Friday, January 2, 2009


Buzzwords become all the more annoying when no one else seems to acknowledge them as such. Indeed, a widespread willingness not to question a buzzword may only help it flourish. So, it is all the more thrilling when a long-running cliché is rebuked somewhere other than, say, a grumpy editor’s blog.

The Torontoist is a blog, but a relatively mainstream one that does not usually concern itself with the ebbs and flows of contemporary linguistics, focusing rather on Toronto-related news, events, culture, politics, public space and other areas of coverage that actually affect a lot of people. It was therefore surprising (and gratifying) when one of its recently nominated ‘Villains of 2008’ was not an ornery politician or other distasteful public figure, but rather a single word, “killing.”

Specifically, on December 26, 2008, the Torontoist took local media to task for using sensationalistic headlines featuring “killing” and similar terms when clearly unwarranted:

What's been up with the front page headlines on this city's weekly alternative papers this year? It seemed like it was impossible to pass a green or yellow newspaper box without being told about "THE END" of this, "THE DEATH" of that, or, most annoyingly, asked, "Is so-and-so KILLING such-and such?" "Are bars killing West Queen West?" "Is Rock Band killing music?" "Is digital killing the art of photography?" "Is Girl Talk killing music?" The answer to all of these questions is a simple "no" …

… we understand that news media is all about finding the story and making dull facts interesting, and many of the articles that accompany these headlines are well-written and thought-provoking. But this kind of front-page sensationalism makes the publication seem less like the hip and savvy alternative to the mainstream media and more like a scandal-hungry supermarket tabloid.

The simple verb “to kill” has long spawned far too many metaphorical meanings to count, a large handful of which will show up among dictionary definitions, but it’s refreshing when someone pauses once in a while to acknowledge the context of some of these meanings as overheated sensationalismrather than the typical responses of eyes glazing over or, even worse, taking hype at its word.

Unfortunately, media of all types are desperate today to catch readers' attention and there are likely to be a lot more ‘killer’ headlines in the near future, not less. Hopefully, the Torontoist’s cheeky accusation of villainy in such will help some readers think twice.

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