Words





=170. Accuracy and Interest

For words, as for sentences and stories,

the same law holds,--accuracy and interest. If one's words are accurate

and stimulate interest in the reader, they are good.



=171. Accuracy

Accuracy comes first. It is necessary always to write

with a nice regard for exact shades of meaning. As Flaubert declared,

"Whatever one wishes to say, there is only one noun to express it, only

one verb to give it life, only one adjective to qualify it. Search then

till that noun, that verb, that adjective is discovered. Never be

content with very nearly; never have recourse to tricks, however happy,

or to buffoonery of language to avoid a difficulty. This is the way to

become original." An accurate writer avoids looseness of thinking and

inexactness of expression as he avoids libel. The adjective lurid is

an illustration of a word over which careless reporters have stumbled

for generations. When the casualties of the war against inaccuracy are

recorded, lurid will be among the missing. As used by ignorant

scribblers, the word means something like bright or brilliant, or

perhaps towering; yet its precise meaning is pale yellow, wan, ghastly.

Journalists of the last quarter of the nineteenth century will remember

a long list of such sins against precision, recorded by Charles A. Dana,

editor of the New York Sun. A few additions have been made to his

list, and the whole is given below. The reader should distinguish keenly

between each pair of words and should be careful never to misuse one of

them. Do not use:



above or over for more than

administered for dealt

affect for effect

aggravate for irritate

allude for refer

and for to

audience for spectators

avocation for vocation

awfully for very or exceedingly

balance for remainder

banquet for dinner

beside for besides

call attention for direct attention

can for may

claim for assert

conscious for aware

couple for two

date back to for date from

deceased for died

dock for pier or wharf

dove for dived

emigrate for immigrate

endorse for approve

exposition for exhibition

farther for further

favor for resemble

groom for bridegroom

happen for occur

hung for hanged

infinite for great, vast

in our midst for among us

in spite of for despite

last for latest

less for fewer

like for as if

materially for largely

notice for observe

murderous for dangerous

onto for on or upon

partially for partly

pants for trousers

past two years for last two years

perform for play

posted for informed

practically for virtually

prior to for before

propose for purpose

proven for proved

raise for rear

quite for very

section for region

spend for pass

standpoint for point of view

suicide as a verb

suspicion for suspect

sustain for receive

transpire for occur

universal for general

vest for waistcoat

vicinity for neighborhood

viewpoint for point of view

witness for see

would seem for seems



=172. Clearness

To secure interest, a word must be clear and

forceful. It should not be technical or big, but simple. The biggest

words in the average newspapers are the handiwork and pride of the cub

reporters. Yet clearness, force, brevity all demand little

words,--simplicity. And the simplest words are those of everyday

speech,--Anglo-Saxon words generally,--such as home rather than

residence, begin rather than commence, coffin rather than

casket. The reporter who uses ornate, technical, or little-known words

does so at his own peril and to the injury of his story; for the average

newspaper reader, without the benefits of a college education and having

a limited vocabulary of one to two thousand words, does not know and has

no time to look up the meaning of unfamiliar words and phrases. This is

why many city editors prefer to employ high-school students and break

them in as cubs rather than take college graduates who, proud of their

education and vocabularies, attempt to display their learning in every

story they write. Simple, familiar, everyday words, those that every

reader knows, are always the most forceful and clear, and hence the most

fitting. The following is a list of words which young writers are most

commonly tempted to use:



accord for give

aggregate for total

appertains for pertains

apprehend for arrest

calculate for think, expect

canine for dog

casket for coffin

commence for begin

conflagration for fire

construction for building

contribute for give

cortege for procession

destroyed by fire for burned

donate for give

elicit for draw

hymeneal altar for chancel

inaugurate for begin

individual for person

obsequies for funeral

participate for take part

per diem for a day

perform for play

purchase for buy

recuperate for recover

remains for body, corpse

render for sing

reside for live

retire for go to bed

rodent for rat

subsequently for later

tonsorial artist for barber

via for by way of



=173. Force

Force demands that one's words be emphatic. Unfortunately

a reporter cannot have readers always eager to read what he writes. If

he had, his readers would be satisfied with having his words merely

accurate and clear. Instead, they demand that their attention be

attracted, compelled. The words must be fitting, apt, fresh,

unhackneyed, specific rather than general. The spectators gathered in

the field must not be a vast concourse, but ten thousand persons.

