Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Journalism's Overused Terms

I've noticed a few terms that journalists seem to be excessively fond of using lately.

They are:
panacea
perfect storm
anathema
chutzpah

Sometimes journalists overuse terms just as kind of a personal quirk. In that sense they are no different from the rest of us. (I once saw a weather report where the forecaster used the phrase "rough go of it" literally a dozen times in a three minute forecast.) However, these terms seem to me to have been used to exhaustion (my exhaustion anyway). It seems like it is similar to other problems that journalists have had in the past, like exaggerating the story by using words with more impact (massacre, bloodbath, etc.) in an attempt to capture interest.
Part of my problem with these particular words is that they have a tendency to be not precisely understood by readers, if not even by the writers. This is in fact partially a result of the overuse - writers (intentionally or not) find places to use the word where it doesn't quite communicate the idea at hand. In other words, the very overuse of the terms hinders a reader with limited vocabulary, like me, to figure out what the words mean from context.
Maybe I shouldn't pick on journalists. Some similarly overused and under-understood examples in the business world come to mind (e.g. audacious, organic growth). Journalists just happen to be on my mind.
Does anyone else get the same feeling about these (or other) terms?

6 comments:

Julie C said...

I might be watching a different news channel than you. While I haven't noticed those words specifically, I definitely notice a trend to use the most provocative or shocking word available, even if the event being reported isn't really that big a deal. When you go to that much effort to make every news story interesting, they start boring me because they all sound the same.

I do definitely notice words at work that get overused a lot (besides swearing). We have a term called a "gap" - which has no good definition because it is used for at least 5 different terms even within the 5 people in my group.

But we are probably not guilt free in abusing words - remember when certain terms become popular, such as "like"; "cool", "tight", "sweet", etc.?

Nick said...

I was going to write something like this. I read lots of political news, and I'm amazed at how often the words "blasts" and "touts" appear in article headlines.

Examples:
"Pelosi blasts Bush war plan"
"Bush touts medicare reform bill"

Can they think of no other word besides "tout" to convey a sense of advocacy of an idea or a program? Do they not know the words [1]acclaim, boost, herald, laud, plug, praise, proclaim, promote, publicize, push, show off, trumpet?

Is "blasts" the only way to express opposition? What about Criticizes? attacks? Clobbers? Flays? Lambastes? Lash out? Rails? Shellacs?

[1]. Many thanks to thesaurus.com for alternate words

Cabeza said...

I have certainly noticed the terms that both Nick and Jon mentioned. And I agree with both of your points. Journalists need to invest in 1) thesauruses (thesauri?) and 2) a greater interest and awareness of the vocabulary of the general population.

JonnyF said...

Another overused term: snafu.

erin said...

I definitely see too much of snafu.


How about ubiquitus...oooh, how do you spell that? ubiquitous. I read a book recently that used that word so often that...well, that the word became ubiquitous...and annoying. No work, however long, should use the word more than twice, I think (said decisively). And I have, in this short paragraph, used it thrice.

Dan OB said...

julie c said...
"I do definitely notice words at work that get overused a lot"

I'm sorry, Julie, but I believe "a lot" is one of the most overused terms by journalists. It's an indefinite term, another example of sloppy or inacurrate reporting. A lot of "a lots" is too much.