend caged"

  • Comment number 10.

    My favourite has to be "near miss", normally used when 2 planes come close to contact (close as in a couple of miles).

    In general conversation between two members of the public, they may have described an incident as a "miss"; A near miss to them would generally be considered a "hit".

  • Comment number 11.

    Sorry to post again, but here is a page I've found on the BBC site about the afore mentioned "near miss".

    It seems I need to go back to school and learn about idioms. Still seems wrong to me, the explanation is as follows.

    near miss = when something is nearly hit by e.g. a vehicle or a bomb

    Hmm... so if it nearly hit something, then why isn't a MISS clear enough. Does the word "Near" quantify the statement enough.

  • Comment number 12.

    Is this where we all go off and try to find a BBC headline written in nothing but Journalese?

  • Comment number 13.

    Any time a newspaper (normally a red-top) uses the terms "Exclusive!" or "World Exclusive!" Or straplines like "The official [insert event or reality tv show name] paper".

  • Comment number 14.

    Anything that is beyond mildly surprising is a "shock" or is "stunning"; anything beyond mildly unpleasant is a "horror"; anything "shocking" or "horrific" is an "ordeal" if it lasts longer than ten minutes or a "hell" if it lasts longer than a couple of days; anything beyond mild embarrassment is "shame"; anything beyond mild disapproval is "condemnation"; anything that causes more than mild annoyance "outrage"; anything beyond mild disagreement is a "row".

    The use of "slam" and "lambast" for "condemn", "smash" for any kind of vehicle crash.

    The use of "in" as a substutite verb in headlines, where ordinary human beings would use "make" or rephrase the sentence. "Police in witness appeal" when the police appeal for witnesses, "MP in shock election defeat" when somebody is defeated in an election in a slightly surprising way.

    The BBC's habit of using country names instead of adjectives: "Observer condemns Angola election", "Brazil oil boom `to end poverty'", " Egypt tycoon held in Tamim case" are all on the website at the moment.

  • Comment number 15.

    'Tilt', meaning attempt or campaign. As in 'Murray set for Wimbledon tilt'.

    In fact that example includes another one which is the use of the word 'set' to describe something about to happen.

  • Comment number 16.

    A near miss means that two things have come nearer to each other than they're supposed to but still missed. Hundreds of planes will take off and land today at any major airport. None of them will collide so a "miss" isn't news; it's only news if the two planes were closer than they should have been.

  • Comment number 17.

    Speaking of idioms, use of the term "sexed up" usually catches one's attention. As in "The government 'sexed up' its Iraq dossier".

  • Comment number 18.

    The papers and BBC Sport website love to use 'SW19', where other human beings would never say any such thing where 'Wimbledon' could be used instead.

  • Comment number 19.

    What about "slap in the face" as in "increased taxes/prices slap in the face for hard working British families"

  • Comment number 20.

    In the second category, of course, is the very topical "credit crunch".

  • Comment number 21.

    "Row" is used way too often by the BBC; Pay row, Drugs row, Bus row?!

  • Comment number 22.

    So-called superfoods bridge the health gap.

  • Comment number 23.

    One classic has to be "-gate" added to a word to denote some potential scandal.

  • Comment number 24.

    Another one from the BBC Sport front page: "Murray eyes Slam title". No-one "eyes" anything outside of sports-journalism-land. Now I come to think of it, sport journalism is a whole sub-category of journalese.

  • Comment number 25.

    I think the ultimate has to be WAG.

    WAGs, whilst also Journalese is, at least, a plural acronym of a plural phrase - ie Wives and Girlfriends.

    To then use the acronym in the singular, as the red tops have been seen to do is just ridiculous.

  • Comment number 26.


    Usually in sport, when one team beats another by a large margin.

  • Comment number 27.

    I have to nominate the word 'row', as when there is some arguement or fight. The BBC uses it far to often.

  • Comment number 28.

    The expression "home alone" as an adjective continues to appear 18 years after the release of the film that spawned it.

    The expressions "media-savvy" or "tech savvy" seem to crop up quite a lot for some reason.

  • Comment number 29.

    And don't forget the weather forecasters.

    Showers and rumbles of thunder are always 'odd'. Never occasional, just odd, like the raindrops are weird colours and the thunderclaps sound strange.

    No one would call six continuous weeks of rain and cloud 'unsettled'. This dismal rut sounds rather settled to me.

    And very soon the Scots will start watching their favourite TV show. Most every evening for the next six months they will be seeing 'A Touch of Frost.'

  • Comment number 30.

    To "eye" something. E.g. "Berbatov eyes Man Utd move"

  • Comment number 31.

    Thanks DRicherby (comment 14) for reminding me about the use of country names instead of adjectives.

    This is particularly confusing when the country is Turkey e.g. "Turkey makes 'coup plot' arrests".

    (I know that wasn't strictly an adjective switch, but "Turkish Authorities..." would have made more sense to the half-asleep.)

  • Comment number 32.

    "Slammed" seems to be the current favourite, especially when talking about pay deals.

    Probably because "Whinge" as in "Unions whinge about latest pay deal", whilst accurate, doesn't sound quite as good

  • Comment number 33.

    Whilst 'anvil' is a common enough word - particularly among blacksmiths and farriers - only Journalese seems to use it in the context of any sort of plan:

    "New visa regulations on the anvil."

  • Comment number 34.

    The verv to 'mull'.

    "Treasury mulls interest rate cut."

  • Comment number 35.

    "Soar" meaning prices going up. Nobody in the real world says, "This train fare/loaf of bread/gas bill has 'soared' since last time!" even if it has gone up a lot.

    "MY AGONY", a favourite tabloid headline for anybody's tale of woe, from a footballer with a sprained ankle to someone held for months by insurgents in Iraq.

    And on the weather forecasting theme of #29, the oft-used "Sheltered glens", meaning rural Scotland. Look at a map of Scotland. Virtually nobody lives in a sheltered glen! 90% of the population of Scotland live in the Central Lowlands. Most of the rest live in the pastoral Borders, the flat north-east or close to the coast. "Glens" are narrow valleys, which are generally unoccupied, as opposed to "straths", which are wide valleys which can and do accommodate towns.

  • Comment number 36.

    My favourites are euphemisms for bodyparts. I have personally never talked about anyones "manhood" or "assets" but they are all over the paper.


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