Nor must it be about ten thousand. The about should be omitted. A

specific ten thousand persons present is much more effective and,

being a round number, is a sufficient indication that no actual count

has been made. In all cases where there is a choice between a specific

and a general term, the specific one should be used.



=174. Trite Phrases

Interest requires one also to seek originality of

expression, to avoid trite phrases and hackneyed words. Embalmed meats

and kyanized sentences are never good. Yet one of the most difficult

acquirements in reporting is the ability to find day after day a new way

to tell of some obscure person dying of pneumonia or heart disease. Only

reporters who have fought and overcome the arctic drowsiness of trite

phraseology know the difficulty of fighting on day after day, seeking a

new, a different way to tell the same old story of suicide or marriage

or theft or drowning. Yet one is no longer permitted to say that the

bridegroom wore the conventional black, or the bride was elegantly

gowned, or the bride's mother presided at the punch bowl, or the

assembled guests tripped the light fantastic. The reporter must find new

words for everything and must tell all with the same zest and the same

sparkling freshness of expression with which he wrote on his first day

in the news office.



=175. Figures of Speech

In his search for freshness, variety of

expression, the reporter often may avail himself of figures of speech.

These add suggestiveness to writing and increase its meaning by

interpretation in a figurative rather than a literal sense. To say,

"Oldfield flew round the bowl like a ruined soul on the rim of Hades,"

is more effective than "Oldfield ran his car round the course at a

110-mile rate of speed." But the writer must be careful not to mix his

figures, or he may easily make himself ridiculous. An apt illustration

of such mixing of figures is the following:



It seemed as if the governor were hurling his glove

into the teeth of the advancing wave that was

sounding the clarion call of equal suffrage.



In particular, one must not personify names of ships, cities, states,

and countries. Note, for example, the incongruity in the following:



Especially does the man of discriminating taste

appreciate her when he compares her with the

ordinary tubs sailing the Great Lakes.



=176. Elegance

Force also requires that one heed what may sometimes

seem trivialities of good usage. For instance, a minister may not be

referred to as Rev. Anderson, but as the Rev. Mr. Anderson. Coinage

of titles, too, is not permitted: as Railway Inspector Brown for John

Brown, a railway inspector. And the overused "editorial we" has now

passed entirely from the news article. In an unsigned story, even the

pronoun I should not be used, nor such circumlocutions as the

writer, the reporter, or the correspondent. In a signed story,

however, the pronoun I is used somewhat freely, while such stilted

phrases as the scribe, your humble servant, etc., are absolutely

taboo.



=177. Slang

Finally, mention must be made of slang, the uncouth

relative in every respectable household. It is used freely on the

sporting page, but is barred from other columns, its debarment being due

to its lack of elegance and clearness. On the sporting page slang has

been accepted because there one is writing to a narrow circle of

masculine Goths who understand the patois of the gridiron, the diamond,

and the padded ropes and prefer it to the language of civilization. But

such diction is always limited in its range of acquaintances and

followers. A current bit of slang in Memphis may be unintelligible in

Pittsburg. A colloquial ephemeralism in a city may be undecipherable in

the country districts twenty-five miles away. A large percentage of the

athletic jargon of the sporting club and field is enigmatical to the

uninitiated. And since a newspaper man writes for the world at large

rather than for any specific class or group, he cannot afford to take

chances on muddying his sentences by the use of slang. The best test of

a good journalist is the instinct for writing for heterogeneous masses

of people. That word is not a good one which is clear only to select

readers, whether select in ignorance or select in intelligence. The news

story permits no such selection. It is written, not for the few, not for

the many as distinct from the few, but for all. No other kind of reading

matter is so cosmopolitan in its freedom from class or provincial

limitations as is the news story, and none is more unwavering in its

elimination of slang. Newly coined words, it is true, are admitted more

readily into news stories than into magazine articles, but slang itself

is barred. One may not write of the "glad rags" of the debutante, or the

"bagging" of the criminal, or the "swiping" of the messenger boy's

"bike." One may not even employ such colloquialisms as "enthuse,"

"swell" (delightful), "bunch" (group). But one may use such new coinages

as burglarize, home-run, and diner rather freely. When in doubt

about the reputability of a word, however, one should consult a standard

dictionary, which should be kept continually on one's desk.





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