Monday, 10 October 2011

The strange case of the cutting-edge valise

The Mail trainee subs had a good afternoon with executive night editor Andy Gregory. Andy, once a Northern Echo colleague, gave a real insight into the way the Mail subs desk operates. He also touched on elegant variations. The phrase was coined by Fowler in his Dictionary of Modern English Usage, to refer to unnecessary synonyms. Fowler said: "It is the second-rate writers, those intent rather on expressing themselves prettily than on conveying their meaning clearly and still more those whose notions of style are based on a few misleading rules of thumb, that are chiefly open to the allurements of elegant variation. The fatal influence is the advice given to young writers never to use the same word twice in a sentence or within 20 lines or other limit."
Newspaper subs regularly encounter writers who don't like to use the same word twice, so seek elegant (or as the Americans call them, inelegant) variations. Some subs desks refer to them as povs, which stands for popular orange vegetable, a phrase supposedly edited out of an article about carrots. I have a story about a cow causing chaos on a motorway which I often give to trainee subs as an exercise. It is fascinating to watch the cow change into an animal, a beast and finally into a farmyard creature. In Andy's 30 years of subbing he has been collecting the examples that have crossed his desk at both the Express and the Mail. 
He shared some with the trainees today. See if you can work out what they are:
The popular fish-eating mammal
The tin-legged flying ace
Single-lens accessory
Love-it or loathe-it condiment
One of the world's best-loved insects
Red leather orb
Tasty bread-based snacks
The cutting-edge valise
Fantastic. They would make a great stocking-filler book. The answers are below. If you have any more examples, I would be delighted to receive them.
Answers: Otter; Douglas Bader; monocle; Marmite; bee; cricket ball; sandwiches; suitcase on wheels.

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