Journalists’ Crutch Words

I’ve been noticing lately that there seem to be an unusually large number of trite “crutch” words used in news stories, both in print and on the air. These are becoming so widely used and so reliable that I tend to notice their absence lately more than their presence.

Seldom do we read a story about a fire in which it’s not also called a blaze. There are so many words for fire in our language that it seems odd that “blaze” gets so much use.

Likewise, each time I hear a story about an earthquake on radio or television, I start counting. I seldom reach twenty seconds before someone uses the word “temblor.” Are they so afraid of using the same word for the event twice that they’re pulling out the thesaurus? “Quake” works perfectly well for me. Perhaps it’s too colloquial or informal for journalistic professionals.

Another one I hear far too often is “gunman.” I really hate that word. It sounds like a profession rather than a type of criminal. “Shooter” is simpler, “armed man” isn’t too bad, and “killer” is far more descriptive. Sometimes I see the even more ridiculous phrase “lone gunman.” Here we brilliantly modify a singular noun with an adjective meaning “single.” It’s redundant AND silly.

We have a perfectly succinct word for describing the present moment. That word is “now.” Why do we stretch it out into “at this time?” And why is it not a crime to further stretch it into the ridiculous phrase “at this point in time?” I praise brevity in journalism; five words where one will do is wasteful.

I’m sure there are other examples of “crutch” words that newswriters use that drive me crazy, but these are the ones that come immediately to mind. Please feel free to tell me about the ones that drive you batty, either in the comments or on Facebook.

 

 

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