42 Comments

  1. The most important part of the story is that he got sick and died. She’s burying the lede (or lead) by not mentioning that part. It seems comprehensible, if not particularly funny.

    For this joke to work, she’d have to be talking to someone who didn’t know that the man was dead, so that she’d be omitting the most important information. It doesn’t really work here, because presumably the man in blue already knows that the man in the coffin is dead, and it makes perfect sense that he might be asking how the man in the coffin died.

  2. Word geek here again. I’ve been wondering for quite some time where this (to me) odd spelling came from. I scrounged through Oxford online just now and found this:

    lede (also lead): US – The opening sentence or paragraph of a news article, summarizing the most important aspects of the story. Origin: 1950s alteration of lead, first used in instructions to printers, in order to distinguish the word from text to be printed.

    When I studied media in college many years ago, it was spelled lead – but that was in the 1970s, and the last time I checked, the 1970s came along well after the 1950s.

    Am I the only media person here who’s spent most of his life spelling it “lead”? Am I also the only one who can’t type “lede” without his fingers resisting it?

  3. @ B.A. – We have definitely already discussed the word “lede”, but I don’t think we’ve ever seen this panel before now. It’s dated 18-Jan-2020, and it isn’t in any of the “Cornered” posts that have appeared since then.

  4. P.S. The joke would work better (as a pun) if the clause were in quotes (so that she was quoting the deceased), especially if there were reason to believe that he was her boss, and not her husband.

  5. LeVieuxLapin, when I was in journalism school in the 60s, I knew it as “lead”. I probably knew the word in high school, and it was probably “lead” then and there, too.

  6. I think part of the issue around lead/lede is that you also didn’t want confusion in the days when there was hot metal typesetting, where the metal used was a lead alloy. Phototypesetting came onto the scene in the 1950s and grew in popularity. I imagine that “lede” was more common with the old-timers who worked in places with hot metal, which was largely gone by the 1980s. Those who trained with old-timers may still also make the distinction, even if they don’t have personal experience of hot metal type. I’m sure there were variations based on the preference of what the EiC (aka God) said it should be*. And if you’re talking about TV journalists, well, there is no real journalism on TV, so who cares.

    The cartoon? The joke is a flop. The guy is standing in front of the corpse. He knows he’s dead. She’s not reporting breaking news. She’s doing an analysis piece, or maybe a feature, depending on how the rest of the conversation goes. As Winter Wallaby said, for it to work she’d need to be talking to someone who didn’t know Corpsey McStiff was dead and she’d have to be doing it without the body right in front of them.

    *When I was in Singapore, my friends who worked at the English-language dailies, The Straits Times and The Business Times, explained that that reason their papers printed “Hong Kong” as one word (Hongkong) was because big EiC who oversaw both dictated it must be so. I guess he’s long gone and they no longer do that. So sometimes it’s down to what the guy with the big stick says.

  7. Y’all totally got it wrong! Her husbands name is “Lede.”

    Boom. Hilarious.

    (Also, as a professional laugh inducer, I’d have had Lede buried wearing lederhosen)

  8. @ CloonBounty – Unfortunately, the word is pronounced “Laid-er-hoz-en” (although I wouldn’t expect that anyone wearing them has ever gotten laid).

  9. As another data point: in 1999, when I took Journalism 101 as an elective, we were taught to spell it “lede” specifically to avoid the “lead/lead” confusion based on lead type – that, of course lead type had ceased to be a thing long before our instructor had ever done journalism, but tradition was important, and that “lede” was a specific term of art meaning the opening and most important sentence of a story. If you were using “lead” in any other sense — chasing down leads for sources, taking the lead in a team of journalists, anything else related to journalism or not, it was “lead” — “lede” was restricted to that unique meaning.

  10. Well, I dislike that ugly bit of jargony spelling. My basis for disliking it is just that it is jargon.

    But I have demoted that bit of fuming to elevate in its place the understandable but really not to be encouraged practice of writing “lead” for “led”. Underlying this is the fact that “lead” can be pronounced /lɛd/ , when it means the metallic element. But often nowadays you can see “lead” where the context absolutely or very likely calls for a simple past, or past participle — either of which is spelled “led”. (Or in captioned video, where you can hear /lɛd/ in the soundtrack but see “lead” in the captions.)

    My hedging about “very likely calls for simple past” is for the not too rare contexts where there is a sequence-of-tenses going on and the writer could claim to have meant a present-tense (or timeless) “lead” (pronounced /liːd/ in IPA or /lēd/ in traditional-dictionary-key) — like “The additional factors which we took into account and lead to a new conclusion..”. Here took is past and there is no reason led shouldn’t be, but it’s not impossible that present lead could have fit.

  11. Someone in my office recently passed around a link for a grammar correction service. I found the ad so offensive that I’m not going to name or link it here, but given that I’m harping on usage, I expect to make at least one silly error in this paragraph. The fundamental concept was to automatically correct impossibly stupid usage errors before the message is sent. The downside (at least in the ad) was that better grammar was supposed to help dweebs get “better connected” with attractive female colleagues. In other words, it’s helping people who really shouldn’t be allowed to reproduce to find compatible mates.

