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Taking “journalese” out of our writing

Once upon a time, in a planet right where we are standing and breathing, we believed that all journalists wrote exceedingly well. And it might have been true, once upon a time.

However, the invasion of slang and colloquialism changed journalism forever, especially in the 20th century onwards.

The rise and fall of the Dotcom era, the irrational fascination with business degrees such as the MBA, and the invention of jargon by one too many business school professor or consultant, all contributed to the “fall” of English as we once knew.

Birth of “journalese”

And that gave us the birth of “journalese“, where clichés, neologism (artificially created words), and other brash styles abound. We all get it, that “selling headlines” is important as media compete with each other to get the attention of readers, all of whom have plenty of choices, and some don’t even bother to read news anymore. That notion of “selling headlines” is termed “headlinese“.

And while America created much of the neologism and journalese, Britain is not exempt. The custodian of English does see a fair amount of journalese too. Journalese is colorful language, and makes colorful and lively reading, but after some time, our senses awake to certain contempt, and we begin to hope for some formality again. After all, reading news is different from coffeeshop talk.

“Blast” one too many

If you look up the word “blast” on the Cambridge Dictionary, the primary meaning is an explosion or a very loud unpleasant noise. An “informal” use refers to criticizing someone severely. If you intend to use the word “criticize” to mean as it is, just use “criticize”, or “lambast”!

Here are some typical and right ways of using the word “blast”:

Chemical blast in Catalonia kills one and injures six

Blast in chemical unit on Mumbai outskirts kills seven

Somalia: Bomb blast outside capital Mogadishu kills 3

Unfortunately, there are also informal and colloquial uses of the word “blast”, which could easily have been replaced by a more appropriate word such as “criticize” or “lambast“:

Texas’s largest newspapers blast governor for rejecting refugees under Trump order

NYPD widows blast ex-treasurer for embezzling police charity funds

Well, you get the point. There are plenty of such examples out there, where a more appropriate or contextually correct word such as “lambast” or “criticize” would have worked beautifully.

Can we write better?

As business communicators, we are not the grammar police nor are we literary giants or professors. We write to communicate our ideas to our customers and stakeholders, as best as we can.

Fortunately, we have some technologies to help us.

For example, our typical word processing software such as Microsoft Word or Apple Pages would at least help us abit. Next level up may be tools such as Grammarly and WriteBetter, which are interesting specialized tools too.

But, you don’t really need software to constrain your style and writing. You can write, and write, and write more. Practice makes perfect. Writing can be simple, and should be. How do you talk to your friends or loved ones? Certainly no jargon and pretense, but just to the point and from the heart. Writing can be the same.