Thursday, March 27, 2008

Press chimps word drool blog post sneer

There’s a pretty well-defined set of ‘punchy’ monosyllabic nouns that often appear in newspaper headlines. The grammar of headlines means that these tend to be used in conjunction with each other, and their clich├ęd nature means that you tend not to see them in non-media contexts.

You can combine these words in more or less any permutation, and add new ones to convey new developments, in a kind of prefab mechanical substitute for actual writing. Thus:

Gaffe quiz row
A minister has said something that attracted more than the usual level of criticism. Opposition MPs have asked the minister why he said it. The minister has replied that these questions were inappropriate.

Gaffe quiz row probe bid
Somebody of any or no significance has proposed an inquiry into the matter.

Gaffe quiz row probe bid boost
Somebody of slightly more significance has agreed.

Gaffe quiz row probe bid boost snub clash pledge
The Prime Minister has ruled out an inquiry; the Leader of the Opposition has argued that this is a bad decision, and said that he will hold an inquiry if he wins the next election.

Gaffe quiz row probe bid boost snub clash pledge plea storm
The minister has requested that people do something called ‘focusing’ on something called ‘the real issues’; assorted newspaper pundits, probably including the one writing this piece, have disagreed with his analysis.

Gaffe quiz row probe bid boost snub clash pledge plea storm shock
Ditto, but it’s interesting. Why not read on? Please?

One could add ‘surge’, ‘blow’, ‘slump’, ‘hope’, ‘fear’ and others. And there’s a similar set of verbs – ‘axe’, ‘spark’, ‘oust’, ‘brand’, ‘slam’ – but already I feel dirty. Need to go and wash my keyboard out with bleach…

2 comments:

Tom said...

Michael Frayn's very funny novel The Tin Men (1960s-ish) describes the development of a computer programme to do exactly this - and to write the stories.

Ole Phat Stu said...

Willy Brandt used to talk like that! And because here in Germany we tend to put the verbs at the end of the sentence, he could (and did) adjust the meaning by adding more modifier-verbs after the main one :-)

Let me say that again Willy-style:-

Because here in Germany we the verbs at the end of the sentence to put tend, he the meaning by more modifier-verbs after the main one adjust adding could did ;-)