Throughout my newspaper-writing career I have always had a soft spot for sub-editors. The average news reader and TV viewer is rarely aware of how much input the “subs” (as they are called) help us “notice” things.
In television, unless you are curious (or studying the profession) you will hardly wait for “credits” to end. Most of us stand up to pick a drink, leave cinema halls, maybe just yawn when names of personnel (including editors), appear.
As the public, we are keener to see credits of the actors and presenters rather than the hardworking super qualified working “ants, engineer and cooks”. Basically, media production, remains and will always be teamwork.
I, Freddy Macha writes the piece, sends it to the editor. Editor goes through, chops, adds and punctuates (if need be), then the crucial attention seeker: The headline. I have always suggested titles for my articles and stories, yet I am respectful (and at the mercy of) sub-editors.
“Sub” carries four meanings i.e. nouns: submarine (of the sea), subscription (seasonal payment of goods), verbs: lend, advance payment or money; and replacing or substitutes. In my opinion substitute is the closest to what we are talking here. The job of the sub-editor is to correct and replace words in a written piece. Find substitutes.
We might add a long line of other contributors like singers, poets, novelists, teachers, politicians – but linguistically, there is an extra gear, an extra push needed to be a commercial and populist word user. The chief quality (knowhow) understands nuances of a given language. Of course the craft jogs down to street graffiti such as seen on buses, taxis and numerous public utilities. The latest Swahili one attracted my attention:
“Kuku Kala Mchele, Usiku Kaliwa na Wali.” Chicken fed on rice then becoming part of rice dinner.
Sorry cannot provide the actual source, but it is brilliantly, cruel.
One may also point out here is “double entendre” ... (even triple); entendre is French for understanding and hearing. Nevertheless this idiom is used regularly in English just like doppelganger (from German, something that appears like a real person), denoting “two interpretations” of one idea, phrase, saying, proclamation, ad infinitum.
Sub-editors then have that ability to “pick and pluck words from the air” and offer us something catchy.
A few ones on Monday’s London Daily Mail: “A kick in the teeth for all of us who cheered him...” The Page 5 headline was a story of the English Olympic cyclist hero, Bradley Wiggins – currently embroidered (sewn, cocooned, encircled, involved) in allegedly using drugs to achieve his trophies. A kick in the teeth specifically unfairly treated. Main word is “teeth”. Here the editor wants us to focus on the fans who were misled, i.e. by someone who didn’t deserve.
Still on the subject of sports, recall the match between Chelsea (old victors) and Man City (new champions)...last Sunday.
Man City won.
“Chelsea laid down and City stepped right over them...”
Note it is “stepped” not “walked”...
Walking “over you” will mean something else. Domination and subjugation.
But “stepping on and passing”, means you are a joke, not to be taken seriously.
Usually, newspaper headings have one or two very special, unique words. In this case: “teeth” and “stepped,” above.
Idioms are a constant melody in fashion, taste and dress. During last weekend’s Hollywood Oscars, the female clothing was news...instead of black colours (last time used for the #MeToo movement) this time it is: “Glam’s back as Oscar stars ditch the Black!”
...do not miss the exclamation mark. Glam is a child of “glamorous”. The dresses are flamboyant and huge and shimmering. Main word “Glam.”
Same goes for David Beckham’s son’s 19th birthday. “Beckhams dress up (and down) for Brooklyn’s 19th”
It is a photograph (media term is “caption”) story. Dressing up? The wife is in a white smart outfit while husband abit carefree (dressing down)...
Sub-editors hold our noses and pull us towards the scent.
And what about our own East African headlines in January 2018...?
Not a big difference too.
Daily News: “Yanga upbeat to bridge gap...”
Sympathetic sub-editor. The Guardian: “Business grinds to a standstill in Arusha as remandees protest”.
Two things in common here. Visual and poetic. Upbeat, contrasts to down beat, or just a beat. Up gives you a feeling of skies, heavens, connecting to growth, God and all those divine words.
“Grinds” is a very strong word. You grind maize. Grind a point home. Grind hips in dancing. To stop still is not good enough. Grinding to a halt is massive. Just like this article needs to grind to a halt and bid farewell to your eyes, dear The Citizen readers and subs.