The secret language of journalists, or how to use nunchaku

Surely the definitive guide to journo-lingo. From frequent Walkley Magazine contributor Charles Purcell.

Above: Cartoon by Andrew Weldon, 2006 Walkley archives.

A whinge – the collective noun for a group of journalists is “a whinge”.

Widows – a line at the end of a paragraph that contains a single word. In a nod to the sexism of yesteryear, widows are considered unsightly, rather than being regarded as independent beings with thoughts and feelings of their own.

Orphans – according to the Oxford English Dictionary, an orphan is “a word or line undesirably separated by a page break from the paragraph to which it belongs”. See also, the possibly apocryphal “DOCS children”.

Hack – journalist. Also, hackette.

Yarn – story.

Quality yarn – something that might end up on page 1. Also a cracker of a yarn.

Dog’s dicks – exclamation marks. Used by older hacks and hackettes.

Stalin’s Blue Pencil – Stalin is described by some as the most influential – and terrifying – editor to have ever lived, editing official documents with his trusty and feared blue pencil. A modern-day reference to “Stalin’s Blue Pencil” can refer to a savage editing job, rather than an annotation that resulted in thousands of unfortunates being sent to the gulags.

Kern – to reduce the spacing between letters so as to fit more copy in. Also, see the punnish headline “this lady’s not for kerning”.

Snapper – photographer. Regarded by some snappers as derogatory: they would prefer to be known as “visual storytellers”.

Dinkus – one of the many amusing double entendres journalists make in the name of graphic design.

Wowsers – the arch enemies of Australia’s “P-mags”, wowsers were the type of killjoy conservatives and self-appointed moral guardians who had dwarf-throwing banned. The word has sadly fallen into misuse, presumably because the wowsers also had it banned just like dwarf-throwing.

Style guide – official guide to spelling and grammar for any august organ. Although it’s funny how many get “nunchuks” wrong (it’s actually nunchaku).

Subs – sub-editors. Not to be confused with the Collins Class vessels that protect our shores, nor the American “hoagie”.

Ramming speed – the speed to which subs must row to clear the 50-odd stories in the sub-editors’ desk one hour before deadline.

Oxford comma – according to legend, the knowledge of how the Oxford comma works is handed down in secret ceremonies not unlike the darkest of Masonic rites.

J Grade – one’s journalistic grade from one to 10. Much like top-level initiates of certain religions, J-10s are believed to possess magical powers such as walking on water and having their stories go to print without a single word being changed.

Pinch test – the ad hoc measuring of a publication by its size. A section that has dramatically dropped in page numbers may be regarded as having failed the “pinch test”.

Redundo – shorthand for redundancy.

Redundancy cake – the cake given to those who take “redundo”. The type of cake is usually left up to the recipient and may very well reflect their mood upon leaving: beware the hack that requests rum cake.

Apres moi, le deluge – a last remark made by the wittier redundo recipients as they leave the building.

Poodle walker – a hack in the “softer” areas of journalism such as entertainment or the arts rather than “hard news”.

Anglo-Saxon Wrist – slang for “repetitive stress injury”.

Spiked – once upon a time rejected stories were literally impaled on a metal spike. Nowadays such spiking occurs electronically, although the stabbing pain felt by said journalist is just the same.

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). He is also the author of the unpublished book The Last Newspaper on Earth, which he’s considering rewriting as a zombie thriller entitled Zombies Ate My Newspaper.