Three Peeves in One Newspaper Article

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I’m one of the diminishing breed that wakes to a rolled newspaper at my front door. Sadly, I often find food for DWT posts when I open it. This morning not one, but three pet peeves leapt to my eye, all from the same story.

I won’t use real names. The article is about the sentencing of a man, “Smith,” who was an accessory to the murder of a teenager, “Jones.” Another man, “Green,” was tried separately.

Green, the triggerman, has already been tried and sentenced…

The choice of the word “triggerman” bothers me because it is one of those words that has its place in fiction, but doesn’t belong in a straight news story. Its use has the effect of glamorizing a punk who killed a 17 year old for $30 and a hat. It belongs to a category of “dime novel” words that strike me as being out of place in general reporting, detective yarn words like “heist,” “bust,” and “swag.”

The two [Smith and the “triggerman”] were suppose to give Jones a ride to his home.

They were supposed to give Jones a ride.

Two females went along also…

The use “female” as a noun outside a medical or natural history context always bothers me.

I’ve written about these particular peeves elsewhere on the DWT site:

Inappropriate word choice to report on crime

Use of -ed verb forms

Non-technical use of “female” as a noun

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29 thoughts on “Three Peeves in One Newspaper Article”

  1. I think “triggerman” is fine. What’s the alternative? “Green, the man who fired the gun, has already been tried and sentenced…” Written news on the whole needs to be MORE conversational, not less. That’s demonstrated by your last peeve, use of the word “females.” Women is better because, why? It is more conversational. Now I do draw a line: “Cops said those badboys are going to the slammer for a long time” is probably not acceptable. But use of a colorful, descriptive word now and again HELPS journalistic writing.

  2. Maeve—I share your view on the use of “sensational” words in what should have been a straight news story. (I bet the reporter thinks of himself as “hard-boiled.”)

  3. There’s another word that bothers me in many of these stories, “suspect”, as in “the suspect pulled a gun on the cashier and demanded money.” A “robber”, “subject” or even “perp” pulled the gun and if we are lucky he will become a suspect (then a defendent and eventually a convict).

    We don’t know if the eventual suspect in custody was the person who pulled the gun, we only suspect him of it. However, there is no doubt that the person who pulled the gun is the person who pulled the gun.

    It seems to be getting more common, appearing not only in news stories but even policy reports and announcements.

  4. I imagine the writer used “females” to avoid using “girls”. They probably were girls or at least teenagers given that the victim was only 17. But describing them as “women” suggests at least to me that they were quite a bit older. “Females” is the sort of usage you would expect in a police report .Perhaps this is the impression the writer wants to give.

  5. In your first sentence you say that you are one of a diminishing breed that wakes to a rolled newspaper at your front door.

    I believe you mean, “I am one of a diminishing breed who wakes to a rolled newspaper at my front door.” Since you are a human being “that” is not correct. A person is a “who.”

  6. Perhaps it’s just my misanthropy, but I object to your objections. The use of ‘female’ is fine in my point of view; I believe the disliking of the word ‘female’when referring to humankind is just another example of human arrogance.

    As for the “The two [Smith and the “triggerman”] were suppose to give Jones a ride to his home,” doesn’t anyone ever edit these articles?

  7. Whether you believe that an anti-freedom crowd gravitates towards careers in journalism, it’s hard to deny that the major focus of many crime reports isn’t the criminals, but the gun.

    Often, I see reporters using ridiculous words and phrases instead of simpler, more accurate language.

    When a criminal murders someone, a reporter with an anti-freedom agenda writes, “…and then, bullets began to fly!”, as if the bullets just magically began to zoom around of their own accord.

    Or, when one of these reporters decides to pontificate about criminals, they’ll say, “We have to get these guns off the streets”, as if guns with little legs were scurrying around outside in the street.

    Given the sad state of ‘reporting’ in recent times, I wouldn’t be surprised if the reporter’s use of the word “triggerman” was a deliberate attempt to inject an anti-freedom/anti-self-defense agenda into what should be a simple report about criminals in our midst.

