WSJ Traces Etymology of “Scoop”

The Wall Street Journal has an article in which it traces the origin of the word “scoop” and its application to a journalistic coup where one reporter gets his story out ahead of the others who are (or should be) looking for it.  This meaning is first mentioned in 1874 when the OED recorded the usage by a reporter from the Chicago Inter-Ocean who

explained to  a congressional committee how a newspaper tries “to cover a scoop: We hear of a thing that is going round and fear that somebody else will have it and publish it first.”

Credit also goes to Evelyn Waugh for further popularizing the term in his 1938 novel when he used it as his title and told “of a hapless foreign correspondent who accidently breaks a big story.” Waugh used the term ironically in a book which satirized the journalistic profession rather ruthlessly. The WSJ story, written by Ben Zimmer, doesn’t mention a more recent application of the term when US screenwriter Woody Allen used it as the title of a 2006 film which he also acted in and directed. Like Waugh’s novel, the film involved an innocent who was attempting to become an investigative journalist, but the satire is much milder than Waugh’s and the comedy at a lower pitch.

Another recent story in The City Paper (Bogota) covers the lamentable record of drug enforcement against Colombia’s cartels and opens with a quote from Waugh’s novel: “News is what a chap who doesn’t care much about anything wants to read.” This is quoted in an excerpt from what is described as a new “blockbuster” from journalist Jimmy Weiskopf entitled My Part in the Narco-War. Whether it is fiction or nonfiction isn’t stated, but from the evidence in the excerpt, it is in written in the satiric tradition of Scoop.


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