Wednesday, January 03, 2007

E.S. Browning pitches like a girl

Several times I've written posts about the differences in writing style between men and women. Most of my examples come from the Wall Street Journal. Women staff writers of this publication use fewer idioms, less colorful language, and usually include more direct quotes. Their articles also contain a "yes, but. . ." lead if they are presenting anything positive about the economy or culture. Or they hate to commit. The good news will be placed near the bottom, if you persevere through their stodgy style. Let me offer some examples by writers whose names clearly indicate their sex.

First the guys in yesterday's paper:

"The hedge-fund locomotive ran into some impossible obstacles but for the most part kept chugging ahead in 2006." Gregory Zuckerman

"Latin American stocks surged to a 4th straight year of double-digit increases, their longest streak in at least 19 years, as global investors increased bets that big economies such as Mexico and Brazil have bid "adios" to a rocky past of one crisis after another." John Lyons

"The deal-making world can hardly suppress its glee about 2006, which will go down as the best year to date. Business has been so good that some are gritting their teeth, afraid their luck may somehow run out." Dennis K. Berman

And now the ladies:

"Bond investors enter 2007 divided about the prospects for the U.S. economy. They will find out in the coming months which camp has it right." Serena Ng

"Asian stocks logged another year of gains, but it wasn't an easy ride for investors." Laura Santini

"As the air rushed in and out of the crude-oil market in 2006, the breathless rise and surprising fall dominated discussion of whether the commodity boom could last." Ann Davis

Notice the next time you read WSJ, Forbes or Business Week: The men who write about business, politics and economics heavily use gambling, sports, technological, automotive and agricultural idioms, anecdotes, methaphors and analogies. They play games with words and tease the reader just a bit--using double meanings, puns and ambiguities. They coin new words, invent proverbs, use slang, and get sloppy with foreign words, like using "adios" in my second example (for Brazil it should be Portuguese, not Spanish).

The women, on the other hand, are more literal, timid and bland. If they do use figurative language, the phrase is probably so commonplace, we don't even notice, i.e. they are as dull as dishwater but hit the nail on the head. They tend toward touchy-feely and weakly emotional words to humanize the markets--"disappointing performance," "hoping it starts strongly," "outlook is cloudy," "could fizzle," etc.

So all this leads me to E. S. Browning. He writes like a woman. The exception that proves my rule. In fact, because of his use of initials (his friends call him Jim according to one article I Googled), I'd always figured he was a female--that and his straight-forward, gloomy, no-nonsense writing style. He's a 27 year staff writer veteran for the Journal and is the writers' union representative, according to articles that quote him.

"Investors are approaching 2007 with a high degree of optimism--perhaps too high, some skeptics worry." E. S. Browning


Dancing Boys Mom said...

Never really thought about it before but the same is true in sports writing. It's always more interesting to read a male writer or listen to a male sportscaster. I wonder if this is why male writers are more interesting in general. Do you think you could get a government grant to study this? Tell 'em you can just use some of that money they are flushing down the African toilet. ;-)

PS I hope you had a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. Way behind in my reading here so I'll try to go see what you did.

Norma said...

Another reason to like the sports section even if you don't follow sports, is that the grade-level of the writing is higher than the other sections (so a writing teacher told me who assigned us to do this). So if you like words and writing, head for the sports section of the paper. It's an added plus if you can impress your husband talking about OSU's 7' freshman who looks like he's 30.

But the higher level of language may also be a factor of the male dominated writing.