Public Editor

Usage of slang too much?

Updated: 2013-08-14T00:01:12Z

By Derek Donovan

The Kansas City Star

An emailer this morning brought up a point I hear constantly from readers:

When did The Star begin using so much slang? Maybe this is a sports-page-only kind of thing? Specifically, I saw the word “clutch” used as an adjective, and then the word “stank” in reference to the Royals. Maybe I am being a snob — I'm trying to picture The NY Times doing the same thing.

Is this kind of a way to appeal to younger, male readers? Or maybe sports writers have some leeway?

There is no hard and fast rule about this kind of thing. However, my emailer is correct in noting that he sees it in the Sports section particularly. More informal writing also appears in some Features sections, and it’s my impression that it shows up most often in stories about pop culture, as opposed to serious-minded profiles, for example.

Columnists in the Opinion section also often write with more “voice” or personality than used in news reports. There it’s most defensible, in my opinion. The very point of a column is to convey one’s personal thoughts, and idiosyncratic language provides a useful window into a writer’s point of view.

Readers will also notice that while Sports and sometimes Features sections often use puns and other wordplay in headlines, those tricks rarely show up on straight news stories. Obviously, they’d be in very poor taste in many instances.

Whether or not the informal, slang-filled approach to writing bothers you is a matter of personal taste. I think the reader above cites a good example of The New York Times’ sports coverage, which is subjectively to me more formal, even stilted, in comparison to The Star’s. But I also find that makes The Star’s writing more engaging and approachable. I’m one of those who finds dry writing about an inherently frivolous topic (baseball, movies) somehow off-putting.

Still, there’s no question that many readers feel everything in The Star should adhere to the strictest standards when it comes to the use of language. It’s a fair debate.

To reach Derek Donovan, call 816-234-4487 weekday mornings or send email to Follow him at

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