Back when I was a cub reporter at a newspaper bureau in Easthampton, Mass., my colleague and I would play this game: First, come up with an obscure 10-dollar word, then see which one of us could get it past our editors and into the paper. The planning was always more fun than the execution. I think the best I ever achieved was “dun,” which is a fancy, fun-to-say word for a brownish-gray color.
Never in our wildest dreams did we aspire to such a feat as getting the word “Sesquipedalian” into the headline on the front page of our newspaper. But today Douglas Martin has achieved the impossible, in an obituary of William F. Buckley Jr., the celebrated word smith. (Many paragraphs later Martin defines the word: “characterized by the use of long words.”) Martin also squeezes the word “perspicacious” into his first paragraph, and drops the dime “pleonastic” later on. Notably, the online version of the story has a different headline, since the Times apparently thinks its online audience is too young or dumb to want to be challenged. (Also there is this industry secret: Online headlines are written less for readers than to game Google.)
To Martin, I say, Bravo. This is a victory for the entire profession. Let his obituary read, “Douglas Martin, a newspaperman who once got the word “sesquipedalian” onto the front page of the New York Times. . . . “