Words journalists use that people never say

Largely | Probe | Altercation

People are tweeting their suggestions, which include: reeling, risible, mercurial, opaque, kin, hoard, nix, scuttle, loggerheads, reeling, lauded, traded barbs, pivoted, salvo, slated and mull. || There are more great ones in the comments.

* Words journalists use that people never say | “You slay me”



  1. DanOregon said:

    Fiery, allegedly and atwitter

  2. Mark said:

    Nix. Nixed. Nixes.

  3. Mark said:

    Phrases, “To be sure”… (NY Times is huge abuser of that one…)

  4. Garry said:


  5. Howard Witt said:


  6. Mark said:

    “Good eats” ughh..!!!!!!

  7. Mark said:


  8. Howard Witt said:


  9. Embattled. Time will tell.

    It is worth noting that some of the words journalists use are headlinese…we use them because they fit. And then there is the question of whether journalists use more precise words than the general public.

  10. Many news-report-specific words are designed to cover multiple situations when we don’t know the specifics

    “altercation” – if we’re unsure of the situation so we don’t know if “fight” is accurate

    “collided” – nobody ever says “wow, those two cars just collided!” but we use it because it doesn’t pass judgement on who hit whom, often uncertain in breaking news. Similar with “vehicle” if we’re not sure it if’s a car, SUV or pickup –

  11. Ed Murrieta said:

    Formerly. One-time. Erstwhile. Begs the question — but never, ever used correctly.

  12. Eschew obfuscation by ditching these reportorial must-haves:
    -Beltway (see also “inside the” or “beyond the”)

  13. John Kroll said:

    “[City name]-based” as an adjective for corporations or people

  14. Adam Riglian said:

    Draconian – (Talking to you Boston Globe)

  15. Gerry Braun said:


  16. R.M. Cox said:


  17. Bill Reader said:



    “Kerfuffle.” (NPR’s little pet — makes me throw up in my mouth a little every time).

    And any “quaint” population center that is “nestled” somewhere, according to The New York Times.

  18. Ed Murrieta said:



    As in “some 900 people attended.”

    I’m sure some jackasses attended too.

  19. Jean said:

    Starting a sentence with “Indeed, …”

  20. I’m all for mocking cliches and jargon and so on, but I think there’s always a distinction between peoples’ written/read and spoken vocabularies. ‘Probe,’ for instance, doesn’t cut it in conversation, but on the page it’s often way better than ‘investigation,’ since the former requires only one syllable and five letters to achieve what the latter needs 13 letters and five syllables to achieve.

    What I think is fascinating is that the word ‘louche’ appears literally 10 times as often in the NYT then it does in the WaPo. (as of a few years back when I did a Nexis check). And every time an earthquake occurs somewhere in the world the shifting tectonic plates shake loose a viral cloud that compels headline writers/editors to spit out the word ‘temblor,’ which no one says, writes or wants to read in the course of ordinary life.

  21. Jonathon said:

    My favorites are “temblor” and “ouster.”

  22. “Gritty” (in reference to neighborhoods, it’s the opposite of “leafy”).

  23. Jesse P said:


    no normal person has ever said gubernatorial

  24. imisseditnews said:


  25. Chris said:


  26. Mike said:




    third rail (most Americans don’t live anywhere near places with mass transit via subway, trolley or elevated line)

  27. Iconic (which I use in almost every story I write!)


  28. Bill Hoban said:





  29. Kristin said:

    my favorite is a british one … quango.

  30. Peter O'Toole said:

    Tucked into (usually referring to a pear and arugula salad at the Four Seasons and the tucker-inner usually being a “rising starlet”)

    Snapped up (referring to real estate, usually in East Hampton)

  31. DW said:

    The pretentious folks at the network tv newsdesk downstairs from us locals always used “efforting”. Hate that word, as it has leaked out into on-air usage.

  32. Jeff McCloud said:

    Fingered, as in the witness fingered the suspect. And that’s in a family newspaper.

    Also, prexy for a college president.

  33. TimH said:

    High-powered rifle
    Shots rang out

  34. Wake, as “in the wake of …”




  35. “Individual” (sometimes plural!) and “subject” in place of person, man, suspect, whatever–both total police reportese.

    “Brutal” when applied to beatings. I have yet to hear of a gentle one that made the news.

  36. A couple I put in the comments at the original article from a few minutes’ reading the local news:

    vowed (“The senator vowed to introduce the bill.”)
    residents (“Two residents were bound with tape in a home invasion.”) Also, “bound”.

  37. LK said:


  38. Jo said:

    It’s already been mentioned, but I HATE gubernatorial. NO one says “gubernatorial.”

    Also, “quip.”

  39. Sharon Foote said:


    No parent calls their teenager a “teen.” Teachers and police don’t say “teen” either. But reporters do.

  40. Andy Mead said:


  41. Markito said:

    Mull, nix, and some of the others are headlinese, words with a lower character count than the normal word, to fit in limited space. Not as much of a problem on the internet (although that depends on the website design). But handy on Twitter. I mull and nix all the time in tweets.

  42. Don said:

    Dealt a blow.

  43. Brian T said:

    “hotly debated”

    And to all you who oppose “gubernatorial”: What would you prefer? “The governor election”?

  44. Paul Mathless said:

    Just once before I die I would like to hear a TV news or weather reporter, talking about a storm, say something other than “packing winds of . . . .” It’s hard to be sure where this seemingly mandatory expression came from; it might reflect a parallel with a fighter “packing a punch” (also way overused) or a bad guy “packing a gun.” In any case it’s idiotic and probably reflects the mental capacity of its users.

  45. Alan Wills said:

    Totally devastated.
    In UK in the 1970-90s this was the mandatory reaction to anything sad.
    As in this TV interview:
    Q: How devastated are you to lose your husband?
    A: Totally devastated.