  12. Kilby: I would argue the ad seems to be advocating helping people who really shouldn’t be allowed to reproduce in the first place find incompatible mates, and that overall this is a good thing: if they find compatible mates, they would be equally grammatically inept, and if we assume grammatical eptness is inherited, they would be perpetuating poor grammar; if, on the other hand, through deceit, the grammatically challenged are now able to attract and reproduce with grammatically fitter mates than they would otherwise attract, then the gene pool for better grammar would improve, as they would be breeding out their propensity for poor grammar.

    Or should that be “brede”?

  13. @ larK – You may be right: we could hope that she would rub off on him, but I’m more worried that he will rub off on her, especially since “grammar” is primarily a “nurture” (rather than a “nature”) issue.

  14. William Safire wrote about the “lede” spelling in his On Language column in the New York Times, Nov. 18, 1990. He noted, “You will not find this spelling in dictionaries; it is still an insiders’ variant, steadily growing in frequency of use.” He concluded that “it has earned its place as a variant spelling, soon to overtake the original spelling for the beginning of a news article.” His discussion included some of the points made above by SingaporeBill and ianosmond.

    The Oxford English Dictionary traces it to 1951: “Pampa (Texas) Daily News 21 June 17/2 Lead (Lede)—Opening of a news story, ordinarily summarizing the rest of it.” But there are no additional citations until 1979, suggesting that it did not become a sufficiently popular example of newspaper jargon to make it into print frequently until about that time.

    “Lede” is now so common that use of the standard spelling, “lead,” probably exposes you as not a newspaper person, unless you’re an old-timer. But I certainly would not call “lead” incorrect.

  15. Quoting James Lipton on the “language pundit” William Safire: “…one challenges Safire at one’s linguistic peril.” (from the “Ultimate Edition” of “An Exaltation of Larks“, p. 119).

  16. The story goes that, in 1968, Messrs. Page, Plant, Jones and Bonham were told their new band was destined to go over like a lead balloon. They changed “lead” to “Led” so that it would be pronounced correctly, and “balloon” to “Zeppelin,” probably because it sounded cool.

  17. I think if you’re going to use the term “bury the lede,” you have the obligation to spell “lede” correctly.

  18. B.A. Sure, but conversely, if you’re going to use the phrase “bury the lead,” you have the obligation to spell “lead” correctly.

  19. at the risk of MY burying the lede, or at the risk of HIS burying the lede?

    i.e., “I’m telling you, at the risk of burying the lede, that he decided to take a short nap” or “He told me ‘I don’t feel well, and at the risk of burying the lede I have decided to take a short nap”?

  20. I can’t do it just now, but it would be interesting to check Google’s ngram for “bury the lead” and “bury the lede”.

  21. If you look at just American English, “bury the lede” finally passed “bury the lead” in 2017.

  22. Did any of you have friends or anyway co-students in high school or first-year college, who worked on the school paper, or even took a Journalism class, and developed an annoying love of the jargon and a set of opinions like “Sports reporting has some of the best prose stylists around”?
    One such person I knew picked up the idea that typing ” — 30 –” centered below your text was a way of saying “the end” for a piece . .. and did that on English and History papers.
    They would also say “graf” for “paragraph”. Even when discussing a novel, say.
    To me, “lede” is just of-a-piece with that sort of enthusiast’s over-commitment to the stylings of a hobby.

  23. @ Mitch4 – I picked up that “–30–” detail while working for my high school paper, and while I never found another place where I could use it (at least not so that anyone else would understand it), there were a number of times where I was happy to see (and understand) it in unexpected places, most notably several times in Walt Kelly’s “Pogo“. If there ever was a cartoonist intimately familiar with the intracacies of lead type, it was Kelly.

