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Grumpy old guy

Grumble, grumble:

A reporter on National Public Radio referred this morning to Iraq as the war-torn nation. Is there anyone with a radio in the United States who is unaware that there is a war in Iraq?

Why have newspaper reporters seized on in the wake of in the sense of after or because? Do they all aspire to own yachts? Or does it just contribute to some desired effect of pomposity? It is the wake of a larger boat that causes a smaller one difficulty. So is using in the wake of a sneaky way of suggesting cause and effect without establishing the circumstances as such?

In the wake of is one of those metaphors worn so smooth by overuse that they have lost their original impact and blurred their meaning. Free rein is another, which explains why it so frequently turns up in copy as free reign.

One of our reporters used the “X is not alone” transition for today’s editions, and it slipped past the copy desk. You know the device, because you have seen it a thousand times. An article begins with description of some person’s situation that is representative of a larger issue. Then “X is not alone,” followed by the description of the larger issue. This device has become such a cliche that omitting the “X is not alone” sentence makes absolutely no difference.

Well, it sometimes does to the writer. Another Sun reporter once complained that the copy desk had deleted the “X is not alone” sentence from an article. I explained that the device was a cliche that we had been trying to eliminate from the paper for a decade. The writer’s response: “It’s not a cliche when I use it.” 

Another article in this morning’s paper described a woman who had lived with an older man (and who is a suspect in his death) as the man’s one-time paramour.

Paramour? What’s today, 1935?

Also, it’s supposed to rain this afternoon and then turn cold. Feh.

Posted by John McIntyre at 12:15 PM | | Comments (6)


"War-torn" used to show up in wire copy on anything to do with what was once Yugoslavia. Wire services also liked to mention the "self-styled" parliament there. Is our Congress self-styled?

I always thought War-torn was a city in Lebanon.

"Grumpy old guy" or "Grumpy, old guy"? Aw, never mind. I'm tired and old and grumpy.

"In the wake of," which seemed to be under control, appears to have made a resurgence after Sept. 11, 2001. I suspect it was because writers thought of it has having a funereal tone, thus misunderstanding the origins. As for me, I have declared my classroom and our newsroom a "wake-free zone."

I also see "reigned in" all the time on the Net. I think people have forgotten that there were these animals called "horses" which were used for transportation, and were guided by means of leather straps called "reins".

But I don't share your distaste for "paramour". So what that it's fallen into some disuse? I think it's an elegant old word, and I will try to use it more myself.

Clinton is not yet gone and I'm sorry. Possibly he remains too much with us because he has no shame; also, one lesson he hasn't learned in his relentless social climb is knowing when to leave. Neither it would seem, has his odious wife. (I'm a New Yorker - that my Senators are Schumer and Clinton are more embarassing than I can tell in this brief space.)But I digress: Clinton was a dreadful president. He was and remains completely unprincipled, politically and morally. Other presidents have had their flaws but have otherwise managed to stagger through 4-8 years without doing as much damage. No one-private citizen or reporter- has any right or reason to expect a man completely without stain or blemish. Until voters are perfect creatures, our candidates won't be either.

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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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