I was editing a report the other day about a PR person who got into a spat with a news organization. And the report used the phrase, “Never pick a fight with people who buy ink by the barrel.”
Some of you might know that one. Many of you may not have heard it. But that phrase and many others like it are so clearly out of date that it’s interesting—even comical—how they’ve hung around long after their original meaning has faded into history.
And it got me thinking about those phrases and why they’re still with us. Here’s a partial list (that is, all I can think of.)
• Stop the presses. Okay, this one is used more for dramatic effect than its actual literal meaning these days, but it is still around.
• The Press. This reference to the journalism industry is still common (think “Meet the Press,” the TV show. But it has a diminishing relationship to media today. You could just as easily call the show “Meet the CMS,” and you’d be just as accurate.
• Hot off the presses. Another term that’s more theatrical than literal these days, but still around.
• Above the fold. Why do we use this term in 2014? It refers to the front side of a broadsheet-style newspaper, like the Wall Street Journal or the New York Times. It is not really an effective metaphor for how Web pages scroll.
• Ink-stained wretches. What journalists were called—usually by themselves—until 15 or 20 years ago.
• Cutlines. This actually refers to a caption that was pasted onto a makeup board below a photo, which was then turned into film, which was then printed.
• And speaking of “pasted,” why do we still use “cut-and-paste?”
• Op-ed. This used to mean the position opposite the editorial page in a newspaper. Now it just means an opinion piece.
• Press release. Seriously, why are they still called this?
• Clips. PR folks love this one. They love to collect clips. Except that no one “clips” stories anymore.
Then there are a few phrases and words that have not really survived.
• Morgue. This was also known as the library, where story clippings were cataloged and stored for future reference. Think of the morgue as a much less functional Google of the 20th century.
• Yellow Journalism. This was used to mean unfair reporting, but it came from a type of ink used in a cartoon in the New York World.
And then, finally, there are the terms from the old days of journalism that are still true to their original meanings today.
• Breaking news
• Gotcha journalism
• Puff piece
Which terms and phrases have I missed? What can you come up with? I’d love to hear from you!