Dylan Jones: Words that don't work

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The Independent Online

The New Yorker is guilty of many things, among them being the production of some of the best long-form journalism money can buy. Whether it's the editor David Remnick's extraordinary recent profile of Bill Clinton, a Middle East polemic from Seymour Hersh or a 15,000-word essay on the semiotics of the patent leather shoe (or coughing, the mouse mat, the colour mauve, parmesan etc), it's always good and it's always long. It also publishes the best cartoons, three of which have been on my office pinboard for years.

The first one features two guys in a bar (New Yorker cartoons always feature guys in bars); one says to the other: "Basically I like to keep the coffee buzz going until the martini buzz kicks in." The second shows a man behind his desk trying to find a lunch slot for the person on the other end of the phone: "How about never?" he says. The third shows a couple walking along a deserted, quite possibly windswept beach, with the woman saying to her friend: "I do think your problems are serious, Richard. They're just not very interesting."

But, like many American titles, it has a habit of occasionally picking up a word that doesn't really work over here, a word that - because of its incongruity - you tend to notice more and more. The first time I spotted this was in Time Out New York, with "tony". At first, I thought it was a reference to an Anthony who pretentiously spelt his name with a lower case t. Then I thought it was a typo (although I couldn't understand why Calvin Klein would be unveiling a "tiny" store on Madison Avenue). But in New York, "tony" means smart, top-dollar, swanky. It has even been used by overexcited hacks in the UK, but here it's pretentious and annoying, and I think it's finally been dropped by anyone with any sense.

However, there is a new culprit on the block: "parsing", which I've seen recently in The New York Times and The Los Angeles Times as well as New York magazine. But it was only when I read it in The New Yorker that I began to take notice of it. As I'm sure every Independent reader remembers, it's from "parse": "To break a sentence down into parts, explaining the grammatical form, function and interrelation of each part, [or] to describe the form, part of speech and function of a word in a sentence" (Webster's). It's now used instead of "explaining", "decoding" or "understanding". But I'm also fairly sure you never use the word in everyday language.

Its appearance has turned me into something of a Columbo, and I've begun scouring British newspapers for any sign of weakness in our home-grown subeditors. And, while I realise it's unlikely to rear its ugly head in the Daily Star, it might very well creep up behind an overworked night editor on one of the broadsheets and slip quietly into print.

And if it does, I shall be very unforgiving.

Dylan Jones is the editor of GQ

d.jones@independent.co.uk

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