WHATS THAT GUY TALKING ABOUT?
A Delightful Guide To The Language Of The Media
The Skinny About Best Boys, Dollies, Green Rooms, Leads, And Other Media Lingo, by Richard Weiner. Random House, New York, 2006. 289 pp., Paper. To order check here.
Both jargon and clichés, it seems, sometimes fall under the same umbrella. Readers of these pages know my definition of clichés words that go trippingly across the tongue without bothering to visit the brain on the way out. Jargon, on the other hand can readily fall under the same category, when it comes out of the mouth in the same way as clichés.
The trouble with both is that in the wrong mouths, they can be glib, skirting any deep or even valid meaning. Except when clichés are used ironically, as a form of parody, there is no right mouth for a cliché. Clichés are a cheap way to avoid thinking. They are a poor way to convey any idea that isnt itself a cliché.
But jargon is different. Jargon once had, and sometimes still does, a purpose. Its the language of a trade. The jargon of a trade is universally understood within that trade, and serves the need for quick and universally understood communication. In many fields, such as all branches of the media, its firmly entrenched, and may even have roots in earlier times and contexts. Look, for example, at the jargon of the printer, or the jargon of the theater. What jargon is more entrenched in its profession than the language of the theater? Footlights, for example, is now readily understood to refer to the theater, although the use of footlights is relatively rare today. Flats were originally the painted pieces of scenery that were hooked together to make a stage set. Todays stage designs use different types of construction, but the word flat is still used.
Trade jargon, for many reasons, is apt in the hands of the appropriate tradesmen. Trade jargon in the moths of outsiders to that trade, is pretentious. It tries to say, Im not in that trade, but look at me. Im with it. Dreary.
Ah, but the real stuff, in the hands of the real people, is delicious. And who better to catalog it than the estimable Richard Weiner. (In the name of full disclosure, I should note that Dick Weiner is my old boss -- many years back and more than anyone, my mentor.) He is also a leading and thoroughly knowledgeable lexicographer of the language and jargon of the professions, and especially the media.
And so, in his new book, The Skinny About Best Boys, Dollies, Green Rooms, Leads And Other Media Lingo, he methodically reports on the broad array of jargon used as standard in some 20 plus branches of media. If youre new to any branch of the media, or find yourself having to work with the media, carry this book on a chain around your neck.
Do you know what a one-sheet is? In the movie business, its a poster, comprised of one sheet that 28 or 30 inches wide, commonly used in movie theaters , as an ad or promotion for a movie. In the book trade, stepladder is a tall stand used to display books. Back announce, in broadcasting, is a recap or summary by an announcer of the recordings broadcast during the preceding period.
In the newspaper business, a broad sheet is the large size newspaper, like the New York Times, as opposed to a tabloid, size, like the New York Daily News. Signature has many meanings in different trades. In publishing, a signature is a large sheet of paper thats been folded into pages, and bound in a book.
And of course, the most famous of the vintage jargon is the movie businesses best boy, the assistant to the gaffer the electrician or to the grip the stage hand.
How extensive is this otherwise slim volume? The index of media language runs to almost 30 pages.
If this were merely a dictionary or laundry list of media terms, it would be ok. But its much, much more. Weiners charming prose style puts everything in context, and gives a great deal of background for each medium and how its language evolved.
If you have anything to do with media, this book can get you through some fast-paced conversations with the boys and girls in the back room. And if you dont, its a delightful read as they say in the book business. Try it, as the ad says, youll like it.