English for JournalistsReviews of previous editions:‘For those uncertain of their word power and those who know in theirbones that they are struggling along on waffle, a couple of hours withthis admirably written manual would be time well spent.’Keith Waterhouse, British Journalism Review‘English for Journalists is a jolly useful book. It’s short. It’s accessible.It’s cheap. And it tells you what you want to know.’Humphrey Evans, Journalist‘It makes a simple-to-use guide that you could skim read on a trainjourney or use as a basic textbook that you can dip into to solvespecific problems.’Short WordsEnglish for Journalists has established itself in newsrooms the world over as aninvaluable guide to the basics of English and to those aspects of writing, such asreporting speech, house style and jargon, which are specific to the language ofjournalism.Written in a highly accessible and engaging style, English for Journalists covers thefundamentals of grammar, spelling, punctuation and journalistic writing, with allpoints illustrated through a series of concise and illuminating examples. The bookfeatures practical, easy to follow advice with examples of common mistakes andproblem words.The twentieth anniversary edition features a new first chapter on the state ofEnglish today by author Wynford Hicks and includes updated examples to improveaccessibility. This is an essential guide to written English for all practising journalists and students of journalism.Wynford Hicks has worked as a reporter, subeditor, feature writer, editor andeditorial consultant in magazines, newspapers and books, and as a teacher of journalism specialising in the use of English, subediting and writing styles. He is theauthor of Writing for Journalists and Quite Literally, and the co-author of Subeditingfor Journalists.
Media SkillsEDITED BY RICHARD KEEBLE, LINCOLN UNIVERSITYSERIES ADVISERS: WYNFORD HICKS AND JENNY MCKAYThe Media Skills series provides a concise and thorough introduction toa rapidly changing media landscape. Each book is written by media andjournalism lecturers or experienced professionals and is a key resource fora particular industry. Offering helpful advice and information and usingpractical examples from print, broadcast and digital media, as well asdiscussing ethical and regulatory issues, Media Skills books are essentialguides for students and media professionals.English for JournalistsTwentieth anniversary editionWynford HicksWriting for Broadcast Journalists2nd editionRick ThompsonWriting for Journalists2nd editionWynford Hicks with Sally Adams,Harriett Gilbert and Tim HolmesFreelancing For Television and RadioLeslie MitchellEthics for Journalists2nd editionRichard KeebleMagazine ProductionJason WhittakerInterviewing for Journalists2nd editionSally Adams with Wynford HicksResearching for Television andRadioAdèle EmmReporting for Journalists2nd editionChris FrostSubediting for JournalistsWynford Hicks and Tim HolmesProgramme Making for RadioJim BeamanProduction Management forTelevisionLeslie MitchellFeature Writing for JournalistsSharon WheelerInterviewing for Radio2nd editionJim BeamanDesigning for Newspapers andMagazines2nd editionChris Frost
English forJournalistsTw e n t i e t h A n n i v e r s a r y E d i t i o nWynford HicksROUTLEDGERoutledgeTaylor & Francis GroupLONDON AND NEW YORK
First published 1993, second edition 1998, third edition 2007,this edition published 2013by Routledge2 Park Square, Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon OX14 4RNSimultaneously published in the USA and Canadaby Routledge711 Third Avenue, New York, NY 10017Routledge is an imprint of the Taylor & Francis Group, an informa business 1993, 1998, 2007, 2013 Wynford HicksThe right of Wynford Hicks to be identiﬁed as author of this work hasbeen asserted by him in accordance with sections 77 and 78 of theCopyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reprinted orreproduced or utilised in any form or by any electronic, mechanical,or other means, now known or hereafter invented, including photocopyingand recording, or in any information storage or retrieval system,without permission in writing from the publishers.Trademark notice: Product or corporate names may be trademarksor registered trademarks, and are used only for identiﬁcationand explanation without intent to infringe.British Library Cataloguing in Publication DataA catalogue record for this book is available from the British LibraryLibrary of Congress Cataloging in Publication DataHicks, Wynford, 1942–.English for journalists/Wynford Hicks. – Twentieth Anniversaryedition.pages cm. – (Media Skills)Includes index.1. English language – Grammar – Handbooks, manuals, etc.2. Journalism – Style manuals. I. Title.PE1112.H53 2013428.2024 07 – dc232013000793ISBN: 978-0-415-66171-3 (hbk)ISBN: 978-0-415-66172-0 (pbk)ISBN: 978-0-203-75093-3 (ebk)Typeset in Goudy and Scala Sansby Florence Production Ltd, Stoodleigh, Devon, UK
