Words to watch

How to keep “in style” this season with the latest hot words/words to watch.

Tomato? Tomatah? It’s all a question of “style”, writes Charles Purcell.

Anyone who has worked in newspapers or magazines will know how difficult it is sometimes to keep “in style”. And by style, I don’t mean wearing the latest mink stole/Google Glass/crotchless nightclub chaps/tendon-crushing stilettos, but keeping in style with the ever-changing requirements of your publication’s official or unofficial “style guide”. In that honour, and as an aide-memoire for any other vexed scribe out there, I present this list of my own words to watch.

Cartoon by Lindsay Foyle

Cartoon by Lindsay Foyle

  • There/their
  • affect/effect
  • blond/blonde
  • tomato/tomatah
  • desert/dessert
  • Chord/cord – as in, “The cadet’s pleas for a deadline extension failed to strike a chord with her angry editor.”
  • It’s/its – public spelling enemy No.1. There have been more fistfights in the subs desk over this issue than anything else, including favourite fonts (See also: the ongoing Helvetica vs Times New Roman controversy).
  • Orang-utan – as in, “The chief sub-editor accused his underlings of being strategically shaved orang-utans.”
  • Labor Party – not Labour Party.
  • ass/arse – Ass is American. Arse is Australian. As in, “You’re acting like an arse, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan.”
  • Spokesman/woman – best to stick with the gender neutral “spokesperson”. Or “spokesbeing”.
  • Nunchucks – The correct word is nunchaku. As in, “The prime minister brandished her nunchaku to get her unruly cabinet in line.”
  • Controversial – avoid overuse.
  • VIP – prone to misuse. For example, many pubs and clubs have “VIP” gambling areas, but you never see James Bond or Monaco royalty in them.
  • Mainstream media – spell out. Don’t use “MSM”.
  • Cappuccino – this is spelt incorrectly on cafe billboards and menus all across Australia. You’ll see.
  • Haemorrhoid – easy to get burned by this one.
  • Honor/honour (don’t confuse with American spelling i.e. honor)
  • Reform/re-form – politicians and lawmakers enact reform. Ageing musos re-form the band because they don’t have enough superannuation.
  • Antidisestablishmentarianism – no good in a headline.
  • Codger/duffer – banned. Even as a term of description for crusty sub-editors.
  • Glassed – “struck with a glass” preferred.
  • Backflip – As in “PM’s backflip on refugees”. When a person backflips they end up in the same position.
  • A/an – As in “an historic day”. Funny how many days end up being “historic”.
  • Kerb/curb
  • Dwarfs (the verb)/dwarves (plural) – I never get this right.
  • Draft/draught
  • Sensual/sensuous – to quote Mrs Wormer from Animal House: “Vegetables are sensual. People are sensuous.”
  • Enquiry/inquiry
  • Wookiee – As in, Chewbacca.
  • Motocross – not motorcross.
  • Few/less
  • Impostor – not imposter. As in, “The features editor lay awake at night fearing his colleagues would realise he was a talentless impostor.”
  • Former Olympian – once an Olympian, always an Olympian … even if they’re involved in a career-killing drug shock/sex tape/random act of violence involving bouncers. (Also check the style guide for “disgraced rugby league player”).
  • Calibre/caliber
  • Unique – as in one of a kind. There is no such thing as “fairly unique” or “virtually unique”. See also, Charles Purcell’s “spectacular – and unique – mane of chest hair”.
  • Discrete/discreet – As in, “The Olympic cyclist’s blood doping was discreet.”
  • Principle/principal – As in, “Superintendent Chalmers yelled, ‘Principal Skinner!!!’”
  • Recent – prone to misuse. What is recent? Yesterday, last week, a month ago? Be specific instead.
  • Gourmet –every second café seems to use it now, even if they’re just flogging reheated Chiko rolls. Treat with caution.
  • Party – never “partay”.
  • Peddle/pedal – As in, “Stop peddling that pro-biking crap around the office, you pedal pusher.”
  • Hydrate – pretentious. Just say “drink”.
  • Beg to differ – arguments over the correct use of this term have led to divorce. Best avoid unless you really know how to use it.
  • Minuscule – not “miniscule”. As in: “The champion footballer’s penis was minuscule.”

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.