Know the Lingo, But Don’t Let It Own You

I recently heard a story about a journalist who worked in a newsroom for more than two years before learning what the word “lede” meant, laboring under the assumption it referred to a headline.

(Aside for you non-journos: the lede is the first paragraph of a story, and a journalist not knowing that is akin to a waitress thinking all eggs are fried the same way and bringing you scrambled when you asked for over easy.)

(Second aside: “Lede” is correct. It’s to distinguish the word referring to that first paragraph  from the word “lead” — which is pronounced “led” and refers to the amount of space between lines of type. OK, moving on.)

I don’t really know how it’s possible to spend that much time in a newsroom and not pick up such a fundamental term by osmosis, if nothing else. Knowing the lingo is crucial to getting a job done.  You can’t be a car mechanic and think the only wheel on the car is the one you steer with.

That said, once you can talk the talk, you don’t actually need to write in it. Sometimes it helps for effect, and sometimes it adds to your street cred, but mostly it will alienate those who aren’t part of the inner circle. At best, you’ll kick them out of the flow of your story and they’ll have to go look something up. At worst, they’ll decide you’re a  pretentious snot who can sod off, and they’ll find something else to read. That’s not your intention, right? Of course not.

Words have meaning. But meaning should be clearly communicated with appropriate words.

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About arwenbicknell

Editor by day, author by night.
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