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Ah, journalism

An article appeared in The Sun earlier this week with an Evocative Ah lead.* You know the sort: Ah, summertime! Or Ah, ripe peaches! Or Ah, homicides! The Evocative Ah opening is so versatile that it can be used in any season, for any subject, and is equally meaningless for all of them.

The Evocative Ah is not alone. Writers of limited imagination draw on a store of stock leads — of which the “not alone” lead/transition is one of the more annoying. It can be safely deleted whenever it pops up.**

Some years ago, the estimable Dick Thien made a list of these brain-dead formulas, and the American Copy Editors Society maintains the list on its website. He has the “Webster’s defines” lead, the one-word lead, the faux-King-James-English lead, the “good-news-bad-news” lead (though he unaccountably omits the “best-of-times-worst-of-times” lead), the “welcome to” lead, and more.

My suggestion to you is to follow the link to Mr. Thien’s compilation, consider it carefully, recollect how often you have resorted to such hack writing, and vow to sin no more.


*Sorry. I didn’t clip it, and the recycling truck has already run today. Visualize.

**It was after I deleted this hoary device from a Sun article that the author complained to me, “It’s not a cliche when I use it.” I am not making this up, you know.



Posted by John McIntyre at 10:58 AM | | Comments (5)


On my list of deletable transitions: To be sure ...

I would add to Dick Thien's wonderful list what we used to call in Grand Rapids, Mich., "the pie that never was eaten" lead. This lead contains two or three paragraphs of day-in-the-life description until we reach the paragraph that begins "Sadly," or sometimes, "Ironically," and the shocking point of it all becomes clear: that pie left to cool is but a sad testament to the frailty of human existence.

I wonder how many of those I could get away with using in an academic paper?

The "He leaned back.." is probably the most difficult: "The Sprague-Dawley rat leaned back in its cage, thoughtfully chewing a pellet, knowing it had successfully negotiated the most difficult T-maze in its brief existence. "

Ah, to read and write english ! Assuming we can all speak the language.

The Internet will hopefully help to increase the use of the English language in this country.

On current evidence, I would say that English Language Advocate's wish is futile.

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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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