Tuesday, June 21, 2005

A Loss For Words

There are approximately 290,000 words in the Oxford English Dictionary (2nd edition). Yet despite some increased interest in the National Spelling Bee, we as a culture are not all that interested in adding to the vocabulary we already know. We stick with what works, and that goes for journalists as well. This makes sense since they're seeking to reach a wide audience, so they put things in the most basic and understandable terms possible. They're not going to throw in an epuration when it could drive away readers to some information sources less taxing to their brains. So though I understand the essence of this, I still wish they would vary their word choices a little more.

I did a Google News search covering the entire month of May searching only the headlines of American news sources for several separate keywords. Here are the results:

"Slams" - 302 results

This word does have some natural uses in terms of the subject matter. Baseball stories have batters who slam homeruns, and accident reports have cars that slam into each other. Mostly, however, It's famous people who slam news stories, official reports or accusations from other people. The IMDb news services are particularly guilty of this. In one sense, it allows the actions of overexposed celebrities and slick politicians seem more exciting than they really are.

"Blasts" - 454 results

We get some of the same stuff here. Blasts is understandably used in sports stories and, unfortunately, in the descriptions of explosions in Iraq. But then we also have China blasting the European Union, Pat Tillman's family blasting an Army report, and Tom Delay blasting a Law & Order: Criminal Intent episode (really, get a life, Tom). I don't know. It just seems to me these overused words that can be retired. Break out your Thesauruses, for crying out loud! How about a "castigate", "clobber" or "criticize"? Try out a "lambast" or "lash", just for a goof. If the people are acting really childish, bring out a "drubbing" for a descriptive flourish. And if you're feeling really quirky, then try on a "shellac" for size!

There is one more overused term that doesn't denote violent action. In fact, it's intention is the opposite:

"Shrugs" - 145 results

Although this term is not monopolized by the White House in news stories, it is most commonly found paired with George Bush or one of his senior staff. It is a gesture that immediately communicates to people, "Like I'm supposed to give a sh*t". In this, I cannot really ... ahem ... castigate the press too badly. You can change your terminology, but you can't your reality.

An amusing side note: the folks at Wordsmith.org have a word-of-the-day feature for people wanting to expand their vocabulary. Their word for today? Dissemble. Never let it be said that these folks don't read the papers.

(This can also be viewed at Blogcritics)

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