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Objet rechauffe

The "Speak English, please" posting, which suggested that the term objet naif in a newspaper story was a little recherche, even de trop, drew a quick reply from a reader.

"’Naif’ appears in standard English dictionaries as a variant of naive and can thus hardly be considered ‘baffling.’ People with limited vocabularies should consult a dictionary instead of expecting everyone else to dumb down their prose."

Don’t expect a volte-face from this quarter anytime soon. The article in question, in addition to using an obscure term, delayed for six paragraphs the information that the objet in question was a piece of pottery made by a child.

Journalism aims for clarity, not obscurity. The aim of the newspaper headline is to attract the reader’s attention in a coup d’oeil. The aim of the newspaper article is to present a subject in language as widely understood as possible. Achieving a succes d’estime with newspaper writing requires more than a bricolage of terms and details that are likely to be unfamiliar, sans explanation or adequate context, to a significant number of potential readers.

If your limited vocabulary drives you to a dictionary, you should find the italicized Gallicisms therein, treated as having been naturalized in English. Whether that means that they are good choices for a general-circulation newspaper is a question of judgment.

Honi soit qui mal y pense.

Posted by John McIntyre at 4:39 PM | | Comments (1)



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About John McIntyre
John McIntyre, mild-mannered editor for a great metropolitan newspaper, has fussed over writers’ work, to sporadic expressions of gratitude, for thirty years. He is The Sun’s night content production manager and former head of its copy desk. He also teaches editing at Loyola University Maryland. A former president of the American Copy Editors Society, a native of Kentucky, a graduate of Michigan State and Syracuse, and a moderate prescriptivist, he writes about language, journalism, and arbitrarily chosen topics. If you are inspired by a spirit of contradiction, comment on the posts or write to him at
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