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TORY MP David Ashby wept when his libel action against the Sunday Times collapsed, according to all the reports. This was clearly an important aspect of the case, always placed high up in the story. Journalists who neglect such matters are failing the reading public. The same applies to cameramen at interviews with the bereaved, where they must be ready to zoom in at the first glistening of a tear.

A couple of reporters - I forget in which newspapers - decided that wept was too conventional and substituted cried. It used to be said that only children were supposed to cry. The grown-ups were the ones who wept. There was nothing undignified about weeping: even the angels, if more than usually provoked, did it. Whoever heard of an angel snivelling? It would be inconceivable. But you can see why those reporters saw the word as a notch up on wept. It gave Mr Ashby - and indeed his wife, who was also said to have cried - an extra vulnerability. The converse applies. A weeping child stirs the heart more readily than a crying one. It suggests that the child may have something more grown-up than a cut knee to be miserable about.

Both words are venerable, but started from different places. Cry goes back to the Latin quiritare, to shriek, from queri, to complain. In English it meant kicking up any loud fuss and it was not until modern times that its tearful meaning got the upper hand. The Old English weep was rather different. It meant to lament, with or without noise or tears. They are much closer now. What mainly separates them, apart from the nuances I've mentioned, is that weep is more often written, cry more often said. Meanwhile, there are certain popular reporting conventions. ing is generally bitter; crying, I submit, is more likely to be unashamed.

Nicholas Bagnall