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Newsweek And The Word ‘Frickin’

July 19, 2010

Right off the top let me say this post is not designed to compete with the news from the Gulf of Mexico, or the economic plight of Americans.  Instead the issue here probably ranks somewhere between the morning’s burnt toast and the search for the other sock in the dryer.  Still, the heart of this post needs airing.   

In the July 19th edition of Newsweek the Conventional Wisdom listings on page 12 had a snippet on veterans concerning PTSD benefits.  The line read, “With all the suffering, it’s about frickin’ time.”

As I read this late on Sunday while eating a snack at the kitchen table I had to stop and look up.  I read newspapers and news magazines all the time.  But never have I come across that word used in the mainstream press.  Never have I seen that word used by a credible news operation, of which I very much know Newsweek to be a part of in this nation.

The reason I post about the use of this word is not that I was offended to see it in print,  but rather that a journalistic magazine would stoop to that level of ‘writing’ in order to be what……..hip?  What was I supposed to gain by reading that word?  To be fair to Newsweek I looked up ‘frickin’ in the New York Times “Manual Of Style And Usage” that is here on my reference shelves.  The entries go from ‘freshman’ to ‘friend of the court’, which makes me think that perhaps the Old Gray Lady would never allow that word to go to print!

In today’s society everything can be said, no matter the time or place.  But when it comes to serious journalism some boundaries need to be observed.  There is nothing wrong with sensible good taste.   When I thought about the use of the word ‘frickin’ it made me think of some comedy club acts I have seen where the most base jokes were used because the comic was not smart enough to create truly funny material.  So it was with the creators of Conventional Wisdom.  Someone was looking for a quick punchy line and instead of soaring high, fell flat to the floor.

To be fair and objective there is no doubt that I like my news to be delivered in a formal way.   I can be old-fashioned on this topic.  (I think my many posts on journalism and the media make that clear.)  I still like my news anchors to wear a tie and jacket, my newspapers to have serious news on page one, the writing to be crisp, and radio news announcers to have authoritative voices.   I come from a time when I still can see older people’s faces when they heard radio news use the word “hell” or “damn”  and thought it unneeded.  I must say at age 48 I agree with them. 

The rock solid news operations in this nation should never fall to the lowest common denominator when using langauge or grammar.  Always, the educated reporters and journalists should gather the facts and report them with the intent to inform and enlighten.  I know that when newspapers use words that are not normally found in their pages, or are new words for my vocabulary, I am mighty pleased.  I make note of them as I did on June 8, 2009.  When other reporters and news operations make glaring gaffes such as what Newsweek did they also are noted. 

While none of this rises to the level of the big news stories today, it still matters.  Drip by drip, or in this case word by word, the wrong combination of events can over time alter our society.

I can only imagine what William Safire would say!

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