This is the eighth post in a series in which we profile people’s passion projects and let them explain their work in their own words. Learn more and see a list of all the projects profiled here.
Veteran journalists Robert Skole and and Paul Dickson decided to put together a glossary of terms that appear in news reporting but that don’t match everyday speech. The result was a book — “Journalese: A Dictionary for Deciphering the News” — and a companion website. Skole answered our questions about how this all came together.
What is Journalese? How did it come about?
Journalese is the language of reporting the news, a language that is not used in everyday speech. A classic example: Toddler, to describe a little kid. When did you ever hear anyone say, “Oh, what a cute toddler!” There was a wonderful example in the top story headline of [a recent Food Section]: “Exciting eateries coming to town.” When did you ever say, “Lets have dinner at an eatery.” Paul Dickson and I — we worked together in the Washington bureau of Electronics magazine years ago — decided to put our long experience in reporting and editing into compiling the first dictionary of journalese, named, appropriately, “Journalese: A Dictionary for Deciphering the News.” We emphasize that we have nothing against journalese — hell, we have used it ourselves in our writing careers (estimated at some 125 years, combined). But what do the words and phases that are commonly used in journalese really mean? Who is the unidentified “informed source”? (A regular at the press club bar.) Who are the “observers” reporters always quote? (A taxi-driver.) How many are the many who often feel one way or another? (Two: the reporter and editor.) Who are those quoted as, “Some say…”? (One: the reporter.) Lawns are manicured. Jaws drop. Parking garages are hulking. Politicians are grilled. That is, when they are not trading barbs. Cops probe. Anyone older than the reporter’s father is aging, although everyone is aging. We provide the definitions to thousands (that’s journalese for 2,000 up to 999,000) of words and clichés that make up journalese. See: www.JournaleseDictionary.com.
Oh, yeah, Journalese has been around as long as people have been writing. We have a chapter, “Gospel Journalese,” that’ll smite you. Another chapter, “Plat du Journalese,” reveals what the food writers really mean by those precious words. (And here’s a plug for co-author Paul Dickson, who is working on his 75th book, of which a score or so are about words, slang, phrases and the classic, “Dickson Baseball Dictionary.”)
What version(s) of Bob does Journalese bring out? In other words, how does Journalese allow you to express yourself?
I have a wonderful time knocking (and sometimes praising) the media’s reporting. Some say (there we go!) that I’m too critical. Well, I do rap lousy, lazy, biased, slanted reporting, of which there is too damn much. Just check the adjectives and adverbs in so-called straight reporting. I have a special file for “Opinion in the guise of objective reporting.” The New York Times is a gold mine for that. But I hope that many (that means three) of my readers join me in a chuckle. Of course, our dictionary should be required reading for every journalism student in America and elsewhere. Students need a few laughs while they learn.
How have you fostered those versions of yourself with pop culture?
Pop culture? I’m so hip, I have learned to use Facebook for my “Journalese of the Day” examples. And I insert them in JournaleseDictionary.com. All those other hi-tech instruments of mass communication, like Twitter, podcasts, chatbot, Instagram, I’ll get to them one day.
If Journalese had a theme song, what would it be?
If Journalese had a theme song, it would be this, from the love song in “Guys and Dolls”:
What’s in the daily news?
I’ll tell you what’s in the daily news.
Story about a guy who bought his wife a small ruby
With what otherwise would have been his union dues.
That’s what’s in the daily news.
Well, you can’t beat that.