It’s (they’re?) only words and words are all I have… 

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“Seven Days” columnist (and “CityNews” editor) IAN MEIKLE muses about words. 

WORDS are to me as horseshoes are to a blacksmith; I forge the adjectives, hammer the verbs and cobble them into sentences that are shaped into paragraphs, columns, pages and papers. 

Ian Meikle.

Am I a wordsmith, I vainly wondered. “A skilled user of words,” Google confirmed. A lifetime in journalism hasn’t been a waste then, though truth be told, I’ve never felt particularly gifted with an especially grandiose vocabulary (though I do know what crapulent* means). 

I feel words. Other wordsmiths’ toes curl at the mere mention of a gerund** and they take split infinitives very personally. Not me. I like the metre (rhythm) of active news reporting and can be very forgiving in my editing, favouring substance over form. 

The best invention in the past 100 years was the zipper (1913). The best of all time was the printing press. But I reckon the computer’s spellcheck is my favorite, despite the Americanisms.

Speaking of America, I was at Oracle World in California late last century as managing director looking to buy a state-of-the-art accounting system for “The Canberra Times”. 

I had a lot of chutzpah (love it!) in those days, bluffing my way through hours of mind-numbing new-tech speak. 

I recall little from those terrible, earnest sessions save for two words of jargon that made my skin crawl. One was packetize, which is geek speak for partitioning or separating data into units for transmission in a packet-switching network, whatever that means. 

The other was functionality, which has morphed from being a computer expression characterising the range of operations that can be run on a computer to, these days, being defined as “the quality of being suited to serve a purpose well; practicality”. I shamefully bit my tongue after using it in conversation the other day. 

While I’m at it, I loathe hospitalised. When I was a reporter you were taken to hospital (not conveyed as our local plod rather quaintly describe the journey) and admitted. And if you want to hold down a job on this paper you won’t be using helmed (to lead), either. 

Then there’s dove. Not the small, plump white pigeon nor the soap product that turned up when I went looking for the definition. No this one is another American expression for dived, ie he dove headfirst into water. Do me a favor!

Although my superior what-would-the-Americans-know-about-English sniffiness took a dove recently. 

I’ve always sniggered at their describing autumn as fall. However, I discovered that their founding fathers took the old English description for when leaves fall from trees to America (doh), while the fickle Poms succumbed to autumn via the French word automne. Fall it is!

From this past year we have coronavirus to thank for a whole lexicon of new and repurposed words such as pandemic and unprecedented (which mercifully spiked in March). 

The Australian National Dictionary Centre’s word of the year was iso, an abbreviation of “isolation”. Meanwhile, over at the Australian “Macquarie Dictionary” they had two words of the year. One, the people’s choice, was the self-explanatory covidiot and the other, the dictionary committee’s choice, doomscrolling, a word new to me describing the act of thumb scrolling presumably on a smartphone “through the seemingly endless barrage of bad news in 2020″.

But next to unprecedented, the word I grew most to loathe was pivot (as in gin stills pivoting to making hand sanitiser). By year’s end everyone in business seemed to be pivoting some way, somehow and the word, to my ear, took the seriousness of covid-damaged enterprises to a comical image of corporate whirling dervishes. 

There can’t be a wordsmith who can resist “Words” by the Bee Gees: 

It’s only words and words are all I have

To take your heart away.

But is it “it’s only words” or “they’re only words”? Where’s a wordsmith when you need one?

*Crapulent… suffering from excessive eating or drinking.

**A gerund is the –ing form of a verb that functions the same as a noun.


  • THAT Damian Cantwell is a wag. “No party or candidate is obliged to accept public funding,” the ACT electoral commissioner joshed when he announced the post-election distribution of $2.1 million to those poor and needy political parties that secured more than four per cent of first-preference votes in any one of the five electorates in October. Each vote is worth $8.62 and Labor trousered nearly $878,000 for its 101,826 votes, the Libs pocketed a tidy $785,000 from their 91,047 first preferences, the Greens earned more than $313,000, the Belco Party nabbed $45,380 from Ginninderra and the Canberra Progressives got $23,420. Fiona Carrick, who was having a shot at Murrumbidgee, was the only independent to score a payment. She picked up $32,610 for her troubles.  
  • MORE seriously comes disturbing research that only 36 per cent of Australians consummate their marriage on their wedding night, according to a study of 980 couples across 44 countries by We are rated the worst in the world, with Finland topping the popping at 89 per cent, followed by Egypt (88 per cent) and Brazil (87 per cent).
  • The Japanese bank’s mascot, Wank the Dog.

    NAUGHTY content warning: According to London gossip sheet “Popbitch”, the Nishi-Nippon City Bank has been conducting a colouring contest for kids in Nagasaki. They have to colour in a picture of the bank’s cute mascot: Wank the Dog.

Ian Meikle is the editor of “CityNews” and can be heard on the “CityNews Sunday Roast”, 2CC, weekly 9am-noon.  


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Ian Meikle
Ian Meikle is the owner and editor of "CityNews".

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