special(i)ty, newspaper editing jargon and dogpile

As the title reveals, this post is a (AmE) hodgepodge/(BrE) hotchpotch of unrelated topics, which will serve the purpose of (a) finishing up the queries from April, and (b) writing a quick entry in a really busy week. (It's both Lynneukah [the joyous festival of Lynne] and week 1 of the university term. One of those is more entertaining than the other.)

Terry wrote back in April, pointing out that I'd failed (as I'm sure I often do) to mark a BrE/AmE difference that I'd used in passing: (AmE) specialty versus (BrE) speciality. There's not much more to say about that, except that in BrE specialty is used in the field of medicine, at least according to the Oxford Dictionary of English.

But in the ensuing correspondence, Terry called my attention to quite a bit of newspaper editing jargon that differs between the US and the UK. Terry is a (BrE) sub-editor/(AmE) copy editor, and the differences do not stop at the job title. Here are the ones he listed--and as far as I can tell, the American versions come first in this list:
... there's a surprising amount of difference in terminology between US papers and Brtitish ones: "slot" and "rim" (from where people sit at the horseshoe-shaped copy desk) versus "chief sub" and "down-table sub" for example, indicating American and British newspapers used differently shaped tables; "hed" versus "headline" and "lede" versus "intro" (ie opening sentence - a "lead" (pronounced [in the same way as] "lede") in BrE journalism, would mean the whole main story on a page, not just its intro); "cutline" for "caption", "graf" instead of "par" for paragraph, "refer" for "cross-ref", the line at the foot of a story that cross-refers to another story elsewhere in the paper, "slug" for "catchline", the short name given to a story for tracking purposes; "soft strip" for "strapline", a long subsidiary headline.
Terry's the expert (compared to me, at least!), so I'll leave it at that. I should add that of course headline is an AmE word too--it's what most people would call a headline. His inclusion of hed here should be taken only as jargon use, not as general AmE. Similarly, as a layperson speaking AmE, I'd refer to captions, not cutlines, so again this is about the jargon that copy/sub-editors use, not what newspaper readers use. Are there other copy/sub-editors reading who'd like to add anything else?

Finally, Terry made the following request:
If you ever do a(nother) piece on words common in the US that not one in a thousand Britons would understand, can I nominate dogpile? I never heard the word until coming across the search engine of the same name, and it was another five or six years before I learnt what a dogpile was - BrE scrum - and realised why the search engine designers had given it that name, because it piles results from other search engines up together ...
As you can see, I'm relying on Terry to write the bit on dogpile. The thing is...I don't know how many AmE speakers know the word either. I certainly had never heard it before I came across the search engine. Perhaps it's something that all (American) football fans know (I exclude myself from that category), but I've never heard it used in my Buffalo Bills-loving family. The OED added an entry on it earlier this year:

1. A disordered mass or heap of people, formed around an individual on whom others jump. Also fig. Cf. PIG PILE n.

1921 Nebraska State Jrnl. 19 Nov. 3/1 Purdy tucked the pigskin under his elbow and cantered over a dog-pile for a tally. 1948 Los Angeles Times 21 Nov. I. 20/2 The bottom man of a ‘dog pile’ in a fraternity house scuffle is in a hospital with a neck dislocation. 1993 Toronto Star (Nexis) 25 July E1 The AL West is a dog-pile similar to the AL East. Several teams can win. 2003 A. SWOFFORD Jarhead 20 The half-speed fight degenerates into a laughter-filled dog-pile... This is fun, plain mindless fun.
It's not clear to me that scrum is used in the same extended ways as dog-pile. The OED's second sense for scrum is: 'A confused, noisy throng (at a social function or the like)', which could involve a lot of standing people:
1976 Eastern Daily Press (Norwich) 19 Nov. 1/4 Cindy, as the new Miss World likes to be called, was surrounded by the traditional scrum of over 100 press photographers.

Thus I believe (though I'm not a rugby person either) that scrums are more 'vertical' than dog-piles. Here's a picture of a scrum from the MIT women's rugby site:

And here's a picture of a dog-pile (full of baseball players, not football players!) from the Santa Barbara Independent:

Scrums seem to have people on their feet more often than dog-piles do.

According to About Football Glossary, another (presumably less slangy) term for dog-pile is piling on, and it's a punishable offen{c/s}e in the game.

Finally, one has to question the wisdom of naming a search engine Dogpile, since the second (AmE) meaning for dog-pile is given in the OED as: 'A piece of dog excrement.' So, you can go with the metaphor of the search engine piling on results from other search engines, or you can substitute the metaphor that the Internet is full of this stuff.


  1. Although scrum is in common terminology for a pile of people, in the games scrums are organised, as opposed to rucks and mauls, which happen on their own.

    Hazel who has been watching far too much rugby lately

  2. In a legal context, there's also the term "hotchpot" which broadly means a common pool of money among a group or class of beneficiaries under a will or trust; a beneficiary who was in receipt of a prior benefit may be obliged to "bring it in into hotchpot".

  3. Another British newspaper term, standfirst, doesn't really have an American equivalent at all thoug "kicker" or "précis" would do.

    I'd caution that American newspapering is a vast and varied affair and jargon doesn't necessarily translate from company to company, between magazines and newspapers, or beween the big institutions and the mom-and-pop papers that are run adjoining a print shop.

  4. As a rugby player from Texas (where [American] football is the major sport,) I'd agree that dogpile and scrum aren't comparable.

    I think of a football dogpile forming when numerous players (literally) descend onto either the player with the ball or a loose ball. I think I hear it most often in a metaphorical sense, and sometimes transformed into a verb, as in "The media dogpiled onto Senator Craig after his arrest for soliciting sex in an airport bathroom." It works on two levels - there's some target that numerous people are going for, and the bottom of a dogpile can be a very uncomfortable place to be.

