Marijane Funess January 10, 2013 | 07:03:25

The Hellfire And Damnation School Of Journalism

Confession: I am a word nerd. I read incessantly. I love Scrabble, the Times crossword and Words with Friends. When I’m bored, I anagram, just for fun.

Therefore, I’m always on the lookout and (listenout?) for great turns of phrase and colorful language, particularly when there’s evidence of a trend afoot. I noticed just such a microtrend in some interesting news coverage of late. I call it #helltrending. Read on for some proof.

Barely a week ago, Atlantic Monthly published a scathing account of the current state of US banks. In this terrifically well-reported piece, author Frank Partnoy variously refers to banking ills with the following fiery language, like “dry rot”; “toxic legacies”; “inferno”; and “Dante’s descent into Hell.”

Jon Stewart added to the “heated” conversation venting at AIG and HSBC and accusing AIG of bringing the world to the “brink of Armageddon.”

In the same vein, earlier this week CBS’ Scott Pelley interviewed U.S. Anti-Doping Agency head, Travis Tygart regarding reports that disgraced former cycling champ Lance Armstrong tried to make a donation to the agency when it appeared his carefully constructed anti-doping façade was beginning to crumble. In discussing blood test results now coming to light, Tygart labeled them “flaming positive” and said teammates feared that if they told the truth, Armstrong would “incinerate them.”

Ouch! What can we take from the use of all this passionate, burning language? Our recent close encounter with the Mayans? The fact that 2012 was the hottest year on record? You decide!

2 thoughts on “The Hellfire And Damnation School Of Journalism

  1. I work in non-profit with animal shelters, and I notice the media often uses “hellfire” terms when describing pit bulls. It’s amazing how sensationalized the reporting is, just by peppering the stories with “heated” terms. I mean, they just dogs — they’re not demonic creatures from the underworld! But I guess that sells more headlines than talking about “cold noses.”

  2. Yes, certain categories of reporting do seem to encourage the “incendiary” language, and you are right it is all about the headlines. But animals, particularly those that are harder to adopt, should be off-limits. Thanks for the comment.

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