The joy of journalese: how to read newspapers

Journalists, as any newspaper reader will confirm, have a language of their own - "the strange language of news" as the author of a new book puts it.

Robert Hutton's splendid Romps, Tots and Boffinsexplains what some of the phrases used (only) by journalists actually mean. So "senior backbenchers" are "backbenchers who returned our calls; "keynote", a word the Wales Office is very keen on (see here and here and here ), is "what all speeches are".

"Journalists", he writes, "love talking to us in a language that most of us don't actually speak". Broadcasters are not immune from Hutton's focus on journalese, a language that is still evolving in the digital age. "The BBC has learned" apparently means "we've got Sky on", whereas "Sky sources" is another way of saying "the BBC".

He explains how newspapers try to make stories interesting for their readers. So "all intros in Scottish papers should contain a reference to Scotland. All of them. If the story is not, for some reason, about Scots, stick a kilt on it."

The Welsh equivalent - finding a Welsh angle no matter how tangential to the story - would probably be called "putting a leek on it", although it is not a phrase I hear often among Welsh hacks.

Hutton also highlights some of the phrases used in sports journalism, such as "silverware", "bouncebackability" and "ace" (a player who is good at the sport he plays). Sadly, the book doesn't include "finished with aplomb", "lost the dressing room" or "by mutual consent" (the way mangers are sacked).

The politics section also avoids some notable phrases from political journalism, including "too close to call", which is usually deployed as a way of saying "I haven't a clue" and is rarely followed by a close result.

Hutton does include that favourite word of journalists - "snub" - with its meaning of "somebody didn't get something they wanted".

He helpfully explains: "The number of snub-related stories in a newspaper is exponentially related to its distance from the centre of power. Once you get north of Durham, they make up the bulk of political stories."

One could replace "north of Durham" with "west of Offa's Dyke" and reach the same conclusion, although Hutton chooses not to. Another snub to Wales, or would that be a slap in the face?