  24. Trenchant comment, Mitch.
    I was on the paper in college, and would probably have fallen prey to the kind thing you talk about, were it not for the seeming active hostility between the journalism department and the paper — anybody who worked on the paper was somehow seen as part of the unwashed masses by those precocious journalism majors, who would deign to work for a semester or two on the paper, but probably only as a practical requirement, to be disdained as quickly as possible. So as such, for us working stiffs getting our hands dirty on the paper, there was no rich tradition to envelop us except for the little we were able to establish for ourselves. The paper suffered for this, of course, which made it all the easier to disdain it, lather, rinse, repeat.
    I remember how excited I was sophomore year when our editor-in-chief encouraged all us editors to enroll in a practical journalism class that he’d heard about being on offer the next semester — in the course catalog, it looked great, it encouraged working on the paper as a prerequisite, and not only would we finally get some precious guiding and mentoring, we would also be able to actually earn course credit for what we were doing!
    So, I enroll, and when the start of next semester rolls around, this is the class I’m most looking forward to. So I go to the first class, and already, the one journalism major who’d been on the paper the previous semester is looking at me like I’m something on the bottom of his shoe — what the hell am I doing here? (Mind you, I was an editor, he wasn’t, and I’d been with the paper since freshman year.) I thought his snotty attitude would finally be sorted once and for all once the class started. Sadly, his attitude was indicative of the department, because as soon as the professor showed up, he noticed me sticking out like a sore thumb from the cadre of the faithful, and asked me what I was doing in this class. ?? I’m the features editor at the CT, I want to learn to do a better job on the job; the course catalog said the previous course prerequisite was waiveable for current editors at the paper, that’s me! I got a condescending, heh, heh, you haven’t taken the previous course, you wouldn’t know what we were talking about, and how are things at the Times?
    (The course was practical, the description said they would be looking at the actual paper to discuss and critique, so you tell me how things are at the “Times” (no one called it “the Times”, we called it the CT!)!)
    So I was sent packing, while the faithful all sniggered at my retreating back, the one guy from the class who was writing for the paper was insufferable as ever, his journalism wasn’t very good, and I continued on as best I could, without the benefit of institutional knowledge or advice, and without course credit…

  25. Oh, yes, I forgot the final irony, having to drop the journalism course at the start of the semester screwed up my carefully planned schedule — I was still a physics major, and this course, aside from all the other virtues promised, also fulfilled an upper level writing requirement, which was now suddenly lacking from my course load, and which I never managed to organically fill in again, such that I had to take an extra course the summer of my graduating year to fulfill the requirement — never mind that I had been writing and editing for the paper all my time at the school. So not only did this course not fulfill its promise to me, it actually threw a huge monkey wrench into my graduating on time because of, of all things, a frigging writing requirement!

  26. Mitch4, I wouldn’t say there is anything wrong with adopting the conventions and argot of a discipline. As you point out, it’s when they are used inappropriately and by fans that there is a problem. Such shorthand and conventions (and this applies to my experience in teaching, finance, telecoms, journalism, and marketing) are mostly to be precise and avoid confusion. I always try to avoid dropping that stuff into regular life, reserving it for work and talking shop with other practitioners over a few wobbly pops.

    A trivia bit: In Australia, they use “para” rather than “graf” to refer to a paragraph. The final “a” is swallowed so it’s really about one and a quarter syllables rather than two. I don’t know if “para” is used in other places outside the USA.

    larK, your story illustrates one of the reasons why journalism is dying. As the aphorism says, journalism is telling the stories somebody doesn’t want told; everything else is just advertising. I’m prejudiced, of course, having learned on the job. The danger is that putting journos in universities and giving them degrees and having them rub shoulders with the privileged classes is going to naturally make them rather tame and cosy with the people they should be keeping an eye on.

    I’ve worked with credentialed journos, but some of the best I’ve know started as copyboys and learned by doing, under the tutelage of crusty editors. I think it’d be great to learn a lot of stuff in courses, sure. A friend about my age did a journalism degree and then spend years in small-town papers in the wilds of Northern Ontario. He’s committed to the craft and a credit to it and he seems one of a dying breed.

  27. I knew there were others, like “graf” for “paragraph”; I just couldn’t think of them.

    Then there’s “leading”, pronounced “ledding” not “leeding”, referring to how much lead (pronounced “led”) to stick between the lines to space them out. So it’s only common sense to spell “lede” unambiguously. Or as Stan Laurel said, “You can lead a horse to water but a pencil must be lead!”

  28. larK (JULY 17, 2020 AT 9:47 AM): I’m sorry to hear about that despicable treatment. AFAIK, there was never such crass behavior when I was a j-major and also on The Daily Texan staff.

    SingaporeBill (JULY 17, 2020 AT 12:24 PM): Here in the USA, a “para” is a paralegal person in a law office. I still use “graf” sometimes, but most non-journalists don’t recognize it.

    And one reason the newspaper industry is dying is that free news on the Internet means people don’t have to pay to find out what’s happening.

    There’s also the overindustrialization. My last newspaper was a semi-major daily that was one of Gannett’s early acquisitions, and soon became an unpleasant place to work, whose Gannett-installed managing editor knew (and cared) much more about profits than about journalism. (After a few years, I jumped into technical writing.)

    Also, at least in the case of our local paper, cost-cutting caused delivery to be so haphazard and unreliable (if that isn’t too redundant) that the more reliable online option became more desirable.

  29. I’m not sure whether “hed” is used for “headline”, but I do know that “subhed” is the standard spelling (at least among typesetting nerds) for the explanatory line under a newspaper headline. The term shows up rather often in the Washington Post’s “Style Invitational” contest.

  30. Thank you, Andréa. I guess I’m getting senile or something, ‘cuz when I saw that Non Sequitur the first time, it didn’t dawn on me that someone had buried the lede.

  31. . . . and I managed to remember that we discussed this some time ago. Now, ask me what I had for breakfast a few hours ago . . . um, something crunchy . . .

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