« The errant hand | Main | Unheard melodies are sweeter »

Mama, that man talks funny

One of the things that may well have driven younger readers from newspapers is the stilted and artificial language that clutters so many news stories. Bruce DeSilva of the Associated Press parodies these conventions in a Facebook post, “If real people spoke the way the typical journalist writes,” about plans for a family vacation.

In a series of informational meetings convened to introduce the proposal, I met with varying responses. The matter sparked an optimistic reaction in Ted, 7, who offered me a vote of confidence and pledged his support. I met behind closed doors with Kristin, 9, who took the matter under advisement and promised to keep an open mind. Bruce, 17, who was recently remanded to a juvenile facility for his drug-related activities, could not be reached for comment.

Another well-known writing coach, Paula LaRocque, is the author of a similar parody of news jargon.

It is a hard habit to break, but newspaper reporters and editors have been struggling in recent years to achieve a more conversational style.

My estimable colleague Bill Walsh comments on Mr. DeSilva’s post, “Funny, yes, but imagine if journalists wrote as real people speak.”

One can: “Uh, like, these dudes, back in the day, like, you know, old guys, got together to get out from under this other dude that was hassling them. …”

Not quite Mr. Lincoln’s cadences there.

What we are looking for in that conversational language is a middle style, neither formal and excessively abstract, nor slangy and colloquial — not pompous, but not vulgar. It would be the language of an educated person speaking directly to you about a subject of common interest.

It’s not as easy as it sounds.



Posted by John McIntyre at 5:42 PM | | Comments (2)


I expect The Onion will soon enter talks to buy a newspaper company just to keep afloat its own business model of satirizing such conventions.


I thought you and your loyal readers would get a kick from this video by Thomas F. Wilson:

Post a comment

(If you haven't left a comment here before, you may need to be approved by the site owner before your comment will appear. Until then, it won't appear on the entry. Thanks for waiting.)

Verification (needed to reduce spam):

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
Baltimore Sun Facebook page

Most Recent Comments
Sign up for FREE local news alerts
Get free Sun alerts sent to your mobile phone.*
Get free Baltimore Sun mobile alerts
Sign up for local news text alerts

Returning user? Update preferences.
Sign up for more Sun text alerts
*Standard message and data rates apply. Click here for Frequently Asked Questions.
Stay connected