Monday, February 23, 2009

The Brave New Language of International Journalism (SIC?)

Apparently, yesterday's adoption of Variety-speak by Reuters was no mere flash in the pan. On the basis of one of the morning headlines from Tokyo, is would appear that "finmin" is now accepted terminology (at least in headlines, if not in the reports themselves):

Japan Finmin Yosano seen well-placed to be next PM

This could, of course, be the work of a new headline writer, possibly a "refugee" from Variety, as I had suggested yesterday. If so, then there is now a question of whether headlines go through the same degree of stylistic editing as does the content of the news stories. Back when I was writing for Boston After Dark, my editor wrote the headlines for my pieces; and I do not recall anyone acting as her editor. So there is some chance that this latest bit of terminological innovation has not been reviewed by either peers or superiors. (What would Gus Haynes say?)

My own reaction seems to be one of dwelling on the verb "creep" and its associated noun form. As its Wikipedia entry observed, the term "mission creep" "was originally applied exclusively to military operations, but has recently been applied to many different fields, mainly the growth of bureaucracies." This feels like the beginning of some form of mission creep along the terminological front of the fields of journalism (just to work the military metaphor for all it is worth), leaving me to wonder how Washington Post columnist Jim Hoagland, who first coined the term, would think about it. I am also reminded of the term "creeping socialism," promulgated in the Fifties by conservatives who were convinced that Reds were hiding under all of our beds, just waiting to wipe out our government and turn us all into slaves of Stalinism. Jean Shepherd came up with the perfect retaliation to this propaganda blitz when he coined the phrase "creeping meatballism" for an article published in 1957 in Mad Magazine. (Those wondering what I meant yesterday with that swipe about the days when Mad was funny can get an idea of what I meant by following the hyperlink for this article.)

Shepherd probably had the right idea. Certainly the military metaphor of mission creep seems to be out of place for a profession that now seems to consist almost entirely of the walking wounded; and it is hard to associate a word like "finmin" with the efforts of today's conservatives to revive the spirit of creeping socialism. This word is neither more nor less than a meatball in our midst, not a particularly spicy one but one very much in the spirit of how Archie Bunker used to apply "meatball" as a sobriquet (a usage now approved by the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary). That just gives me the creeps.

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