Hey, editor–don’t tweak my copy! Don’t massage it or rejigger it or anything! Watch out!
After the cute introductory remarks of the lede, it’s time for the “nut ‘graph”–the paragraph that tells you what’s really going on. So what is going on? Editors use their own cheap jargon, even though they’re big language snobs who hate it when business types say things like, “I need to maximize my potential.”
“When I was at The Times ,” recalled a former New York Times man, “an editor told me, ‘Oh, just take out all the goobers .’” What the hell? Mr. Ex- Times man tried to explain: “Her point was that the story was essentially fine in its structure, but the little things needed to be, quote unquote, massaged .”
Massaged? Yes, more than one writer’s work has gotten the old rubdown.
“Oh, my God! I used that phrase myself the other day,” said Alisha Davis, who writes for Newsweek . “I was like, ‘Oh, don’t worry about that paragraph–I’ll just massage it back!’ And then I was like, ‘Oh, my God, I didn’t just say that!”
But what does it mean?
“Um, for me that meant–and I’m going to stick with the metaphor here–it means that there were just kind of knots that need to be worked out,” said a freelancer who was massaged by Glamour . “There’s such a thing as a paragraph that’s too tight and too terse and you need to draw out the loooong muscles in the paragraphs enough for the readers.”
But if journalists get too relaxed in their writing, editors might just punch it up. “Oh–punch it up! I’ve had editors say that to me,” said Libby Callaway, a fashion reporter for the New York Post . “We do a lot of punching here.” In a thoroughly punched-up article, the good stuff is at the top and the exposition comes later. What else do editors recommend for “pieces” that just aren’t “working”?
“Finesse, fudge, rejigger,” said one freelancer, sounding weary. Anything else? “Add a little more shrinkage. That’s Cosmo . It means put more shrinks in–put more quotes.” She also mentioned tinker and fiddle . Is that all? “Tweak!”
Andrew Corsello, a GQ features writer, was home watching football. “I do think jargon is more prevalent in women’s magazines,” he said. “The editing process at GQ tends to be a lot more literary than the one you’re describing.” Mr. Corsello admitted, however, that his editor used the word “homework-y” to describe the second half of an 8,000-word article he recently submitted. But he swore his editor used no other buzzwords.
“Frankly,” Mr. Corsello said, “I would be deeply offended if all he came back with after a first draft was, you know, ‘We need to tweak.’ I’d be like, ‘Fuck you–we’re not working for Cosmo !’”
Can You Jeter?
Derek Jeter is not only a New York Yankee extraordinaire–he’s a word!
Linguists believe the verb “to jeter” originated one night in November, when Mr. Jeter snubbed his old flame, Mariah Carey, at Sean (Puff Daddy) Combs’ birthday party. In the weeks afterward, to jeter meant to avoid in a public setting . It was a useful synonym for “to diss” or “to blow off,” as in: He jetered her big time.
But “jeter” proved too snappy and supple a word to be hemmed in by just one meaning. So it is now jetering through the lexicon at an alarming rate. Consider …
To move laterally: Can you jeter that antenna a little bit to the left?
To leave in a hurry: Let’s jeter out of here.
To destroy: I’m gonna jeter your ass!
To engage in sexual intercourse: We jetered all night.
To ejaculate: Ewww, the President jetered on Monica’s dress.
To defecate: The dog jetered all over my new rug!
To fart: Who jetered?
To deceive: You better not be jetering me on this one.
To be tricked or cheated: Uh-oh, I think we’ve been jetered.
It is also used as a noun with various meanings …
Female breasts: Nice jeters!
Moxie, chutzpah, courage: You’ve got to say one thing–the boy’s certainly got jeter.
An erection: Hey, is that a beeper in your pocket or do you have a jeter?
Any high-quality piece of merchandise: This shit is the jeter!
Bliss: As the crowd admired his work, he knew he had reached his moment of jeter.
–Nancy Jo Sales
Item From the Heart
I’m writing this item for practically nothing. That’s how much I believe in it. I could have demanded my usual fee–but then this item probably wouldn’t have gotten written at all. My agent had a fit when I told him what I was doing. He said, “All I want is clients who make money, and all I get are artists!”
People might look at this item and say: “Oh, he’s writing this item to give himself a more serious image after the wild popularity of those really juicy items he wrote in the past.” But I happen to know that I just really like what this item is all about. It appealed to me on some elemental level.
Don’t get me wrong–this is not to say anything negative about juicy items. Those items struck a chord with many, many people, and I’m glad they did. I’ve made a very nice living with those juicy items, thank you very much, so I’m the last person who’d be knocking them.
Sure, I wish this item would find as large an audience as the juicy items, but I doubt it. I mean, it would be the height of pomposity for me to tell the guy who’s busted his hump at work all day: “Look, buddy, that item you’re reading may be juicy, but it’s junk. This is the kind of item you should be reading.” If that guy would rather read an item that’s maybe a little zippier, a little more fun than this one, then Mr. Item Writer over here can’t blame him for that. But in the off-chance that this item does amuse him as well as millions upon millions of other people, there is the possibility, through some back-end arrangements put together by my agent (he insisted), that this item could net me $36 million.
After I’m through with this more experimental item, I’ll probably go back to the juicy items once again. Unless this one, for some unforeseen reason, is a huge hit. Not that I’m expecting that to happen.
A Cell-Phone Guy at The Video Store
Sometime between the advent of the mom-and-pop video shops and Blockbuster Video’s “Go Home Happy” slogan, the cellular phone became a prop for certain people in Manhattan. Now the two things–video store and cell phone–have come together.
You used to see couples arguing in the video-store aisles. Now they do it over the phone.
“They’ve got something here called Dangerous Beauty ,” a guy said into his cell phone. This fellow was standing in the crowded “new-releases” section of a Blockbuster on Broadway. He had the video box in one hand, tiny phone in the other. “It was directed by the Thirtysomething guy,” he added.
As a certain cartoon rabbit used to say– what a maroon! Can you believe this guy? Can’t even choose a video on his own! And by the looks of him, he couldn’t survive a day out in the wild, either. You’ve got to be able to do one or the other–know your pop culture or survive in the wild, right? But this pasty Manhattan man–he looked like a “nice guy”–could do neither!
So there he was, receiving instruction by cell phone from the mean-ass girlfriend or wife who was sitting back home in their overheated apartment, ruling his life even now, when he should have been proudly cutting a swath through his own domain!
He was still staring at the Dangerous Beauty box. “I can’t figure out if this is, like, crap or a decent flick,” he said. “Wait. It has a ‘two thumbs up’ on it.”
Round and round the “new-releases” section he went, from The Apostle to The X-Files and back again. (“Look–I’m doing the best I can here,” he said at one point.) He lingered a while in the “S” section as he verified that there were indeed no available copies of Sliding Doors , starring Gwyneth Paltrow, queen of the solid rental.
At long last, he went home with The Avengers .