Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

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Journalese is an informal, often pejorative term for a style of writing and word choice found in many newspapers and magazines.

"In general," said Wilson Follett in Modern American Usage, "journalese is the tone of contrived excitement." William Zinnser calls it "the death of freshness in anybody's style" (On Writing Well, 2006).

See Examples and Observations below. Also see:

Examples and Observations

  • "What is 'journalese'? It's a quilt of instant words patched together out of other parts of speech. Adjectives are used as nouns ('greats,' 'notables'). Nouns are used as verbs ('to host'), or they are chopped off to form verbs ('enthuse,' 'emote'), or they are padded to form verbs ('beef up,' 'put teeth into'). This is a world where eminent people are 'famed' and their associates are 'staffers,' where the future is always 'upcoming' and someone is forever 'firing off' a note." (William Zinsser, On Writing Well, 7th ed. HarperCollins, 2006)
  • Clichés and Journalese
    "The cliché owes much to journalese. It is the language of the label and instant metaphor, drawing its inspiration from space-starved newspaper headlines:
    Every cub reporter knows that . . . fires rage out of control, minor mischief is perpetrated by Vandals (never Visigoths, Franks, or a single Vandal working alone) and key labor accords are hammered out by weary negotiators in marathon, round-the-clock bargaining sessions, thus narrowly averting threatened walkouts.
    (John Leo, "Journalese for the Lay Reader." Time, Mar. 18, 1985)
    Clichés and journalese are usually used when inspiration runs dry (!), especially as a deadline approaches." (Andrew Boyd et al. Broadcast Journalism: Techniques of Radio and Television News. Focal Press, 2008)
  • Word Choice and Journalese
    "[J]ournalists often fall into a sloppy style of generalities, clichés, jargon, and overwriting. This style even has a name: journalese. In the language of journalese, temperatures soar. Costs skyrocket. Fires rage and rivers rampage. Projects are kicked off. Opponents weigh in. Buildings are slated for demolition or perhaps they are tagged. In journalese, people get a go-ahead and projects get a green light.
    "Real people don't talk that way, so it's best to avoid such trite writing. This chapter advises using strong verbs and solid descriptions. Also remember that word choice should be both fresh and accurate." (Wayne R. Whitaker et al. Mediawriting: Print, Broadcast, and Public Relations. Taylor & Francis, 2009)
  • British Journalese
    "Where is everyone in a lab coat a 'boffin'? Where is 'bubbly' either 'guzzled' or 'glugged'? Where do 'drunken yobs' go on 'booze-fuelled rampages'? You know the answer: in Britain’s newspapers. Just under a year ago, a late-night comment on Twitter led me to become an accidental collector of 'journalese,' the language of reporters. It’s a world in which unnamed backbench MPs are always 'senior,' where any adjustment of policy is a 'humiliating U-turn.' Where the police 'launch probes,' presumably with Nasa’s help. Where two people who disagree 'clash,' typically after one of them has 'slammed' the other. . . .
    "I can tell you all the things that are wrong with journalese: it’s clichéd; lazy writing betrays lazy thought; good stories don’t need it; it’s a code." (Rob Hutton, "My 'Shameful Secret': I’ve Learnt to Love Clichéd Journalese." The Telegraph [UK], September 5, 2013
  • The Earliest Use of the Term
    "Journalese has been described with just about every imaginable negative adjective: from awful to zippy. It has been denounced from the earliest mentions of the term 'journalese.' A British columnist, 'The Lounger,' in the Nov. 15, 1890 issue of The Critic: A Weekly Review of Literature and the Arts, harrumphed: 'In literature as in travel Sir Richard Burton's work was the most single-handed. He wrote the worst style in the world--the vilest in an age of villainies: a compost of archaisms and neologisms, of slang and English that has faded out of life--an English that is only English to the adept in journalese.'" (Paul Dickson and Robert Skole, Journalese: A Dictionary for Deciphering the News. Marion Street Press, 2012)
  • Dreaming in Headlines and Bad Newspeak
    "When I finally slept, I dream in headlines and bad newspeak: Predawn fires . . . shark-infested waters . . . steamy tropical jungles . . . the solid South . . . mean streets and densely wooded areas populated by ever-present lone gunmen, fiery Cuban, deranged Vietnam veteran, Panamanian strongman, fugitive financier, bearded dictator, slain civil rights leader, grieving widow, struggling quarterback, cocaine kingpin, drug lord, troubled youth, embattled mayor, totally destroyed by, Miami-based, bullet-riddled, high-speed chase, uncertain futures, deepening political crises sparked by massive blasts, brutal murders--badly decomposed--benign neglect and blunt trauma.
    "I woke up, nursing a dull headache." (Edna Buchanan, (Edna Buchanan, ​Miami, It's Murder. Hyperion, 1994)
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Your Citation
Nordquist, Richard. "Journalese." ThoughtCo, Sep. 28, 2021, Nordquist, Richard. (2021, September 28). Journalese. Retrieved from Nordquist, Richard. "Journalese." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 7, 2023).