Co n t e n t sIntroduction: how this book beganvi1What kind of English?12Grammar: the rules163Grammar: 10 common mistakes304Grammar: problems and confusions415Spelling606Punctuation737Reporting speech938Style999Words10810Foreign words13511Figures158Appendix: Bulletin style guideGlossary of terms used in journalismFurther readingIndex162176189191
Introduction: howthis book beganIn the first edition of English for Journalists I thanked the WolverhamptonExpress and Star for permission to use material from A Journalist’s Guide tothe Use of English by Ted Bottomley and Anthony Loftus. As I said then,this book ‘owes much to theirs, now out of print’.In fact there would have been little incentive to write EfJ if the Guidehad remained in print. It covered the basics pretty well, giving clearadvice and putting such things as grammar and punctuation into ajournalistic context. It also had useful things to say about style. Forseveral years, when I was teaching periodical journalism at (what wasthen) the London College of Printing, I ordered bulk copies of the Guidedirect from the publishers and sold them on to students.But with the Guide no longer available, and encouraged by variouspeople, including Philip Marsh, the founder of PMA Training, I puttogether the first edition of this book in 1993. Now in this latest editionI would like to thank all those friends and colleagues who have over theyears made constructive comments and provided useful examples ofusage to be followed or avoided – even if some of them remain unawareof how useful they have been.Wynford HicksMarch 2013
1What kind of English?The first edition of this book gave some simple advice: ‘Write for yourreader; use a clear form of English, avoiding jargon, slang, pomposity,academic complexity, obscurity . . .’It pointed out that modern English has a rich and varied history and itnoted: ‘The strongest influence on the way we speak and write isundoubtedly American. In the global village of satellites and computersit is in American rather than English that nation speaks unto nation.’Twenty years later, in a media world where the technology changes everyfive minutes, that looks like an understatement.But something else is obviously going on as well.‘OMG!’Under the headline ‘OMG, Cupid – this is the written word’s goldenage’ Mark Forsyth reassured Sunday Times readers who thought thatsocial media were undermining literacy. Not at all, he said – in fact theopposite was true. And a few weeks later the Daily Mail had a similarmessage:OMG! Txts make u gd at writing? Srsly?How “text speak” can help pupils write essaysA study for the Department of Education had ‘found no evidence that achild’s development in written language was disrupted by using text abbreviations’. On the contrary, there seemed to be a positive relationshipbetween texting and the ability to read and spell. This could be becausetexters needed to understand sound structures and syllables in words.
2English for journalistsAs background the Mail added that the number of fixed-line phone callscontinued to fall and that mobile phone calls were now falling as well,while the number of texts was way up (150 billion in 2011, comparedwith 50 billion five years before).In his more personal piece Forsyth described growing up in the 1980swhen his generation ‘communicated by phone and watched television. Inever wrote a single word to anybody of my own age, except perhaps topass notes in class.’ But nowadays young people were exposed to a torrentof the written word – text messages, internet chatrooms, Facebookupdates, tweets . . .This, he said, was having a big impact on all sorts of things – particularly online dating. The OkCupid site had reported that misspellingsreduce your chances of a date more than anything else. People agoniseover their profiles and are irritated when others don’t. One of Forsyth’sfriends objected to the greeting ‘Hi Hun’ because, as she put it, she wasn’tGerman.Forsyth made the point that while the internet provides all sorts of examples of dreadful English it also features corrections from people (popularlyknown as ‘grammar Nazis’) who insist on pointing out the mistakes. Insome cases professional – that is, paid – journalists have been criticisedby non-professionals posting comments which ridicule not only theirviews but their grammar and punctuation. The Twitter [email protected] set up in November 2012 offering ‘concise lessons inthe use of your versus you’re’ gained 12,000 followers in less than a week.Forsyth claimed that there’s ‘probably never been a time in history whenwriting was so universal and so important’. Certainly, the ‘decay oflanguage’, which we have been warned about all our lives, no longerseems to be a threat. But the fact that more people want to write welland spend more time writing – particularly in English – doesn’t of itselfsolve all our problems.‘Britishisms’Some say the American-British exchange is a two-way process. Indeedthere have been complaints from academic linguists in the UnitedStates that British idioms are becoming too popular over there. GeoffreyNunberg of the University of California at Berkeley has been quoted
