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Journos are not Homer

At Johnson, Robert Lane Greene has made a heartfelt plea to the ladies and gentlemen of the press to cease referring to Rebekah Brooks, the disgraced former Murdoch executive as “flame-haired.” He links to a series of such citations.

Reuters went so far to call Brooks “the ferociously ambitious titian-haired executive,” which is pretentious as well as excessive.

I wrote some summers ago—no doubt colleagues in the press in the U.S. and Britain have forgotten it—that indulging in Homeric epithets is not advisable in daily journalism. The rhetorical term for this particular trope is periphrasis or antonomasia, the substitution of a descriptive term for a proper name or a proper name for a quality associated with it. It can be stagy and intrusive, and in this case it is also tiresome.

Pray heed Lane Greene.



Posted by John McIntyre at 3:39 PM | | Comments (18)


This bespectacled academic, known for his salt and pepper hair, agrees.

Aw: no Homeric epithets? Then how about skaldic kennings?

Hmm..... would the 'ginger-haired' Rebekah Brooks perhaps be a tad more palatable?*

The way things are going for these Rupert Murdoch minions, next thing the media will be referring to the fiery-haired Ms. Brooks as the Medusa-haired ex-News of the World editor-in-chief. She does have quite the compelling visage.

Sadly, one of those aforementioned (former) minions, was found deceased, today, in his home. He apparently knew far too much re/ the rampant phone hacking, and attendant law enforcement culpability swirling around this affair, and was a one-time early police informant. Suicide has not been completely ruled out.

This ongoing, tawdry scandal is getting curiouser, and curiouser by the day.

*Rumor has it that the relatively young and ambitious Murdoch favorite, Ms. Brooks, was part of a new London-based Red-headed League, apparently inspired by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmesian novel of the same name......... NOT!

Indeed, elementary my dear Watson.


Hair-color descriptions are generally limited to women, which is another reason to stamp out this habit.

True, Mary Ellen, unless the writer is describing a person of "hoary and wizened visage." Then you can bet dollars to donuts that the subject is a man, and come out ahead more often than not.

A man of hoary and wizened visage,

P.S. Actually, I'm not sure that betting dollars to donuts is such a disparate wager nowadays. Donuts are expensive!

Mary Ellen,

Respectfully, I would imagine the great rusty-haired veteran country crooner, Willie Nelson, might take slight umbrage w/ your claim that, "hair-color descriptions are generally limited to women".

Over the years he's come to be affectionately known by his music peers, friends, and many fans alike as the Red-headed Stranger, ever since the release of his popular 1975 eponymous-titled album. (Kind of fits his outlaw image, don't it?)

Today, Willie's pushing 80, and his lengthly reddish locks have taken on the salt & pepper coloration of age.*

Of course the incomparable country legend, Johnny Cash, was known as The Man in Black, although it was his predilection for wearing solid black duds that inspired the iconic moniker. Cash released a 1971 album titled, "Man In Black", rife w/ self-penned autobiographical material, and powerful protest ballads.

Johnny's characteristic sweeping shock of slick, thick jet black hair, nevertheless, was a major element of his performance persona. Whether in later years he ever dipped-the-switch, as they say, only his hairdresser, and his sweet wife, June Carter, knew for sure. HA!

Oh, and who could ever forget the prop-heavy standup comic, the frizzed out fiery-coifed, totally manic, Carrot Top? Hopefully most of us.

*@ Tim. I would think good old Willie Nelson would fit the category of "a man of hoary and wizened visage? Dollars to doobies. HA!


EIther way, it's time she had a wee trim. It currently resembles the BUrning Bush. She's too old for that mop.

She reminds me of Raggedy Ann.

C’mon, the English journos are in a feeding frenzy. It’s like bluefish trapping bait in a harbor cove and watching the water turn red. The only solace is that ol’ Rupe trained/encouraged the press to be that way and now they are turning on him.

As an American newspaper hack, I watch in awe – and laugh like hell – when I see the English go off like this after all the crap Americans take from England about being unpolished. “Titian-haired” had me cackling.

Sorry to be among the unwashed.

I was confused, however, by a Reuters story about News of the World and its atmosphere. One reporter took comfort in finding a “pet nutter” around.

What is a pet nutter?

Sorry to be dumb as well as unwashed.

A nutter is, in Swift's felicitous phrasing, someone who has given his wits an unlucky shake. I assume that a pet nutter is a crank who has been a reliable source.

I don't see how anyone could think you unpolished, Mr Callahan. You sound really, really sophisticated to me.

