Journalese

A timely article by The Economist on that most-strange of English variants; the Journalist Speak.

The author talks about how fluent speakers of English can still be confused by the English found in mainstream newspapers and news sites. Definitely worth a ponder.

Everyday I come across headlines in the web that just can’t be made sense of. Yesterday the BBC had ‘Hammer Mother Murder Jailed’ or some equal such nonsense. Today I find ‘Millionaire Riot Student Guilty’!!

I often joke on Twitter about these headlines, i.e. What’s a Millionaire Riot, or what’s a Riot Student? But it takes someone not used to this format some considerable effort to parse these sentences. Brevity becomes an Achilles Heel here, especially as English has a lot of  natural ambiguity in terms of its adverbs.

As most people know, there is a formula for writing press articles called, I think, the Triangle approach. The headline at the top sums up the entire story as best possible, the next paragraph or two gives broader details, and the remainder of the article covers all the detail available at the bottom.

This style of constructing a news piece gives a casual reader / browser the opportunity to decide quickly whether they want to engage in the whole piece, and it is this more than anything else in my opinion that has led to our familiar browsing styles, which have carried on from print journalism to online reading.

It also helps us retain a familiarity with a chosen newspaper or news site; one as distinctive as editorial slant.

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