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JOURNALESE. A general, usually non-technical term for the way in which journalists write (and speak), or are thought to write (and speak). It is used both neutrally (referring to newspaper STYLE at large) and more often pejoratively (implying that such a style is stereotyped, vulgar, and inclined to debase the language). The Random House Dictionary (1987) defines journalese as: ‘(1) a manner of writing or speaking characterized by CLICHÉS, occasional NEOLOGISM, archness, sensationalizing adjectives, unusual or faulty syntax, etc., used by some journalists, esp. certain columnists, and regarded as typical journalistic style; (2) writing or expression in this manner: Get that journalese out of your copy!That word's not English—it's journalese.’

The characteristics of journalese arise from the nature of newspapers: ephemeral sheets of paper printed and published to strict deadlines, kept resolutely up-to-the-minute, and designed to attract and stimulate readers whose attention spans, for various reasons, are likely to be short. The profession and the public share a certain cynicism about how this is done:
The late Nicholas Tomalin, one of the Sunday Times's top reporters, named the three prime qualities for success some years ago. They were, he said, a ratlike cunning, a certain plausibility and a little literary ability. That's still true. I studied English and Drama at university. The drama techniques have probably been of far greater use (

Liz Gill

, ‘Journalese: The Inside Story’, English Today 11, July 1987).


Working to a deadline and rendering complex issues into reports of the right length and style produce their own structures, shortcuts, and standards of excellence. When a story is too long for the space available, it is cut, usually from the bottom up. Because of this and the need to get the main points quickly to the browsing reader, reporters pack these points into the first paragraphs. If there is a picture, then the story may be little more than a caption to that picture; when the story is unaccompanied, it stands or falls by its opening statement: the introduction or intro. The first sentence is often the most difficult to write. There is a technique known as the dropped intro, in which the key statement is delayed for several paragraphs and comes as a punch line, but the danger of delay is that many readers will not persevere far enough to enjoy it. More time can be spent on the intro than on any other part of the article.

Stock expressions

Stories also use colour: striking words or graphic details that attract interest, such as White-haired granny Mrs X was yesterday found savagely beaten … Such a style may be praised for its terseness or deplored because it is cliché-ridden and inelegant. It is, however, as deliberate in its own way and for its own purposes as Homer's use of phrases like grey-eyed Athene or cloud-gathering Zeus. It provides ways in which people can be recognized and pigeon-holed. The list of STOCK phrases includes: bored housewife, devout Catholic, distinguished surgeon, grieving widow. Comparably, especially in articles that strive for HUMOUR, words are used that relate to the characters or the occupations of the people concerned: when they face problems, teachers get caned, cooks are browned off, doctors might be sickened, butchers might be beefing about something, or giving it the chop.


Many clichés and hackneyed expressions derive from or are favoured in newspaper writing, especially in relation to groups that can be stereotyped: the ivory tower (for the academic world: often concrete and plate glass), the rat race (competitive business), the party faithful (for loyal workers and voters for a political party), mecca (for any location attracting a particular group, other than for religious purposes, as in fabulous, surfing mecca).

Events and actions can be dressed with emotive and romantic words that add colour and are easily slotted into a report: such nouns as burden, disaster, dream, fantasy, glamour, horror, nightmare, terror; such adjectives as amazing, bizarre, cataclysmic, devastating, heart-stopping, heart-warming, horrendous, moving, outrageous, scandalous, shattering, staggering. Close to such stock words are EUPHEMISMS like confirmed bachelor (a homosexual man), constant companion (a lover), fun-loving (of a woman: sexually free-and-easy), good-time girl, party girl (a prostitute). Certain syntactic forms also occur so regularly as to be clichés: amid mounting (Amid mounting calls for his resignation, X has decided to tough it out), appositional many (mothers, many with children in their arms), that was once (standing in the ruin that was once central Beirut).

Special uses of words

Because they must be concise and make an immediate impact, journalists often use words in novel ways: (1) CONVERSIONS. Nouns are often put to use as verbs. Many of the first recorded instances of such changes have occurred in newspapers, especially in the US: to interview, engineer, boom, boost, surge. (2) ATTRIBUTIVES. The use of nouns to qualify other nouns: death as in death car, death ride, death ship; top as in top politician, top referee, top team; rescue as in rescue worker, rescue party, rescue team. (3) REDUPLICATIONS. Such coinages often rhyme, lodge easily in the memory, and sometimes become catch-phrases: the jet set (the leisured class which travels frequently); the brain drain (exodus of academics), culture vulture (someone who indiscriminately ‘consumes’ culture). (4) ARCHAISMS. Because they are short or perceived as popular, certain archaic words survive in newspaper usage: agog, foe, hustings, scribe, slay. (5) NEOLOGISMS. Journalists employ a variety of nonce and stunt forms, some of which are accepted in the language at large: new-look, see-through, lookalike, lensman, weatherman, vocalist. (6) Kinds of MODIFICATION. Word combination often leads to strings of adjectives and attributive nouns, a style that began in Time magazine in the 1920s, with the aim of providing impact and ‘colour’. They may be relatively short (London-born disc jockey Ray Golding …) or long enough to become self-parodies, either pre-modifying a name (silver-haired, paunchy lothario, Francesco Tebaldi …) or post-modifying it (Zsa Zsa Gabor, seventyish, eight-times-married, Hungarian-born celebrity …).

Immediacy of style

(1) Short VERNACULAR words. Because of the need for conciseness and impact, journalists favour monosyllables and disyllables: poll for ‘election’; blast for ‘explosion’; jobless for ‘unemployed’; homeless for ‘destitute’. (2) Emotive and inflated expressions. The urge to promote excitement leads, especially in headlines, to such emotive and often inflated usage as: fever for ‘excitement’ (World Cup fever grips Barcelona); rage or fury for ‘anger’ (Fury over Poll Tax); stricken or crippled for ‘disabled’ (stricken tanker adrift in Med); glory for any sporting achievement (glory day for Tottenham); storm and row for ‘controversy’ (storm over price-hikes; Cabinet row over inflation). (3) Quasi-illiterate usages. For effect, some writers and publications, especially in Britain, favour eye dialect that suggests solidarity among philistines: gonna, loadsamoney, showbiz, whodunnit, dontcha, wanna, wotalotigot. (4) Innuendo. Especially in the tabloids, hints that are more or less explicitly muscular or sexual innuendo are often employed, especially as metaphors: firm, harden, spurt, spill over, selling climax. (5) Allusive punning. There appears to be a general increase in the use of a kind of punning allusion traditionally acceptable in US journalism but avoided in Britain: ‘TV or Not TV’ (The Times, 16 Oct. 1989); ‘Know Your Rites’, ‘Heirs and Graces’ (The Listener, 16 June 1988); ‘Drapes of things to come’, ‘A test of skull on the Thames’ (The Times, 26 July 1988).

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