Get your mind out of the gutter—that title has nothing to do with porn, it’s wirespeak for “an analysis piece with accompanying photographs.” Read all about it at Mike Feinsilber’s Writing Easy: Unearthing a Lost Language, an explication of “the jargon that Associated Press and its erstwhile strongest competitor in those days, United Press, independently devised for internal communications. Its purpose was to save time—and money.” It’s based on what sounds like an interesting book:
In 1997, four years before his death, hurrying before all this was lost, Richard Harnett, a retired reporter and bureau manager in San Francisco for 36 years, wrote and self-published Wirespeak: Codes and Jargon of the News Business. He printed 500 copies and figured he’d be lucky to sell half of them. This blogpost draws from Harnett’s work. His book is out of print, although Amazon lists used copies at three-figure prices.
I never met Harnett, the son of a traveling dry-goods salesman in North Dakota, but I uppicked the phone and interviewed him in 1997, the year his book was published. He said these codewords were used as much for esprit as for saving words. “If you could use them, it meant you were in the know,” he said.
There’s some history and a good story or two, and a comment with further details by Paul (who frequently comments here as well and who sent me the link). Outcheck soonest!
And speaking of porn, don’t miss Maev Kennedy’s Guardian piece on the latest Bad Sex Award shortlist. In general that award tends to annoy me—it seems to me they seize on any attempt at literary writing, whether bad or not, and don’t really notice when a writer is deliberately being funny (as in the last nominee quoted, Nicholas Coleridge’s “In seconds the duke had lowered his trousers and boxers and positioned himself across a leather steamer trunk, emblazoned with the royal arms of Hohenzollern Castle. ‘Give me no quarter,’ he commanded. ‘Lay it on with all your might’”), but the Craig Raine quote that includes the phrase “Like a wubbering springboard” is so hilarious it justifies the existence of the award all by itself. (Thanks, Conrad!)