Jim Callahan,

"Titan-haired" Ms. Brooks, indeed. (Give me a break.)

Can 'Pre-Raphaelite-tressed' Ms. Brooks be that far behind?

Dante Gabriel Rossetti would be ever so titillated. The much maligned Ms. Brooks' flaming-red 'burning bush' (as our Patrica the T. put it) of a coif would surely have captured his keen aesthetic eye, if she had crossed his path over a century-and-a-half ago. Lady Lilith lives!

Rossetti's 1859 sensuous portrait of a pensive, wistful red-big-haired beauty of the day, "Bocca Baciata", is quite typical of his predilection for capturing in paint, charcoal, or conté crayon, various ginger-haired, pale, young women , seemingly caught up in the throes of some form of personal angst, or ecstasy.

Do red-heads have more fun?


P.S.: ---Thought both Murdoch the Elder and the Younger acquitted (hmm..... bad word choice, perhaps), themselves rather well in the face of their initial questioning by the special Parliamentary fact-finding committee this morning.

Old Rupert did appear genuinely contrite, and physically disarming, while son James, who had been often portrayed in the MSM as kind of a light-weight individual in matters of intellect and commerce, did field most of the queries, and seemed to have pretty fair recall of events and personalities; although some might argue it may have been kind of selective, at times vague recall. Young James did stutter and stammer a tad at times, but IMHO, did answer most of the questions in a straightforward, direct manner.

The fact that there are future criminal actions pending in this complex case did seem to color some of the responses from the Murdoch camp. A little hedging here and there.

The shocking assault-by-shaving cream of Murdoch senior close to the end of the Parliamentary committee hearing seemed to engender almost immediate sympathy for the beleaguered mogul. Even the Dow Jones Average shot up almost immediately after the attack.

Stay tuned.

Alex--think the pie was a plant designed to win sympathy?

And--forgive me--all the talk of red hair has reminded me of a certain television series' "Bozo the Bush" episode. (Running and hiding ...)

I agree, Alex, that the shaving cream stuff was disgusting, although that sort of stuff is difficult to avoid if you allow the public to get close to the political process.

As to Murdoch father and fils, I don't agree. I thought they were both unimpressive. Rupert may be speaking the truth about his feelings, but it comes too late when you look at the debased standards we've seen wherever his organisation has gained power.

And I would guess his corporate shareholders will not have been too happy with what we saw of his performance.

Given the ardor with which CNN has covered this,it seems that "debased standards" are not exclusive to the tabloids. But as the repulsive and narcissistic Miss ANthony is now in hiding with the Taliban. I suppose they must talk about something.

Certainly we've found that contagion causes a general decline, Patricia.

You have to admit, though, it is a very striking wig.


Your point is well taken re/ the rather mediocre deportment of Rupert Murdoch and "fils', James, at yesterday's Parliamentary committee inquiry.

I wasn't trying to imply that their testimony, or the giving thereof, was especially stellar, or revelatory. It was quite apparent that James was trying to protect his dad, (who seemed to be a bit mystified by the whole procedure), and he (James) managed to give the lion's share of the responses to the members' of Parliament queries.

Frankly, I still suspect they both knew, (and know), a lot more than they are currently owning up to, or letting on, about their News international/ News Corp. 'endemic' and shameful illegal phone-hacking practices, and the concomitant paying off of certain willing 'enablers' in London-based law-enforcement---The Yard and all.

Family patriarch, Murdoch, is clearly wounded, emotionally hurting, and yesterday showed visible signs of his advancing years. This ongoing, embarrassing scandal has greatly damaged both his reputation in media circles, and w/ stock holders in New Corp., and its ramifications must have fiscally undercut many of his major entities within his vast media empire.

But you know what they say about a cornered, wounded old warrior? Old battle-axes don't give up without a fight, even though some teeth may be missing, their armor may be showing signs of wear and tear, and they've been known to briefly nod off in Parliamentary quarters, on occasion. ZZZZZZZZZZZ.

Murdoch's much younger, and clearly feisty Chinese-American wife, Wendi, is definitely firmly in her husband's corner, showing her true mettle when she instantly sprang to his defense, and smacked that doofus foam-pie-assaulter toward the finale of yesterday's lengthly hearing. You go girl!

I can see it all now.

A new potential block-buster movie starring the action warrior, Wendi Murdoch, in the lead role, titled, "Hidden Dragon, Crouching Wendi". I smell another News Corp. success story brewing. Has to be some positives coming out of this muck, no?


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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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