One of the occupational hazards of journalism is that you become dependent on certain words and phrases. There’s “says,” unavoidably. At least it’s short and unobtrusive enough to be glossed over by a reader, even if it turns up dozens of times in a story. Shorthand and economy are useful things when you have a tight deadline and tighter space to fill.
When you write about certain fields, you also come up against the rhetoric deployed by those who work in that field. Business reporters encounter this a lot. Think of all the bizspeak kicking around–“low-hanging fruit,” anyone? Every walk of life has its professional verbal tics, its rhetorical rituals of membership. Even if you don’t use that rhetoric yourself, you have to find ways through or around it as a writer.
Here are five words or phrases that have been giving me journalistic agita lately. If you have work-arounds to suggest, please do.
–Often used in a well-meaning attempt to ditch “says” and still preserve a certain middle-of-the-road neutrality, this one never sounds quite right to me, even though I use it a lot.
–In the world of higher ed, this is a biggie, a staple of phrases like “the dissemination of knowledge” or “research dissemination.” Talk about unlovely. Substitutes such as “the spread of knowledge” just make me think of something you’d find on the breakfast table. (Marmite, kids?)
–Certain academic fields have taken a lot of heat over the last few decades, sometimes unfairly, for their reliance on theoryspeak and highfalutin terminology. When I encounter terms like this, I understand the criticism. “Interrogate” is what they do in police procedurals and at Guantanamo Bay. Scholarly skepticism is an admirable thing; it doesn’t need the faux muscularity of “interrogate” to describe itself.
–Once reserved to describe an attempt to get an addict off the path to self-destruction, “intervention” has become a staple way to describe a new foray into a theoretical or scholarly debate. See my point about faux muscularity, above.
5. “knowledge production”
–This phrase drips with mechanistic and self-aggrandizing bravado. You might as well shout “Go away!” at a general reader when you use it. Are we talking about researchers or Henry Ford?
Bonus question: How are we defining “knowledge,” anyway?