What kind of English?3as saying: ‘Spot on – it’s just ludicrous. You are just impersonating anEnglishman when you say spot on. Will do – I hear that from Americans.That should be put into quarantine.’Other ‘Britishisms’ that have been recorded recently are: sell-by date, gomissing and chat up. Just as James Bond and the Beatles invaded theUnited States in the 1960s, Harry Potter has been waving his magic wandthere since 1998 so ginger has now become a fashionable American wordto describe red hair. It slipped through the ruthless American editingprocess of the Harry Potter books that made every dustbin a trashcan,every jumper a sweater and every torch a flashlight. Even the title of thefirst one, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, was considered too difficult for young American readers, who had to have philosopher changedto sorcerer.Now she has the clout J. K. Rowling has had the original title restored.But the American editions of the books as a whole still include extensivetranslations of ‘Britishisms’ (the lists are easily found on the internet).American spelling . . .The trend on the internet is clear: American spellings are becoming morecommon as software defaults to the American form and often fails torecognise the British one. As one poster replied after having his furorcorrected to furore: ‘I know! I originally had furore but the Americanspell check built into Chrome suggested furor, which appears to be theirterm for the same thing.’British journalists working for media in general rather than employed bya single outlet used to call themselves freelances; now they tend to be‘freelancers’.Except among extra-careful writers the British distinction betweenlicence/practice as nouns and license/practise as verbs is getting lost (theAmericans prefer license with an s for both noun and verb and practicewith a c for both noun and verb). Election information for the Authors’Licensing and Collecting Society produced by the (British) ElectoralReform Services Ltd in December 2012 had license with an s used as anoun in the small print. Many British people follow American practicewhen they write informally.
4English for journalistsOn -ise/-ize there is no clear pattern. American practice favours -ize whilein Britain the trend has been away from it. The Times, which used to bethe only national newspaper loyal to -ize, abandoned it in 1992 while inthe same year the Geneva-based International Labour Organisation wentthe other way and adopted -ize, thus changing the spelling of its ownname. The European Union prefers -ise.Several American variants, such as airplane (for aeroplane), program (forprogramme) and fetus (for foetus), are increasingly common in BritishEnglish – see p70.Another increasingly common variant – dwarves for dwarfs – which mayor may not look American certainly isn’t. The famous Walt Disney film(1937) was called Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. It’s J. R. R. Tolkien,whose first fantasy book, The Hobbit, also came out in 1937, who’s responsible for the popularisation of ‘dwarves’ (which he called ‘a piece ofprivate bad grammar’); he adopted it to distance his fantasy from the realworld. So ‘dwarves’ should be restricted to fantasy, keeping elvescompany. . . and grammarThe most noticeable difference between British and American grammaris in the use of prepositions. For example, American kids get to be onthe team if selected whereas the British are in it. They usually play onweekends whereas the British play at weekends. If there’s no football/soccer field available they have to play on the street whereas the Britishplay in the street . . .Here American usage is increasingly dominant. Google the phrase ‘wordon the street’ and what do you get? ‘Word on the Street is an exciting newEnglish language teaching programme co-produced by the BBC and theBritish Council.’ Over on ITV the script for that posh historical soapabout the upper classes and their underlings Downton Abbey was said toinclude a London jazz club ‘on’ as opposed to ‘in’ Greek Street, Soho.But elsewhere in grammar there isn’t much difference between the twoversions of English – at least as far as recommendations are concerned.In That or Which, and Why (Routledge, 2007) Evan Jenkins, a columniston language for the Columbia Journalism Review, made a number of pointsfamiliar to British readers. He acknowledged that the British are more
