Living Language Peeve: Slang at the CSM

I know some of my readers who are also real-life friends or acquaintances are aware of my “living language peeves.” Those are the things that we could eliminate, if we could only keep the language from evolving. Granted, some of those evolutionary steps aren’t necessarily bad things. Sometimes, for instance, we need a word for a thing that was just created or invented. That’s a Good Thing. However, my peeve for today falls into the Bad Thing category no matter how I slice it.

“Humongous” in a Headline? Really, CSM?

Now, lest someone out there think I’m a total stick-in-the-mud, I use that word plenty in everyday speech. I don’t shy away from slang. In daily speech, with my family and friends, there’s no reason to be stodgy. However, I draw the line at using slang in professional situations like when I’m teaching, or making a presentation to a group. I apply the same standards to writing. I don’t expect to see “humongous” in a headline at a news outlet with the reputation of the Christian Science Monitor. I just don’t. The Onion, sure. A college paper with a carefree bent, sure. The NYT? The CSM? The WaPo? No, I’m sorry–I expect their writers and editors to use standard English.

And that’s the way it is, Tuesday, July 17, 2012. Good night, David.


ETA: Later tonight, this version appeared on the RSS feed. Both links remain active at this posting. More info in my comment timestamped 7:02pm.

5 thoughts on “Living Language Peeve: Slang at the CSM

  1. That last part is the important thing, from here. It’s rather like pornography. We all know what it is for ourselves, but defining it for someone else becomes problematic. For me, it’s slang if I can find it listed as such in a commonly-accepted dictionary printed within the last 5-10 years, generally speaking. I reserve the right to be obstinate and hold fast to my opinion if I fail in that quest, because. That’s all, just because. We all have certain things to which we adhere on general principles, I think, regardless of “current thought on the matter” or what have you. (Because, y’know, a million or so wrongs don’t make a right, even if conventional wisdom says otherwise. But that’s a different rant for a different day, and a different blog as well.)

    ETA: I see that it’s still considered “informal,” which is a step above slang. I’ll stand by my statement that it’s inappropriate for the CSM to use informal language in their headlines. (I found it interesting, though, that the link you provided discusses the correctness of such language in sports stories or other “soft news” features. Since this one is scientific in its thrust, the informality of the word was particularly jarring to me.)


  2. Having once been paid to write headlines for a “serious” newspaper, i can attest to the fact that doing so very often involves a sophomoric desire to see just how much you can get away with (especially on a front page). For whatever it’s worth, i think it’s likely that the CSM headline was more a matter of someone snickering, “Hey! I’ll sneak ‘humongous’ in there!’ and less a matter of the editorial board deciding that the word has become standard English. What’s especially annoying in this case is that “city-sized” would have taken the same amount of space and been a lot punchier in the head than the subhead.


  3. I just noticed on my RSS feed that the headline’s different now, utilizing the word “huge” instead. That piqued my curiosity, so I clicked the link I embedded earlier. Both versions are functional. I will note, however, that the bylines are different. The one about which I rose a fuss is from OurAmazingPlanet, and the one that just appeared moments ago is from Seth Borenstein.

    I would love to think my comments here had anything at all to do with the change. I know better, but I’d still love to think it.


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