I’ve finally gotten around to the June 5 issue of the LRB, and in a Paul Laity review of a biography of George Steer, a war correspondent of the 1930s, found an excellent story about Evelyn Waugh. Steer and Waugh were both in Ethiopia for the Italian invasion of 1935; Steer, like most journalists, was against the Italians, while Waugh (predictably enough) took the imperialist side. Laity says:

But then Waugh was a hopelessly unsuccessful reporter. (He did send one significant cable to the Mail, informing the editor that the Italian minister in Addis was withdrawing his staff—a sign that the invasion was imminent. To keep the story from competitive colleagues, however, he sent it in Latin, and a puzzled subeditor in London was still trying to work out what it meant when the fighting began.)

Had he been working for the Times, of course, he wouldn’t have had this problem, but Steer had beaten him out for that job.

Addendum. I should add, for curious non-Latinists, that the title of this entry is line 850 of Seneca’s Oedipus (spoken by the impatient eponymous king, who is about to learn distressing facts about his ancestry) and means ‘Why do you look for words? Truth hates delay’; the latter hemistich is used by Denis Dutton as the motto of his Arts & Letters Daily.


  1. Yeah, unfortunately that trick rarely works 😉

  2. dung beetle says

    I’m glad the Dictator [Mussolini] did not read it, he may have been flumoxed too:

  3. John Cowan says

    O. Henry’s “Calloway’s Code” was far more successful at getting its message through wartime censorship. Unfortunately, all the online copies seem to print the crucial two-column table as an ordinary paragraph, so I reproduce it here correctly formatted despite being a partial spoiler. Just substitute it mentally for the paragraph after the words “Thus had Vesey set forth the reading of the code:”

    Foregone – conclusion
    Preconcerted – arrangement
    Rash – act
    Witching – hour of midnight
    Goes – without saying
    Muffled – report
    Rumour – hath it
    Mine – host
    Dark – horse
    Silent – majority
    Unfortunate – pedestrians
    Richmond – in the field
    Existing – conditions
    Great – White Way
    Hotly – contested
    Brute – force
    Select – few
    Mooted – question
    Parlous – times
    Beggars – description
    Ye – correspondent
    Angel – unawares
    Incontrovertible – fact

    It’s interesting to note that “silent majority”, made famous by Nixon in 1969, was already a newspaper cliche in 1921 when the story was written, and perhaps in 1905 when it is set. Note also that newspaper reporters formerly distinguished between a beat, getting first publication of a story through resourceful but honorable means, and a scoop, which involved breaking embargo dates, stealing another reporter’s copy, or equally reprehensible activities. Scoop now carries no such connotations.

  4. David Marjanović says

    It totally does – in science.

    In science, I’ve only encountered usage as a verb, not a noun; and there is no expression for “beat”, because if you know other people are already working on the exact same thing, you’ll either try to join them or give up and work on something else.

  5. @David Marjanović: I am not aware of any negative connotations for scoop in the sciences. You are right, though, that in that context, the word is predominantly used as a verb (as opposed to in journalism, where both the noun and verb are common, and I would guess the noun is actually more so).

  6. A delightful O.H. squib. “And most wonderful of all are words, and how they make friends one with another, being oft associated, until not even obituary notices them do part.”

Speak Your Mind