Gnats, swarms of gnats
Forget, for a moment, the major irritations of journalism, the search for auguries in shaky polling results, the stories about Tom Cruise, the speculations about Katie Couric’s gravitas, or lack of it. You can dodge those — the headlines will tip you off. It’s the multitude of irritating little lapses or excesses that accumulate and fatigue you, like grit in your shoe. They are everywhere, and they are of many kinds.
The poorly understood
We keep using the word burgeoning to describe development that is overwhelming the countryside like kudzu. But to burgeon means to sprout or put out buds. Yes, it indicates growth, but properly the early stages.
The flat-out wrong
President Bush, in his speech on the anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, said, "If we yield Iraq to men like bin Laden, our enemies will be emboldened. They will gain a new safe haven, and they will use Iraq's resources to fuel their extremist movement."
The annoying pleonasm safe haven has apparently rooted itself in public discourse, but it is nonsense. A haven by definition is a safe place. The expression is probably a mistake for safe harbor; anchorages can be secure or exposed. Safe haven has been repeated so often as to have become a kind of noise that does not lead people to associate the words with much in the way of meaning.
We also take note of a staff story explaining that a judicial decision will receive close scrutiny and another with a reference to an armed gunman.
In The Sun in recent days you could have read about war-torn Lebanon, war-torn Darfur, war-torn Iraq, and even war-torn Europe (in a reference to the Marshall Plan). Prefabricated phrases, stock expressions and standing epithets multiply like zebra mussels in the Great Lakes.
Journalese and headlinese
If you are mulling anything other than wine, or decrying some development in public life, or eyeing some phenomenon, you live in that curious parallel universe that exists in the pages of newspapers. People there speak and write in ways that no one else does or ever would.
Pick your own
Surely there are further examples of the gnats that you vainly try to brush away from your face when you read the paper or watch a news broadcast. Care to share any of them?
Corrections and amplifications
A reader at a desk not far from mine saw the references to Italian pronunciation in the posting "You said it" and pointed out that Guido is not the Italian form of William. That's Guglielmo. Guido is the Italian equivalent of the English Guy.
A colleague from the American Copy Editors Society wrote to point out that in the same posting my errant hand neglected to put the second t in Dashiell Hammett’s surname.