SubScribe: Repetitive strain Google+

Monday 20 February 2012

Repetitive strain

Carla Bruni has a talent for reinventing herself. Her latest incarnation, of course, is as first lady of France, loyal wife to President Nic and devoted mother to baby Giulia.
Newspapers and broadcasters on both sides of the Channel have thrilled to every episode of the soap opera that took her from the catwalk via the arms of Mick Jagger to the Elysee Palace. But there's a small snag: her name. Carla Bruni-Sarkozy is a bit of a mouthful and takes up the best part of a  line of text,  even in 8pt.
So having got it out of the way at first mention, the temptation for the reporter or sub is to find other ways to refer to her. The sidebar to the presidential campaign page lead in the Telegraph today takes that to extremes. 
In the space of seven pars, Ms Bruni-Sarkozy is described as the first lady... the former model... the pop singer... and the heiress... and as seeking to portray herself as new mother, doting spouse.. and woman of the people. Wonderwoman's name is used only once.
There are times when broadsheet folk yearn to be transported to a redtop that would permit the use of Carla, but if that's not an option, we just have to accept that her name is her name and use it.
It is possible that the Telegraph correspondent was seeking to portray Ms Bruni-Sarkozy as a woman of many parts -  or even taking a gentle dig at her-  but it seems more likely that he was trying to avoid repetition.
The fear of repetition leads not only to daft linguistic contortions but also to confusion. In the case of Ms Bruni-Sarkozy to introduce successive paragraphs with a new description causes the reader to pause,  if only momentarily, to wonder whether a fresh character has been introduced.

Most people seem to have got the message that 'said' is a perfectly good word that doesn't need to be turned into interjected or opined or declaimed or any other such nonsense, but the dread of repeating other words remains widespread. So much so that it has given rise to a game in one newsroom where subs are challenged to identify the word being avoided by using so-called elegant variation. 
Examples (yes, they  are real) include the popular yellow fruit...(banana), the familiar red roadside furniture...(postbox) and the large grey beast...(elephant).
Tom Pride of The Times has an extensive collection and it would be fun to compile one on this site, so all contributions are welcome. Thanks to  Richard Dixon for starting the ball rolling with custodians between the uprights (goalkeepers). It's  absurd - but then, most of the usual rules do not apply to sport. You do hear people in the pub talking sportalese.

Just to be perverse, back at the Telegraph our Carla correspondent also demonstrates that  sometimes a single repetition can jar, even in separate stories.
 In the main copy he writes 
Stuck with the nickname of "President of the rich", Mr Sarkozy is recasting himself as the underdog...
In the Carla sidebar, he tells us 
Communication experts remain sceptical that recasting the heiress into a "woman of the people" will help her husband...
A little recasting of one of them would not have gone amiss. 
Some commentators are never satisfied.

God cop, bad cop:
Still with the Telegraph, congratulations to the business sub for this simple  
Shopper numbers tail off without the tinsel factor
OK, so shopper numbers is a bit staid, but what a lovely turn of phrase at the end. We know exactly what it means without any festive jargon. There was no tinsel factor in the copy, so it was creative subbing at its best.
More examples welcome, as it would be nice to have a hall of fame to celebrate thoughtful headline writing.

Less creative was this effort in the Times iPad edition
Man trapped in car near Arctic Circle survives for 60 days by eating snow
A man trapped in his car just south of the Arctic Circle apparently survived for 60 days by eating snow.
A fascinating story. A good head? A good intro? Probably one, but not both. This is the sort of repetition that we do need to avoid.

Thank you for sticking with it to the end. Please do share your thoughts below. And please take a look at the other posts. They are all media related.

Sold down the river the Beeb's flotilla and fireworks fiasco - and a feeble fightback. Why didn't the top man have his hand on the tiller?

Hello and goodbye to Wapping a personal diary of life inside the fortress in the days before the strike that changed newspapers forever

Out of print a love letter to newspapers in this digital age. Why they don't have to die if we have the will to let them live and thrive

Why local newspapers matter Why we should care about the revolution in the regional press

Missing: an opportunity How the hunt for Madeleine McCann could be turned into a force for good instead of just a festival of mawkish sentimentality

Riding for a fall Does buying a ticket for a jolly day out at the races mean you are fair game for the snobs who sneer and snipe?

Just a pretty face Illustrating the business pages isn't the easiest job in the world, but spare us the celebs who aren't even mentioned in the story

Food for thought a case study in why we should take health advice with a pinch of salt (and a glass of red wine and a helping of roast beef) 

The world's gone mad Don Draper returns and  the drooling thirtysomethings go into overdrive But does anybody watch the show? (But there is more Whipple in this post!)

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