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Even though this column appears in newspapers in southern, central, coastal and Down East Maine I sometimes feel I don’t use enough real “newspaper words” to give it the feel of a real newspaper column.
What are newspaper words? They’re those words – like “mull” or “flap” or “row” - that only exist on the pages of newspapers, words we know well, but would never use in polite conversation. But without words – like “ire” and “lauded” – journalistic prose would cease to exist as we know it and snappy, eye-catching headlines would be impossible to write.
A word that comes to mind, because it’s one of my favorites, is “fracas.”
Have you ever seen two guys in a “fracas?” Of course not. Guys in real life have “fight.”
In police stories guys seldom have things called “fights” – they become involved in a “fracas,” which sounds a little more intriguing and therefore classier.
Have you ever heard someone say anything like, “ Wow, that was some “fracas” they had down at Bubba’s last night.”
Of course you haven’t and it’s unlikely you ever will. But if you read newspapers – which you should – you’re likely to read the word “fracas” several times a week.
Sometimes two individuals may get involved in a “flap” or a “row” that quickly escalates to the level of a “fracas” and only trained journalists know which is what and when and what word to use where.
Sometimes police at the scene can’t decide if arrests are “warranted” so they evaluate the facts of the case, which, in newspapers means - they “mull” or “mull over” the facts before them.
Most people go through an entire lifetime without ever knowingly “mulling over” anything. That’s because only individuals like policemen “mull” and only within the confines of a newspaper story and only when dealing with something like a “fracas” or a “row.”
Occasionally, a reporter will have to mull over the question of whether to call something a “fracas” or a “row’ or merely a “flap.”
In real life people have surprise parties or special dinners to honor a relative or friend. In newspapers those people are “feted.” While being “feted” the honorary guest is often “lauded,” but only if the event is written up in a newspaper.
No one says, “I tell ya, we sure feted and lauded Alva down to the lodge last night.”
The word “romp” is another newspaper favorite and usually refers to the extra-marital activities of public figures like former president Bill Clinton or Gov. Mark Sanford of South Carolina.
Speaking of politicians, when they run for a particular political office they seldom “compete” for the office but “vie” for it. But don’t expect any candidate anywhere to say, “Today, I’m announcing that I will “vie” for the office selectman here in Meddybemps.”
If you’re in business and you’re announcing a big development project and it’s written up in a newspaper, the reporter wont write that you’ve signed a contract. There’s no “signing” going on in news stories. “Prominent business leader “inks” contract for new development,” is the way they say it in newspapers.
Finally there’s the word “vow” or “vowed.” Often newspapers report that someone “vowed” to do or not do one thing or another – “Mayor ‘vows,’ after ‘romp,’ that he’ll never touch another drink” – even though no formal anti-drinking “vow” was ever taken.
Now, if they write: “Mayor discovered in “romp” despite having taken marital “vows” - that would be accurate.
Concluding, let me just say “May all your “rows” and “flaps” never rise to a “fracas” and may all the deals you “ink” make you a person to be “lauded” and “feted.”
John McDonald is a humorist and storyteller who performs regularly
throughout New England. John’s e-mail address is mainestoryteller@yahoo.com.
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