How an overly complicated word in a print headline drove me to the web

Estimated read time: 3 minutes



I often find it silly to pick up a newspaper at airport lounges or on overnight international flights. Since many newspapers in the United States get printed for morning delivery, reading the day’s paper on a flight leaving in the afternoon or evening seems to scream “old news” to me. In general.

But I often pick up printed newspapers when I fly early. So was the case on a flight out of New York City in 2018. I picked up a number of printed newspapers. Very interesting stories and tidbits of news. I was enjoying my reading experience.

And then I got to an article with a headline that used a word that I would be surprised if even the headline writer knew what it meant without ever having looked it up. Even if they did, it was a certain 33-letter word. See, not even that is descriptive. Everyone knows what a certain four-letter word is. Thirty-three? Nope, not so much.

My options when I – or any reader – sees words like this:

Pretend we know what they mean – but since most of us read quietly nobody will even know that we pretended that. So what’s the point?

Ignore it and read the article and hope for clearer language in it.

And option three is what I did… here’s my in-the-moment tweet:

I was going to read this newspaper article but had to google an overly complicated word in the headline.

Of course, once on the web, I got distracted by other things and never returned.

My phone was actually next to me. Face down. Hard to believe but true. I wasn’t paying attention to the digital at all until the print paper editors gave me a reason to.

I was heading for the web to google the word. Of course, you know what can happen when we look at phones!

  • Emails
  • Notifications from digital publishers


  • Twitter
  • Etc.

There’s no end to digital content. That rabbit hole never ends if you don’t stop it.

But anyway, I was going to google it but never even got that far because I saw a Twitter notification of a headline that made sense to me and was highly intriguing. I clicked and read that article instead.

Using words that are too hard to understand can actually cause publications to lose audiences.

Of course, in this case, the newspaper folks might never know. How would they? There’s no metric that’s being send back that says somebody put down the printed newspaper because of that headline.

In digital, we know when people bounce and can then look into (aka guess) why they might be leaving. If somebody leaves an article on a printed page we don’t know that they did or why.

But that certainly does happen.

People told me 20 years ago that newspapers were on their death beds and people still read them. Watching from the last row of first class on a flight I’m seeing at least three people reading newspapers.

Most things declared dead aren’t dead anyway. See SEO, email, social media, photography, etc.

But there’s an ever increasing race for attention. Once attention is diverted it can be hard to get back. ? The morale of the story, if you will. All content produced should probably keep that in mind.

Some audiences might be more okay with long words, but based on my experience I wouldn’t push it. Tell the story in a way makes me want to start and keep reading.

I appreciate writers who value my time as the reader but I value the ones even more that pull me in and give up time voluntarily. Words that are easily understood help with that.

So what was the word?

A lot of people asked me that question when I posted this on social media. And I am just not sure I want to sshare itpublicly. Because what if it makes me look too dumb or something? And you know people would judge me.

So there’s a limit to transparency.