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Flick "nix" across the Styx

Yesterday I remarked on Facebook and Twitter, "AP writers still use "nix." That takes moxie." Subsequently a couple of estimable ladies took me to task for disparaging the word, which they use freely. One of them called down a pox on my house.

I should explain.

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The verb nix, to cancel, reject, refuse, &c., is slang of U.S. origin from around 1900. It was a key element in the famous Variety headline of 1935, "STICKS NIX HICK PIX" (People in rural areas dislike being portrayed as rubes in movies).

Because it is a short, punchy word, copy editors, always desperate for a short word for one-column headlines, took to it with a will, particularly for the breezy tone favored by tabloids.

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The objections to it are not that it is slang, but that it is dated slang, and that it smells of journalese.

To dedicated readers of newspapers,* journalese is familiar, even expected. Probe for "investigation," eye for "examine," nab for "apprehend," mull for "consider," ink for "to sign," pact for "treaty" or "agreement," heist for "robbery," hike for "increase," tout for "endorse," and blast for "criticize" are for them markers of a familiar landscape.

For an example of how odd journalese looks and sounds outside the pages of a newspaper, I give you Paula LaRocque's classic "IN A SURPRISE MOVE: A Dialogue in Journalese."

It's well attested that there are not many people under fifty who have the newspaper habit, and in my extended campaign to reduce or eliminate journalese I have been suggesting that one reason we lack younger readers is that we write in a dialect of English that they find quaint, dated, and alien to the way they speak and write.** Therefore we should make an effort not to write that way.

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So at The Sun, we nix not; neither do we nab.

*I am reminded of a remark by Steve Auerweck, a former Sun colleague, that we might consider changing our obituaries logo to subscriber countdown.

**Of course, it's equally plausible that John L. Robinson is right and our crappy customer service is what will do us all in.

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