Festivus for news pros

By Joe Diorio

The editorial page of the San Gabriel Valley Tribune in Monrovia, California on January 4 carried a headline reading “2022 brings a slew of new state laws.” I don’t know if Vince DeFruscio is a reader of the San Gabriel Valley Tribune. He probably isn’t, since he lives in Philadelphia, but I am sure his skin would crawl if he saw that headline.

DeFruscio is an executive producer with Fox 29 News in Philadelphia. Earlier this year he posted a query on his Facebook page, asking his followers to nominate overused words in the news business.

“I used to think it was ‘iconic,’ but now I think ‘slew’ is the most overused word in TV news,” he wrote. His musing produced a slew of responses.

“Brazen has to be pretty high up there,” one friend boldly and without shame wrote (see what I did there?).

Writing under deadline can generate a considerable amount of common and even repetitive language and terminology. When it is 3:30 p.m. and you are writing a TV news script for a 4 p.m. broadcast you may need more than one way to describe a highway car accident, house fire, or a situation of someone being robbed. So, knowing that writing for TV news ain’t the easiest thing to do (yes, ain’t is a word; don’t “@” me, people) I offer a sampling of the comments DeFruscio’s post generated.

  • “No more ‘black smoke billowing,’ and there’s no reason to write ‘completely destroyed.’” If it is destroyed, it IS completely destroyed.”
  • “I hate ‘rash.’ A ‘rash’ of carjackings …” Besides being a skin condition (noun), rash is used here as an adjective. In that form its definition is something proceeding a lack of careful consideration. But in the complainant’s comments they are talking numerous instances of a crime. So, in this case, not only is it overused, its brazenly wrong.
  • “How about ‘a flight into fear!’ and ‘pack your patience’.” There is a Cape Fear in North Carolina, but I have no idea how to fit patience into a carry-on bag.
  • “Something increases your chances of dying. Welp, last I heard it’s a 100% guarantee none of us gets out of this world alive.”
  • “I punch myself in the face for ‘shots rang out’.”
  • “Very unique.”
  • “Shocking,” “efforting” (that’s verbing a noun), and “a violent attack.”
  • “Negotiators have reached a STUMBLING BLOCK. Ok, go to Home Depot and ask for a stumbling block and see what they bring out.”
  • “If I have to hear another script begin with, “It wasn’t your typical {day of week} …”
  • “Arson fire” (straight out of the department of redundancy department).
  • And the one that makes my skin crawl, “facility.”

DeFruscio promises to circulate his list to every news professional he knows. It should last until it’s time for politicians to take the gloves off.

Wordle? I think not.

Despite having a street rep as a word person, I have not played Wordle. To be brazenly honest (sorry, couldn’t resist that one) I don’t plan to, either.

For anyone wondering why those green and yellow blocks keep showing up in our social media news feeds, Wordle is an online game that launched in October. Players must guess what a five-letter word is. The challenge is to get the word right in as few moves as possible. Once finished playing, you can post your results to social media. About two million persons worldwide play Wordle every day.

According to social psychologist Matt Baldwin, a University of Florida professor, Wordle catches our fancy for several basic reasons; it gives us a daily “aha” moment, even if we get the word wrong; it suits our need for control in a pandemic-fixated world; it provides a sense of community; and it (sorta) isn’t addictive since you can only play once a day.

My own lack of interest is on two levels. One, I don’t play puzzle games. I used to try my hand at crossword puzzles, but I would leave them feeling more annoyed than satisfied. (“How the heck many times can you use ‘epee’ as a word!”). Also, Wordle reminds me of Wheel of Fortune on TV and I stink at that game, too. But Wordle isn’t going anywhere. On January 31 The New York Times purchased the online game for a price somewhere “in the low seven figures,” according to a story in The Washington Post. The Times looks for Wordle to help strengthen its online presence, since fewer and fewer of us are buying a print copy of the daily newspaper.

Joe Diorio is a writer from Nashville, Tennessee. He is the author of A Few Words About Words. A common-sense guide to writing and grammar, which is available wherever fine books are sold.

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