  8. I have a question that has been perplexing me for several weeks.
    There was an article in our local paper chastizing anyone who uses a double space between the end of one sentence and the beginning of another. In my gramatical heart of hearts, I do not believe this to be the case. However, I have been out of college for a number of years. Can you please put this to rest.
    Rick Minor

  9. Regarding the use of the word “suspect,” it has gotten the point where it is usually misused by journalists. They use the word to avoid a libel suit. But jeez, learn to use it correctly.
    Wrong: Police are looking for two suspects who robbed a liquor store.
    Better: Police are looking for two men who allegedly robbed a liquor store.
    Best: Police are looking for two men who robbed a liquor store. They believe they are close to arresting two suspects.

  10. Regarding double spaces, yes, use them if you have a typewriter. But double spaces are unnecessary and undesirable in a modern computer word processor. Add them if you want, but it just makes editors that much more busy removing the extra space.

  11. @Sara
    Although the antecedent of this “that” is “one” and “one” refers to the author, I feel that “breed” is the operative word here. That’s why I chose to write “that” and not “who.”

    I agree that “who” is usually to be preferred to “that” after words like man, woman, child, soldiers, etc. However, “that” instead of “who” after such nouns is not the unacceptable error that it’s often made out to be. This usage can be found in the writing of our best authors and English authorities, including Winston Churchill and H.W. Fowler.

  12. When a prepositional phrase serves as an adjective, it’s called an adjectival phrase.

    The adjectival phrase “of a diminishing breed” describes the noun “one.”

  13. Tom: When there is a traffic accident, we write that two cars collided, not that two drivers collided. The type of weapon used in a crime is salient. If the weapon had been a knife and the writer said so, would he be anti-knife?

  14. Tom: When there is a traffic accident, we write that two cars collided, not that two drivers collided. The type of weapon used in a crime is salient. If the weapon had been a knife and the writer said so, would he be anti-knife?

    To Randy Foster: Perhaps I failed to make my point, which is: the major focus of many modern crime reports isn’t on the criminals and/or victims, but on the gun.

    A generation ago, it would have been absurd for a reporter to use words like ‘gunman’, ‘triggerman’, ‘shooter’, etc. But these days, that sort of rhetoric slips past editors every day.

    Obviously, many reporters abuse their readers by promoting an anti-self-defense agenda instead of reporting the facts.

    The sad fact is, it’s fashionable in modern reporting to use language which takes the focus off the criminals and puts it squarely on the gun.

    This is deliberate, but the motivation behind it isn’t to “glamorize punks” (as Maeve Maddox worries). The reporter’s motivation is to insert an extreme anti-civil rights political position into an otherwise banal crime story.

  15. Perhaps the gun was particularly heavy, requiring them to share the burden. “Green” was the triggerman, and “Jones” was the barrelman.

    Coming from a culture in which the majority of the population have no interest in a right to arm bears, or whatever passes for freedom, it seems appropriate to somewhat focus the story on the gun. Someone stealing a hat from a 17 year old is an event. Someone shooting a 17 year old for a hat is news.

  16. Where do our values lie?

    How is it that opinions of wording generates so much trivial discussion.

    Does any care that someone was shot for a hat?

  17. I agree with Cheryl. “Disappeared” is grammatically explicit, while “went missing” sounds awkward.

  18. I can well understand why “went missing” or “gone missing” would be a pet peeve, but I rather like the idiom. It defers responsibility with such charm: “My purse went missing.” (It’s not my fault.)

  19. – I agree ‘triggerman’ is corny. Better to use ‘killer’ — short, sweet and to the point. I disdain making crimes glamorous. Just be the victim of one and you’ll agree.
    – The -ed error: who was working the copy rim that night? That’s why God gave us editors. Even reporters make typos.
    – The use of female or male instead of woman or man when saying who did what: cops, who are not usually professional writers, use this all the time. I think it’s more correct to say “The man who robbed the bank had a female accomplice.”
    That’s my two cents.

  20. Using male or female rather than man or woman is ever so grating. I also very much dislike the practice of identifying a person solely by race: “There were three whites and a black.”

    Oh, God. I feel so much better now.

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