• Early newspaper jargon falls by the digital wayside

  • Editor's note: This the fourth in a six-day series on the 100-year history of the Mail Tribune.
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  • Editor's note: This the fourth in a six-day series on the 100-year history of the Mail Tribune.
    Just about every profession has its special lingo, words and phrases that would be meaningless to outsiders. The newspaper field is no exception.
    Some expressions can be quite humorous, and others don't mean what you might think.
    Back in the 1960s, an editor would say, "I've turned down that picture." Did that mean he declined to publish it? No. To "turn down" a photo meant to turn it, or send it, downstairs from the second-story newsroom to the folks on the first floor who would process it and put it in the paper.
    "Let's dump that story now" was an expression heard in the newsroom until just a few years ago. Did that mean to kill it? No. To "dump" a story meant to dump it out of the computer so that it could be pasted up on a page and published.
    You might feel insulted if someone asked you, "How's the dummy today?" Don't worry. That word has a different meaning among newspaper folks. The "dummy" is a replica of a newspaper page. It usually shows where the advertisements have been placed, so that the copy editors know exactly what space they have available for stories and photos.
    The word is also used as a verb, as in, "I've gotta dummy that page by 8 p.m.," meaning the layout must be completed by that hour.
    Another term that could be misunderstood is "slug." It's not a threat, merely a synonym for the short, punchy name given to a news story as it winds its way through the editing process to the page.
    Some other terms from earlier days:
    • "Fingernails" — printers' slang for parentheses.
    • "Hell box" — place in which lead type was dumped to be remelted before the days of computers and offset printing.
    • "HTK" — means "hed to kum," or, in more proper English, "headline to follow."
    • "Type lice" — hot metal-era term for marks on a page caused by stray lead shavings.
    • "Dirty story" — a proofreader's term for a story containing many typographical errors.
    • "Lead it out" — something an editor might say to a printer during the hot metal era. It meant to lengthen a too-short story by placing extra metal leads between each line.
    Computer advances did away with another form of journalistic language you used to see around the Mail Tribune, and elsewhere. For decades prior to the mid-1970s, wire service stories arrived by teletype machine. Stories were printed on paper, one at a time. Today, they magically arrive in one's computer, hundreds at a time.
    During the teletype era, wire service bureaus and client newspapers communicated by sending messages in between stories. A mix of abbreviated English, slang and acronyms was used. Some gave it a name: "wirese."
    "Guv's MF stam" meant the governor's Medford statement. "Pox" meant police. If an editor felt a story did not make sense, he or she might message "Ure stry unreads. Pls upfix."
    The Mail Tribune was affiliated with United Press International for many years and its "wirese" designation was MF. Other UPI designations had a more circuitous explanation. Salem was known as GP, so named for the late George Putnam, who was editor and publisher of the Salem Capital Journal for many years after his stint as editor and publisher of the Mail Tribune.
    And Portland was JO, named for the Oregon Journal which was the UPI newspaper in Portland at the time (it later merged with the Oregonian). Some longtime staffers still write "JO" when taking notes during an interview in which Portland is mentioned. It's short and they know what it means.
    Now retired, Cleve Twitchell was a member of the Mail Tribune news staff from 1961 to 2002. E-mail him at clevelinda@msn.com.
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