Op-ed: Twelve journalistic terms we need to outlaw right now

Charles Purcell knows just how to get our journalistic goat: banning all of our favorite phrases and ruminants. He previously explored the sub-editor’s psyche and how to use nunchaku.

Moral compass Replace with “moral GPS”.

Highway robbery When was the last time some Dick Turpin type stuck a blunderbuss through the open window of your horse-drawn carriage and demanded “all your jewellery and gold doubloons, sir, if you value your life”? I thought so. We’re in the 21st century now, people. Replace with “utilities bill robbery”.

Drop of a hat Is there a direct correlation between the decline of Western civilisation and the decline in hat wearing? I like to think so. Still, no one wears hats any more. Best avoid.

Legend As a wise scribe once commented, “King Arthur was a legend … not some meathead who kicked a field goal in the last five minutes of a game.” Remove “legend” and replace with “top bloke” or female equivalent.

Flip-flops Flip-flops are shoes. Just thinking about this – and other overused words like “backflip” – makes me as tired as though I were on my 10th day of trying to give up caffeine. And we all know no journalist can properly function without caffeine or constant praise.

Bigwigs I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe … attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. Sorry, I accidentally slipped into Rutger Hauer’s epic monologue from Blade Runner there. Yet while I have indeed seen things you people wouldn’t believe, I’ve never interviewed any figure of note – from ex-premiers to A-list Hollywood directors and stars – who wore a big wig to denote their status. Delete, please.

Unsung hero Anyone who uses this term should be immediately arrested.

Enfant terrible A favourite expression employed by arts writers to describe “dramaturges” who “modernise” Shakespeare by casting cross-dressing dwarves who hurl sex toys at audiences. Replace with “DOCS child”.

Dramaturge I’ve never met anyone in the theatre who has given me a convincing explanation of what a dramaturge is. Maybe Cate Blanchett is one – she virtually IS Sydney’s theatre industry – but who knows? For that reason, I will never call anyone a dramaturge, in print or otherwise, even as a form of insult. Or an “auteur” for that matter (although I have used “auteur” as an insult).

Sabre rattling Sabres have been obsolete in battle ever since the Charge Of The Light Brigade in 1854 … and obsolete in journalism for just as long. Unless we’re talking about Star Wars lightsabers. Which, in that case, would be “saber rattling”. (Note to chief subs everywhere: don’t broadcast your ignorance of Star Wars and pop culture by pedantically and incorrectly changing this back to “lightsabre”.)

Bellwether Apparently bellwether refers to “the practice of placing a bell around the neck of a castrated ram (a wether) leading his flock of sheep”. References to castrated rams have no place in respected periodicals. Avoid.

Bun-fight I’ve never seen anyone fight with buns. Have you? I’ve seen people fight with live crabs, but that’s another story. (Note to self: NEVER tell that story in public.)

Litmus test As a child I thought the greatest thing in the world was watching magnesium burn in chemistry class … closely matched by the magic of testing for acidity with litmus paper. But we’re not children any more, candy doesn’t taste as good, life has crushed our spirits and the wizardry of chemistry has long been replaced by more adult endeavours.

Charles Purcell is a former writer and sub-editor at the Sydney Morning Herald. He is the author of The Spartan, available on Amazon (Pan Macmillan, $5.99).