16 January 2014, The Tablet

Mad about the word

The Language Game

When I used to train young reporters to write news stories, I advised them to employ “language such as men do use”, in Ben Jonson’s famous formula. Headlines, though, are different.There, special words are used by subeditors, because of the challenge of summarising complex narratives in as few characters as possible. So a headline will talk about a “bid”, meaning an attempt; a “rap”, meaning a rebuke; a “probe”, meaning an investigation; a “dash” – sometimes a “mercy dash” – meaning something urgent; a “plunge”, meaning any kind of fall; a “quiz”, meaning an inquiry; and, more recently, the American “scam”, meaning a ­swindle. Few human beings use those in spee
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