Scribe spills beans on lingo

November 12, 1996|By Ernest F. Imhoff

EDITORS ARE KNOWN to tell reporters their weak stories are ''on life support.''

Reporters remind editors not to ''bury the story'' deep inside the paper, and editors tell reporters not to ''bury the lead,'' or most important stuff, half-way down the story.

Check out the lingo of a world where obituaries and police blotters are still staples.

Readers who complain that newspaper people love crime and bad news may be on to something. Or it may simply be that newspaper types like to play at cops and soldiers.

Photographers ''shoot'' pictures.

Editors and reporters arm themselves with ''bullets,'' marks like these, , that itemize a series of points. They use one-word ''slugs'' to identify stories.

They read their own unsold newspapers called ''deadheads.''

They try to make ''deadlines'' (if you miss them, you're dead).

Their newspaper libraries may be ''morgues'' where old clippings and back copies are kept (The Sun's is a library, of all things).

When an editor ''kills'' a story, you know what has happened. When the story dies, it just takes longer. When it's dead . . . you got it.

Layout editors try not to ''tombstone'' headlines, putting one-column stories side by side.

Makeup people ''bleed'' pictures when they run to the page edge, more a fancy magazine device.

A ''widow'' is a single word on a line ending a paragraph (all alone).

Reporters love words like ''attack,'' ''trigger,'' ''fight,'' ''battle'' and ''war'' when they're describing only politicians talking.

Some press battleground terminology has faded.

Stories written on paper, then killed, years ago were ''spiked'' -- impaled on spikes, which were common desk tools.

Important news issued in single paragraphs were called ''rockets.''

''Agony columns'' used to be personal classified-advertisement columns.

The composing room could be a fearful place, although the entire union membership of a union composing room is still called a ''chapel.'' The ''hellbox'' was a box where used lead type was thrown. ''Printers' devils'' were apprentice printers.

''Deadhorse'' was also a printer's term. If a plate or type came from another publisher, union printers in some shops demanded that it be reproduced.

Up with the lobsters

When you worked the ''graveyard shift,'' you were on the midnight-to-dawn patrol. It's also called the lobster shift, perhaps after fishermen's hours.

A ''screamer'' was a sensational headline.

A ''guillotine'' was an engraving-room machine that cut zinc engravings.

''Bang'' was short boilerplate type that could be used anytime.

There have been many other newspaper terms less ominous, but also direct.

''Bastard'' type is type that doesn't conform to standard sizes.

''Copy'' is a newspaper story. Since journalists have been known to borrow with abandon from each other, its possible origin may be obvious.

Most traditional newspaper ''stories,'' by the way, are not stories so much as ''reports'' where the news comes first and the narrative form is put in a shredder.

The ''bulldog'' is the first edition, especially of the Sunday paper printed way ahead of other editions and sold on Saturdays. In long gone days, the ''bullpup'' was the first mailed edition. Explanations for its origin vary.

By the way, a ''dingbat,'' which some critics call any news person, is also a graphic ornament to call attention to type.

Some people sign off stories with ''30'' or ''thirty,'' the traditional mark for a story's end, often traced to telegraphers' sign-off signals. Colleagues are still buried with floral wreaths saying ''30.''

Finally, reporters of another day hoped their stories weren't ''pig iron.'' That was newspaper copy that was very dull, the worst sin.

Ernest F. Imhoff is a reporter for The Sun and was its first ombudsman.


Pub Date: 11/12/96

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