What kind of English?5relaxed than the Americans about the traditional that/which rule (seepp28–9) and concluded:The that/which rule is arbitrary and overly subtle and oughtto be done away with. It is without intrinsic sense, but as longas large numbers of teachers and editors insist on it, we dowell to understand it.FragmentsOn the subject of grammar . . . as writing in general – and journalism inparticular – has become increasingly informal and colloquial, there isconfusion about the most fundamental point of all. What’s a sentence –and does it matter?The first edition of English for Journalists followed A Journalist’s Guide andsaid: ‘A sentence is a group of words expressing a complete thought.’ Thesecond edition (1998) added a dictionary definition – ‘a piece of writingor speech between two full stops or equivalent pauses’ – and stressed thata single word could be a sentence.The Guide’s original discussion of sentences advised that incomplete ones(fragments) should be used ‘very sparingly and in the right place’; journalists should avoid writing like ‘the chatty columnist’.But good columnists have always had a big influence on the waynewcomers aspired to write. For 30 years or so from 1935 the DailyMirror’s Bill Connor (Cassandra) broke many of the ‘rules’ of writing thatwere being drummed into the heads of schoolchildren, certainly the sillyban on ‘and’ to start sentences – but above all the one about sentencesneeding a subject and a verb:I suppose I was mortally afraid of Mr Beulah for the best part offive years.Dead scared.And especially so at this, the third week in September . . .Other iconoclastic columnists celebrated for their style were Connor’ssuccessor at the Mirror, Keith Waterhouse (who later moved to the DailyMail), and Bernard Levin who was famous for his long and complex (but
6English for journalistsbeautifully constructed) sentences. Levin once returned to his berth atthe Times after a few years away with a ‘sentence’ of three words: ‘Andanother thing.’So the fragment is nothing new. But now it’s everywhere – for examplein a feature on ‘our paedophile culture’ in the London Review of Books:‘At the BBC these people became like gods. Even the weird ones. Eventhe ones who everybody could tell were deranged . . .’So is there a problem? Not in principle, not any more. But there arestill some points worth making – see pp48–9.MeaningIt may irritate some people to hear British politicians describe themselvesas ‘stepping up to the plate in the upcoming elections’ where once theymight have gone out to bat in the forthcoming ones but the meaning ofmost Americanisms is clear. Most but not all: what does ‘you’re battingzero for two’ mean, for example? And why is the phrase ‘a red-headedstepchild’ used as an insult?*Meaning is key here. The ground floor in Britain is the first floor in theUS; to bathe in the US is to have a bath in Britain (traditional Britonsbathe in the sea in bathing suits); homely means friendly or kindly inBritain, plain or even ugly in the US. ‘I’m not on the homely side’ couldmean ‘I’m pretty hot really’. So it’s not something to be confused aboutwhen writing or reading an online dating profile.Nowadays even the best educated and most sophisticated people areunder extreme pressure to keep up. In December 2012 Mary Beard(Cambridge classics professor, Times Literary Supplement columnist andTV historian) ended her blog on a carol concert by asking: ‘What actually does “no crib for a bed” mean?’ The replies she got were generallyscornful. One of the more polite ones was: ‘I remember thinking aboutthis when I was about five and working it out for myself.’***1. You’ve had two goes at something and failed twice (like stepping up to the plateit’s from baseball). 2. According to the most convincing account, this is the child ofa (male) Irish immigrant labourer in New York and a woman who goes on to marrysomeone else.
What kind of English?7‘You’re welcome’Another way of looking at British versus American is through the eyesof foreigners. What do the French or the Chinese make of these twoversions of English? Do they spot the differences?Books and leaflets aimed at French speakers learning English have traditionally used visual clichés like the union jack, rain and Big Ben to makethe British connection explicit. A recent booklet (L’anglais correct, FirstEditions, Paris, 2012) has a front cover showing a bowler-hatted Britonoffering his umbrella to a rather wet woman who, quite correctly, says:‘Thank you!’Bowler hat then seems to spoil the whole thing by replying: ‘You’rewelcome.’ This is an imported American expression. Traditionallythere wasn’t a stock British response to ‘Thank you’. In the old days youcould say any one of several friendly things – don’t mention it, it’smy pleasure, you’ve earned it, I hope you enjoy it (or, as one of myrelatives used to say when he’d given me, aged eight or so, a half-crown,‘Don’t spend it all on beer’). Or you could just smile and say nothingat all. It wasn’t considered rude then – and among older people it isn’trude now.But ‘You’re welcome’ has become a standard response to ‘Thank you’worldwide, the equivalent of de nada or de rien, and it surely makessense for people learning English to use it (though they may well hearLondoners say all sorts of other things instead from ‘No worries’ or‘No probs’ to ‘Cheers’).So the French authors of L’anglais correct have