Guardian readers' editor Siobhain Butterworth in her last Open Door column today includes an epistle she and the editor of the style guide were sent by one of the paper's writers last April. It was addressed to the "Custodians of the English" language:
"You may think I am making too much of this, but bear with me. I just started reading this story on our blessed website [about cricket] and of course, the first thing I read was the intro: 'Former England captain Michael Vaughan is among a raft of high-profile omissions from the first Test squad to take on West Indies at Lord's next week.'
"Now, I'm afraid at that point I gave up, such is my loathing of the word 'raft' when used out of context in this absurd way, but more generally because it signifies that the piece is not written in English but in a new language called webese which I fear will increasingly take over, as hard-pressed writers have to churn out stuff and use words like "raft" to ramp up (is that webese?) the significance of what they are writing about. I noticed someone wrote to the readers' editor yesterday criticising the rampant cliche levels in the Guardian and picking out "eye-watering" as swine flu-like in its contagiousness. This bleedin' raft is another example: four players who might have been thought to have a reasonable chance of being selected for the first Test have been omitted. Sink the raft and just give us the facts. Please be vigilant as we float, on our non-metaphorical raft, towards the linguistic rapids."
It was signed: "Your obedient servant, Sir Bufton Tufton KBE"
Sir Bufton returned to the fray in October, writing: "I noticed a 'rushed to hospital' in an intro last week. I winced but let it pass. Two days later, it was in a front-page caption. Can you deal with it in the appropriate fashion? Surely only news if the ambulance carrying the grievously injured victim dawdles on the way to hospital, stopping at a drive-thru McDonald's, taking in a movie etc etc. What's to become of us all?"
Whose to succeed Butterworth? No decision yet, but my vote goes to Sir Bufton Tufton.
I am a freelance journalist based in the UK and was deputy editor of Press Gazette, the journalists' magazine, from 1993 until 2006. I want to give an independent view on media matters.
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