Journalists Really Took to the Word 'Devastating'

A Parliamentary committee's characterization of Murdoch revelations took hold

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The cliché: A letter released today from a disgraced News of the World reporter alleged that phone hacking was "widely discussed" among the paper's editors, and Parliamentary MP Tom Watson seemed to say it best when he called the news "absolutely devastating." The "devastating" word was partially quoted widely in the initial stories and headlines (including our own), but some journalists were so inspired that they just... politely borrowed the language for their own stories. "The most devastating evidence published today is the letter written on 2 March 2007 by Clive Goodman," reports Robert Peston at BBC News. "Top executives from Rupert Murdoch down today faced devastating allegations of a phone hacking cover-up at News International," says Martin Robinson at the Daily Mail.  "I have no idea if James Murdoch did indeed mislead the committee," writes Sophy Ridge at Sky News. "But the potential consequences for this would be devastating."

Where's it from:  Well, pretty clearly, reporters were taking their cue from MP Watson. "Devastating," from the Latin for "to lay waste", means "to bring ruin or desolation." Pretty weighty words for a letter that pretty much just alleges what a lot of people already suspected, which raises the question...

Why's it catching on? We will grant the mostly British journalists that the word "devastating" may be more in vogue across the Atlantic, but given the widespread quoting of Watson in today's reports, we still attribute their uses of it to his quote. In short, people read a word, and then they use it later because it's fresh in their minds.

Why else? All that said, "devastating" is strong but maybe the journalists really did pick out the best word for the job. Some now predict that there's no way James Murdoch can survive this scandal. And that would fit in very nicely with the definition. Even before today's news, many suspected that James Murdoch would not last in his current post, and the ever-increasing likelihood that he lied to Parliament may indeed "lay waste" to his career at News Corp.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.