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Keep in touch with us and learn new English words and idioms through our newsletter. Every month Alan Townend will send you a short essay on a particular topic such as advertising or money. The texts contain a lot of expressions and idioms related to the theme in question. With our newsletter you can both learn and smile as Alan writes his texts in a unique and humorous style. Explore the English language in a very amusing but informative manner and see just what fun learning can be. If you are concerned about the privacy of your email address, you can browse through the back issues of our newsletter before you sign up for it. Still got questions? Contact us on our forum. See you soon.
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Newsletter August 16 - 2005FREE email English course
Dear Friend,

I wonder if you know the meaning of these words: «local rag — red top — tabloid — gutter press — quality papers — broadsheet». Well, they are all related to newspapers. The «local rag» (rag is literally a torn piece of cloth) is your local newspaper.

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«Red tops» are so called because the name of the newspaper is written in red print and the content is mainly sensational material with lots of pictures — particularly of attractive young women showing as much of their bodies as is acceptable — and today quite a lot is acceptable! These papers were generally called «tabloid« because of their shape but life here has become very confusing lately because the so-called «quality papers« like the Times and other «broadsheet» papers have now decided to adopt the «tabloid» format. Finally and right at the bottom is the gutter press. Remember the gutter is at the side of a pavement where all the rain and dirt runs into and you can imagine what sort of press that is.

The main thing about newspapers is that they are only relevant for one day — the life cycle of the may fly — and then they are thrown away or used for wrapping things up, covering floors and so on. In fact we have an expression that illustrates their evanescence (disappearing quickly): He's full of information — like yesterday's newspaper. So as their life is so short, they have to «grab» (get hold of) their readers' attention immediately. This in turn means a certain style is required. The essence of good journalism is «clarity and brevity». In other words you have to be clear and you have to say your piece in as few words as possible. The «headline» (heading) at the top of a story has to be brief because you want to attract attention and be interesting. Mind you, this can lead to problems and if you reduce the number of words too much, you can cause «ambiguity» — the opposite of clarity. Let me give you four examples of ambiguous headlines:





Have you seen the problem? Let me explain. In number 1 the grandma has eight grandchildren — she is «not» eight years old. In number 2 the professor is in a court of law and is making a statement in a suit (a legal case) concerning a horse — possibly about the ownership of the horse. The good professor is certainly «not» wearing a suit (clothes) used by a horse. In number 3 the police have found someone using/selling crack (crack cocaine a drug). They have «not» found a split in the land. Finally in number 4 it seems that people who drink milk are now changing their minds and are starting to use powdered milk. They are «not» falling apart and turning into powder or dust.

And apart from making yourself clear, I said it was important to be brief. So, I'll stop right here.

PS: I forgot to explain the meaning of the title I've chosen. These are the words called out by the newspaper seller in the street encouraging you to buy a newspaper

Alan Townend

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