    I tend to think of a "scrum" as having vertical, tightly packed people and pushing forward. The best examples I can think of all come from public transport(ation) and the people who bunch up at the door to a bus, train, or plane before it opens in order to be the first ones on or off.

  5. Historically, the terms "hed", "graf", "lede", "dek" (and its synonym "subhed") and "HTK" (headline to come; i.e., not yet written) were deliberate misspellings used to distinguish editorial remarks written on the copy from the copy itself.

    As such, they should never appear in running prose, even prose about journalism; this is a rule more often honored in the breach nowadays, though.

  6. Believe it or not, a scrum is a far more organized thing than a dogpile.

    A Dogpile is nothing more than a lot of poeple jumping on one person. Be it literally or figuratively.

    When it is figurative, it is rarely for a good thing ("They dogpiled on Britney Spears after the VMA performance")...but more often than not, when it is literal, it is in celebration...("They dogpiled on the pitcher when he struck out the final batter.")

  7. I'm not familiar with all the words on Terry's list (it's been a long time since i worked at a daily paper, and currently i work in a university news office where things are slightly ... different), but, yes, the AmE words are listed first. And John Cowan above made excellent points about the origins of "lede," etc.

    Re: Dogpile. I've known the word for a long time, despite not being a sports fan. I'm pretty sure i picked it up from saturday morning cartoons.

  8. I grew up with the term "pigpile" rather than "dogpile". I don't know if it's a regional thing (I'm from Oregon) or just my family.

  9. Growing up in Central (and central coast) California, my brothers/cousins/uncles liked to play a "game" where someone would yell "Dogpile on ____" and then everyone in the room would jump on whoever was named. I have no idea how it came to be in my family, but I'd guess it came from my uncles when they were growing up in the 60s and early 70s.

    Too often I was the "_____"...

  10. I first learned "dogpile" at a young age (n. central Indiana) where it was a playground game (same as larry describes in the previous comment). Someone would shout "dogpile" and point at the victim, at which point everyone would jump on them in a heap as described above. Very much like the other common playground game "smear the queer" (Cringe!), only the latter was played with a football while the former required no accessories.

    Some kids used the term "piggy pile" but they were from out of town.

  11. Thanks for this post, and commentor John Cowan. I've been seeing these terms (lede, graf et cetera) on blogs, and was wondering why they didn't appear in any dictionary. I now know that these writers probably worked for newspapers.

    Having an explanation doesn't make me honor the breach any more, I'm afraid, but it's better than not knowing.

  12. We use "scrum" in Canada. For example:

    "But while Harper appears willing to talk to the press one on one, he clearly has no interest in holding regular press conferences, or in subjecting himself to the Parliament Hill “scrum.” For more than forty years, the scrum has been a uniquely Canadian vehicle for political accountability. The drill is that the Prime Minister or a member of his cabinet leaves the House of Commons and is swarmed by a couple of dozen reporters with cameras and microphones at the ready. The reporters proceed to pepper questions at the politician. It is unruly and often undignified, and there is little mercy shown to politicians who insist on staying “on message.” All Prime Ministers have hated the scrum, and more than one political career has been derailed by a bad scrum performance. Harper is determined that will not happen to him."
    From: http://www.pogge.ca/archives/001335.shtml

  13. I too knew "dogpile" as a game from my So. Cal. 70's childhood. It was actually fairly friendly in tone.

    Chris, you're right about the cartoons. There's one where Bugs Bunny vanishes under a pile of whoever's chasing him, and ends up on top, shouting "Dog pile on the wabbit, dog pile on the wabbit!"

  14. The BBC news site carried a perfect example of 'specialty' in a BR/E medical context today.

  15. Meg: Oh, yes! That's it!! I thought it was Looney Tunes, but i couldn't quite remember. Thanks!

  16. You can use lead (never lede) to refer to the intro of a story in Britain. Technically it refers to the part of the story before the hook, which gets you into the meat of the story. It is also commonly used to describe the main story on a page, however

  17. Growing up in sports mad Australia, I was familiar with both scrum and dogpile, but in our area, when a 'dogpile' developed, usually during a game of Aussie Rules, or 'football', it was called stacks on the mill. I have no idea why.

  18. I grew up in Maine in the 80s with the same "pigpile on [victim]" game that others have mentioned - dogpile was new to me when the search engine came out, but readily understandable

  19. I;d never heard of the term Dogpile until recently and understood it as the same as a "pile-on" as we used to call it at school in Torquay, Devon.

    Ina similar way to Larry, people (children!) used to shout "pile on!", usually if someone had fallen over, and everyone jumped on top of them! When I moved schools to Exeter (only 30 miles away) these were called "bundles", with the shout being "bundle!"

  20. I was born and raised in Minnesota (US) and I'd never heard of a "dogpile." But when I saw the photo of the baseball players, I immediately recognized it as a "pigpile!" Thanks for bringing back a flood of memories of pig-piling. :-D We did that all the time as kids.

    Your blog is great!

  21. Can anyone tell me the meaning of an offie' and a 'topper.'?

  22. As a British journalist, I see standfirsts and kickers as two different things: a standfirst is the short piece of introductory text usually found near the headline, and sometimes called an intro, whereas a kicker is the part of a picture caption that precedes a colon.

    Oh - where I grew up (Berkshire) we also used to refer to 'bundles'...

  23. I actually thought the Dogpile website was named after dog poop, which I certainly thought was kind of a gross name.

  24. This is a good place to mention that proofing symbols in the US and UK are completely different.
    UK symbols
    US symbols


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AmE = American English
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