As a journalist, you get a new block of wood every day. At the end of the day, you may like what you made of it or not, but tomorrow there will be a new block of wood.

– Vince Gagetta, reporter for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Most believers in “Tomorrow is another day” are hoping for a miracle. Gagetta expects another block of wood. You could characterize his view as grimly optimistic.

When writing a book, you have the pages you wrote yesterday behind you. You can look ahead to the day when your book will be finished, and the whole story told. For a beat reporter, there is only today, a block of wood to be carved. The grain may be open and straight or dense with knots – you don’t get to choose. But you are responsible for what you make of the material you are given. Albert Camus would have loved this definition of journalism.

Comparing Gagetta’s journalist to Camus’ existential hero Sisyphus – who must roll a boulder to the top of a hill, only to see it roll back down to the bottom, where he must go and roll the rock uphill again – the conspicuous difference is that the journalist gets nights off. Dividing our lives into days, we have two clear lines drawn between the past and future, and a clear view of the work in hand.



– CNN, every six minutes or so

Breaking news sounds like a comparison to a breaking wave – a massive event with a rush of consequences – but the origin of the phrase is less dramatic. It comes from the expression “break the news (to somebody),” as in break it to them gently.

The Oxford English Dictionary gives early examples of break being used to mean “reveal” or “disclose.” In The Paston Letters (1474), “she brake hyre harte” means she opened her heart, as if it were a container. In the 1500s, “break the matter” and “break the business” meant introduce a topic for discussion. By the early 1700s, break the news to someone was a familiar expression.

In a search of Google Books, the earliest use of breaking news specific to journalism is from The Detroit News, a 1918 booklet by Lee A. White. He defines breaking news as “the immediate and palpitating story, fresh from telegraph or telephone…”

Dancing with Mr. Arbuckle was “like floating in the arms of a huge donut.”

– Louise Brooks (actress), quoted in Gary Krist, The Mirage Factory (2018)

Donuts don’t dance and don’t have arms. However, they are round and can encircle. And if it seemed to Miss Brooks that she was floating weightless in Fatty Arbuckle’s arms, it would have been because he was famously light on his feet – able to do somersaults and backflips despite the roundness of his figure.

Setting its complications aside, the simile is simple enough.

Fatty Arbuckle = donut

A donut is an icon of gluttonous overeating (as seen for decades on The Simpsons). Public fascination with the scandal that ended Arbuckle’s career as a comedian in silent movies (after the death of an actress at a wild Hollywood-style party) was intensified no doubt by the imagery in mental movies of his corpulence in orgiastic scenes of gratification of the flesh.

Dramatic imagery (imagery that acts out a story) is the essence of metaphor.

He’d been the star performer in another of LA’s great goldfish bowl trials, where crime and celebrity mingle and swim around together, weirdly magnified.

— Richard Rayner, A Bright and Guilty Place

Celebrity is often compared to living in a goldfish bowl — a metaphor that depends on your remembering when brightly colored fish swimming very short laps in a jar added life to living room decor. (Eventually: Whooooooosh!)

The quoted line refers to Dave Clark, the prosecutor in a scandal-filled 1931 trial involving movie legend Clara Bow. Later that year, Clark was again the star in yet another goldfish bowl trial – this time as the defendant charged with two murders. Rayner’s book gives a highly readable account of the case and the dubious character of Los Angeles government in the early 1930s.

(Posted on FB June 20, 2014)

Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Delivers Treasure Trove of Data

— NASA press release

As a former copy editor for The Planetary Society, I have been guilty of perpetuating the “trove” trope. But what else can one say? The spacecraft sent back a cornucopia of data? A boatload of data? A supersize value-meal of data? Therefore, please, picture a treasure chest — filled with 0s and 1s. Silver zeroes, golden ones, a “wealth” of information!

(Posted on FB June 27, 2012)