Boffin lifts the lid on journalese: A new book puts spotlight on newspaper tricks and a raft of red-faced clichés
John Rentoul is chief political commentator for The Independent on Sunday, and visiting professor at Queen Mary, University of London, where he teaches contemporary history. Previously he was chief leader writer for The Independent. He has written a biography of Tony Blair, whom he admired more at the end of his time in office than he did at the beginning.
Sunday 01 September 2013
The world of journalism was rocked to its foundations last night as a top newsman claimed to have discovered the secret of "journalese".
Amid chaotic scenes, a press bigwig launched a foul-mouthed tirade at this effort to expose the secret language used by highly trained professionals to make their stories sound more exciting. A raft of top-level crisis talks were set to take place today behind closed doors in an 11th-hour bid to defuse this calculated snub.
The Independent on Sunday has learnt that Bloomberg political reporter Robert Hutton's book, Romps, Tots and Boffins, is published this month by Elliott & Thompson. This newspaper understands from senior sources close to the publisher's publicity department that the book contains a guide to those words never used in normal life, such as "floral tributes" and "TV funnyman".
A well-placed source, speaking on condition of anonymity, said: "How are we expected to do our jobs if Mr Hutton is allowed to go around explaining that the SAS is always on standby and never denies stories about it?" Another said: "This could be the end of civilisation as we know it. Or it could be a storm in a teacup. Only time will tell."
Acolytes Supporters of someone with whom we disagree
Arcane Rules ones we can't be bothered to explain
Bed What love rats and lotharios do to their conquests
Boffin Anyone with a job at a university, a science GCSE, or a lab coat
Bonk Casual sexual relations
Booze-fuelled rampage What vile thugs go on, to the dismay of revellers
Bubbly How friends described the victim. She may also have "loved life"
Budding Someone under 20 who's good at something
Calculated snub The worst kind of snub
Champagne lifestyle Typically, what someone "plundered bank accounts to fund"
Draconian The Government is proposing something with which we disagree
Foul-mouthed tirade Someone has said a Bad Word. This event is always "extraordinary" or "astonishing" to newspapers, whose staff are well known for their delicate sensibilities
Innocent bystanders The people who look on in horror when bad things happen. If injured themselves, they become "innocent victims", to distinguish them from the victims who pretty much had it coming
Jekyll and Hyde character No one predicted he'd go on a killing spree. Probably because neighbours described him as a "loner" who "kept himself to himself"
Love rat One who has "two-timed" a partner. Almost always a man. If he's a celebrity, his exploits should be recounted with a slight air of admiration, and he should be described near the start as a "bad boy". Also used of adulterous politicians and men on welfare who've fathered six children by five women. If writing about a woman, try "marriage wrecker".
Raft The standard unit of "measures". Under the imperial system, a "cocktail of measures" is an eighth the size of a raft. A "whole raft of measures" is a raft plus a cocktail
Rapped In March 2013, several outlets including the BBC offered the headline: "Police chief rapped over Hillsborough", conjuring the image of some kind of appalling duet with Jay-Z
Red-faced What council chiefs usually are after a "humiliating U-turn" over parking charges
Rushed The only way anyone gets to hospital, typically after ambulances raced to the scene
Sex session One or more bonks
To put it another way (newspaper euphemisms)
Bon viveur Drunk
Confirmed bachelor He's gay
Flamboyant He's gay
Fun-loving She put herself about a bit
He never married He was gay
Well turned out He's gay
All definitions taken from Robert Hutton's Romps, Tots and Boffins, published this month
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