Back in harness, with some catching up to do.
I had an exchange with Jan Freeman of The Boston Globe about the words pompous and pretentious, which she holds to be used rather indiscriminately as terms of abuse. Here’s where you can find her column “Pomp and Circumstance”:
She is probably right, but discussing the matter with her compelled me to clarify my own thinking. To be "pompous" is to be self-important in a particular way: expressing possession of superior knowledge or status in a condescending manner. Pomposity in language tends toward inflating diction, flourishing obscure terms, insisting on more formal syntax and vocabulary than the occasion demands.
In journalism, it is typically the source, not the writer, who is pompous. The "intialialese" subheading in the "abbreviations" entry in Garner's Modern American Usage gets at this: Instead of using abbreviations "for the convenience of the reader by shortening names so that cumbersome phrases would not have to be repeated in their entirety," many writers "allow abbreviated terms to proliferate, and their prose quickly becomes a hybrid-English system of hieroglyphs. ... This kind of writing might be thought more scholarly than ordinary, straightforward prose. It isn't. Rather, it's tiresome and inconsiderate writing; it betrays the writer's thoughtlessness toward the reader and a puerile fascination with the insubstantial trappings of scholarship."
A minor example that I gave was the bureaucratic tendency to omit the definite article before the abbreviation for his or her agency — EPA has ruled rather than the EPA has ruled. It strikes me as displaying pomposity for this reason: Using language that is distinct from idiomatic, conversational English sets the speaker apart, and when the distinctive language is abstract and technical (scientific, medical, legal, bureaucratic), its use labels the speaker as a member of an elite. He is on the inside, he knows the lingo, and he condescends to reveal a little of the mystery to the gaping, slack-jawed outsider. It hints at importance greater than yours: I'm a busy man, I am too busy to waste time on definite articles, so I have adopted this clipped speech by which we insiders identify one another.
The reporter drawn into the gravitational pull of the sources argot is likelier to be demonstrating echolalia than pomposity. To merely mimic the language of the source is just lazy or careless.
If you would like a more memorable description of pomposity than anything I can deliver, take this passage from Randall Jarrell’s Pictures from an Institution:
“This earth carries aboard it many ordinary passengers; and it carries, also, a few very important ones. It is hard to know which people are, or were, or will be which. Great men may come to the door in carpet-slippers, their faces like kindly or fretful old dogs, and not even know that they are better than you; a friend meets you after fifteen years and the Nobel Prize, and he is sadder and fatter and all the flesh in his face has slumped an inch nearer the grave, but otherwise he is as of old. They are not very important people. On the other hand, the president of your bank, the Vice-Chancellor of the—no, not the Reich, but of the School of Agriculture of the University of Wyoming: these, and many Princes and Powers and Dominions, are very important people; the quality of their voices has changed, and they speak more distinctly from the mounds upon which they stand, making sure that their voices come down to you.”