September 19, 2011 | Chris L. Keller
A Sunday morning tweet from NYU’s Jay Rosen provoked a conversation about why journalists call the opening of a story a “lede.”

Jennifer Connic, a social media producer at, tweeted, “I kind of like lede still. I can’t describe why, but I do. Maybe it’s my newspaper roots.” Steve Buttry responded, “I don’t think you should spell it ‘lede’ unless you can remember how molten lead smells. I can, and I don’t.”

Howard Owens, who apparently has collected hundreds of old journalism books over the years, informed people that “lede” doesn’t appear in any of those old texts until the 1980s. (Merriam-Webster says the first usage was in 1976.) The American Heritage Dictionary says the mispelled version — no longer considered misspelled — was “revived in modern journalism to distinguish the word from lead, [a] strip of metal separating lines of type.” Considering that journalists didn’t begin using the jargonistic spelling until Linotype machines started to disappear from newsrooms in the 1970s and 1980s, Owens wrote on his blog, ” ‘Lede’ is an invention of linotype romanticists, not something used in newsrooms of the linotype era.” 

He noted on Twitter, “I’m no enemy of romanticism and nostalgia in the news game. I just believe in historical accuracy.”

If this has piqued your interest, Keller’s Storify of the conversation has references to the “bulldog” edition, hot wax and a proportional wheel. And while we’re at it, let’s debate TK (“to come,”), CQ (meaning a term or spelling has been verified) and the other journo-code words. Update: Some answers. (Hint: telegraphs.)

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Steve Myers was the managing editor of until August 2012, when he became the deputy managing editor and senior staff writer for The Lens,…
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