The Deep Friar, the other day, asked in all seriousness, after we’d been joking about it all day, what a nut graf was. This after I explicitly told everyone we were not going to be discussing actual business-related subjects. He’s rebellious, is the Friar. To punish him, I am going to answer this question rogue-style. Come along, denizens of the Lusty Weevil. Step right this way. We’re going to make that Friar sorry.
Now then, the basic components of a journalism article are as follows: hed, dek, lede, nut graf, body, and kicker. And if you can resist thinking dirty thoughts about that series, you are a more self-controlled person than I (and Saturday’s dirty joke contestants).
First thing to know: Journalists enjoy screwing with layfolk.
All of those terms are misspelled intentionally. Anyone in an editorial office will claim this is so those words don’t get mixed up with the actual copy of an article and accidentally printed, but this is a lie worthy of getting booted into a deeper circle of hell. One with those people who scratch themselves in inappropriate ways when they’re in rush-hour traffic on the way to work. Like no one can see them behind their protective pane of opaque glass. Oh, we can see you. And so can the Gods of Judgment, and they are judging you as harshly as we are. We can only wrinkle our noses and mutter under our breath, but the Gods of Judgment can SMITE you.
Right. Where was I? The real reason for misspelling the terms is kept a secret from all other occupations (carpenters, pool drainers, CEOs of major corporations, et cetera). I cannot divulge the secret, lest the Ninja Journalists of Hibachi come after me in my sleep, but I am permitted to tell you the following: it involves an elaborate drinking game, an avocado, and (peripherally) Indiana Jones. More I dare not say.
Worth remembering: the only time journalists, English majors, copywriters, copyeditors, regular editors, or anal-retentive people will let you get away with misspelling is when WE have initiated the misspelling. This intention must also have a nefarious purpose behind it, and will probably be to the exclusion of all others. This is because everyone thought it was a cop-out major in college. Who’s laughing now? The Masters of Spelling, that’s who.
Anyway. They’re misspelled. Roll with it.
Hee hee hee. Sorry. Okay. ‘Hed’ is short (and misspelled) for ‘headline.’ This one is fairly obvious. Let’s give our article the headline “Optimus Prime.” Because we can.
The dek is short and misspelled (which we shall hereby refer to as ‘S&M’ for brevity and humor purposes) for declaration. This is a sentence or two just below the headline that summarizes what’s in the piece. It’s not part of the article, it just sort of hangs with the lede like an extraneous buddy. The dek is basically the journalistic equivalent of the ugly friend. A lot of articles do without one for this reason. Ours is “Scientists determine the best sexual position.” See why we didn’t really want it? Feel free to excise it mentally from our article.
S&M for ‘lead-in’, the lede is the grabber sentence. This is the sentence whose job it is to prevent you from putting down your paper and picking up your crying child instead. It is supposed to be either shocking, informative, fascinating, or sexy. We’re going with sexy, since we’re already there. “Doggie style.”
That’s actually a fragment, which is not uncommon for ledes. My lede would actually be a list, in fragment form, and it would go like this. “Doggie style. Missionary. Cowgirl. You won’t need ’em anymore.”
See? Aren’t you intrigued?
The nut graf is S&M for, get this, ‘nut paragraph.’ It basically means the paragraph that’s going to give you an overall sum-up of what’s to follow. The main nugget. The nut. This is more of journalists screwing with you. Pay it no mind. In my experience, frequently the nut graf is where one of two things happens: either you get really psyched about what you’re about to learn, or you find out that you were suckered by the lede and this article isn’t about what you thought it was about. Since our theme for the day is ‘journalists are messing with you’, we’re going to have our nut graf do the latter.
“A team of scientists, attempting to ascertain the best sexual position for those choosing abstinence, determined early this week that the optimal position was sitting in a separate room from one’s partner and conducting a phone conversation. This position has benefits that no other sexual position has, including lack of all sensation, a feeling of numbness and bewilderment, and occasional bouts of anger at one’s parents and former lovers.”
The body is where all the real information is. In our article, we’d talk about the experiments the scientists conducted, quote them, quote their study group if we could get ahold of them, and generally kill you with information. This is the part of an article where most people tune out. Proven fact: if the article is not personally relevant to you and your life, you will not continue reading past the first paragraph. You’ll skim the main body until you get to the kicker.
The kicker is the closing sentence or sentences that make you feel glad about leaving, so here we go.
“Just kidding. Go get laid.”
That’ll teach the Friar to ask relevant questions.
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