These are words and phrases which appear all the time in stories but would never be spoken in real life. Try to avoid them as much as possible, though sometimes nothing else will do.

  • ‘a political row erupted last night’: this comes up in copy with monotonous regularity but it needs to be severely rationed.

  • axe: try ‘sack’ if it is a person or ‘close’ if it is a factory etc. Axeing looks frightful, but is better than axing.

  • bid to: useful for headings, but ghastly. In copy do try to find an alternative, such as ‘attempt to’ or ‘effort to’.

  • branded: as in ‘branded a disgrace’ (or even worse, ‘branded as a disgrace’). ‘Described as’ is almost always preferable.

  • clad in instead of ‘he was wearing’, which is what someone would say.

  • condemned: ‘Ministers were condemned last night for . . .’ Unless it really is a hanging offence, ‘criticised’ is usually better. Similarly ‘Ministers were slammed/blasted/attacked’.

  • don, as in academic: you never hear that spoken.

  • don, as in put on clothing: you never hear anyone say 'He donned a hat'.

  • dubbed: nicknamed

  • flee/fled: for some reason this old-fashioned word is often used for people leaving court while distressing evidence is being heard. If you must use it, at least make sure there is some element of speed involved, not like the recent heading ‘Woman flees court on crutches’.

  • funnyman: comedian, comic

  • grill: try ‘interrogate’, which is a bit stronger than 'questioned'.

  • held over: as in ‘Man held over body in field’. As you see, it is easy to produce the wrong image, though this is an invaluable formula for headlines. In the same vein, here is a headline from Mail Online, May 2015: ‘Golf course groundsman suspended over a tank of water’.

  • hike: as in ‘price hike’. A fairly recent innovation which has caught on in a big way. Use ‘rise’ or ‘increase’ if possible.

  • launched, as in ‘An inquiry has been launched into the accident’. The better alternative would be ‘started’. I would restrict ‘launched’ to shipping.

  • loom/loomed/looming: not an easy one with its implication of something nasty approaching, but avoid it if possible.

  • medics: use doctors or paramedics.

  • pen (verb): this is often used as a synonym for ‘write’, as in ‘Jane Austen penned Pride and Prejudice . . .’ Usually it sounds as silly as this example.

  • pledge/vow: what is wrong with ‘promise’?

  • probe: nasty, and can inspire unpleasant images. Use ‘inquiry’ in copy.

  • quiz: for example ‘Police quiz man’. This may be needed in a heading but should be replaced by ‘questioned’ in copy.

  • rapped: criticised

  • roll out: a newish term which is hard to replace, but ‘introduced’ might do the trick.

  • romp: useful jolly word for sexual activity, but very tabloid.

  • scooped, as in lottery jackpot: Should be used only for ice cream and poop. Prizes and awards are ‘won’.

  • set to: as in ‘The Prime Minister is set to abolish income tax’. The trouble with this one is that while it is true newspaperspeak, it is very useful. Sometimes you can replace it with ‘about to’, ‘likely to’ or ‘expected to’, but not always.

  • slew/raft: dreadful. Try ‘range’, ‘series’ or ‘group’.

  • sparked: one alternative is ‘triggered’ and another is ‘set in motion’. Neither is much good. I give up on this one.

  • swoop: as in ‘police swooped at dawn’. There may not be an alternative but try to find one.

  • zany: often used in connection with Rowan Atkinson.

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Last updated January 23, 2018