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The Worst Word in American Journalism: 'Fluid'

Thursday, 3 Feb 2011 | 11:10 AM ET
Newspapers
Valerie Everett
Newspapers

Joe Weisenthal, of Business Insider, sent out the following offhand tweet yesterday: "Pro tip: If you're on the ground in a riot zone, be sure to always sign off by describing the situation as 'fluid'"

Weisenthal's clever and humorous observation seems to make the following point: The word 'fluid' appears so often in breaking news reports that one begins to suspect that they offer a full course in its use at Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism.

I'm certain that I'm guilty, on occasion, of using the word 'fluid' in print myself—but it still bothers me.

It smacks of reporters allowing 'official' spokesmen to do their thinking for them.

While it's perfectly understandable that during, say, a hostage crisis, a police spokesman would want to describe the situation as 'fluid'— it's kind of a reporter's job to point out that what is really meant is more akin to 'unstable', or 'chaotic'—or, perhaps, 'completely out of control'.

End of rant.

Nice catch, Joe.

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