No wheeze, please…

October 20, 2010

German “heatball” wheeze outwits EU light bulb ban

EU-ENERGY/LIGHT-BULBSI realize that the level of English competency has fallen dramatically during this day and age, but unless the German in question has a serious case of the flu, I assume you meant to use the word “Whiz” in your headline.

When a news outlet such as “Reuters” makes such basic spelling errors in its headlines, and it remains unnoticed for this long, what is the English-speaking world coming to, in terms of education!!

Or does even Reuters feel the economic crunch such that it skimps on editorial review?


No, wheeze was the right word, it was just the wrong word to use.

If you check you’ll see that in British slang, a wheeze is “a trick, idea, or plan.”

That just leaves the question of why we can’t keep British slang out of headlines: GBU Editor

Empty storage racks for light bulbs are seen at a do-it-yourself store in Dortmund August 31, 2009. REUTERS/Ina Fassbender

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I live in Canada. I understand what “wheeze” means in the headline’s context.

I find that people will often object to words simply because they don’t understand them. Is that sufficient reason, though?

Posted by Bookman | Report as abusive


 Isn’t the purpose of a news reporter (or organization) to accurately and efficiently inform their readers of something that is going on within that reporter’s purview? As I am sure you are aware, the same words in different areas can have completely different meanings due to common usage. Using the term “scheme”, for example, is a common term for a plan in some countries… but it is rarely used in the U.S. except for one that is underhanded. Using a bad choice of wording can be “correct”, as in this case, but could leave the reader not understanding what the point is or getting a completely different message than the one the writer was trying to convey.

 If readers, in the country the article is intended to be read, have to pull out a dictionary to find out all the meanings of a word used (excluding technical terms) in order to understand the meaning of an article, it isn’t efficient. If those readers get a different message from the article than was intended due to a word usage uncommon to that country, there is some validity to the argument that the article isn’t accurate.

 Accurate: free from error or defect; consistent with a standard, rule, or model; precise; exact. (
Ambiguous: open to or having several possible meanings or interpretations; equivocal: an ambiguous answer. (
“Ask yourself: Does the story say what it’s meant to say? Is it clear and unambiguous?” ( eporting_and_Writing_Basics)

 If the meaning of an article can be understood in more than one way, it is ambiguous. I will assume that, if it is ambiguous, Reuters would consider it to be inconsistent with their on-line Handbook of Journalism. I will also assume that Reuters considers their on-line Handbook of Journalism to be (at least) their standard. If the article is not consistent with Reuters’ own standard… how can they consider it accurate?

 So the answer to your question would be yes.

Posted by DonP | Report as abusive


With all due respect, the answer to my question — is not understanding a word in a headline or news story sufficient reason to objec to it? — is certainly not “yes.”

Would you expect a news organization to avoid any and all words that might not be understood by some readers? Technical terms, sure, and obscure words that might be known by only a handful of readers.

“Wheeze” may be better understood in Britain (and other countries) than it is in the United States, but it’s not an obscure or technical word; and its context certainly makes its meaning, if not crystal clear, at least clear enough for most readers to understand.

My point was more general, though: does someone have the right to object to something — a word, a phrase, an idea — simply because they do not understand it?

Posted by Bookman | Report as abusive

Yes, Bookman. Our job is to choose words that our readers can understand. That doesn’t include taking one country’s slang and exporting it elsewhere in headlines.

Posted by rcbasler | Report as abusive

Mr. Basler,

I take your point, but I think there’s a very fine line between choosing words the readers can understand and dumbing down the language, or making it so bland that it loses its punch.

Writing should be lively and engaging, and if this means a reader occasionally has to look up the meaning of a word (like “wheeze,” an excellent word), I’m okay with that.

I think, too, that Reuters readers should be aware that it is an international news organization, and that they can expect to see, from time to time, a word or phrase that is not precisely “American English.”

Posted by Bookman | Report as abusive

While I wouldn’t have used the terms Kry used, I also assumed Reuters meant to use “whiz” and the spell checker got in the way.
A whiz is not the same thing as a wheeze. I was wonder WHO the whiz was instead of seeing the wheeze for what it was.
It would have never occurred to me that wheeze could mean anything else other than a breathing problem. I wouldn’t have thought to go hunting down British slang to see if it meant something else.
On the other hand I believe that even if wheeze was the wrong word Kry protested too strongly and in this case probably ended up looking more foolish than he thought he would look smart.

Posted by Ryarios | Report as abusive


It frankly never occurred to me that someone would see the word “wheeze” and think it was a misspelling of “whiz.”

My thought process would be: here’s a familiar word (“wheeze”) that’s being used in an unfamiliar context; it isn’t likely Reuters would be confusing it with “whiz,” so the word must have a meaning I’m not aware of.

The context of the headline and story make the meaning pretty clear, and there are dictionaries and thesauruses (thesauri?), not to mention the internet, available to help me out.

I do find — and this is not a comment directed at you, personally — that people are generally less willing than they used to be to accept unfamiliar words and ideas, or, when confronted with them, to find out what they mean.

(Side comment: the internet is the best tool ever created for quickly finding information, including the meanings of unfamiliar words. But, rather than take advantage of it to expand their own knowledge, people often prefer to complain when, for example, they see an unfamiliar word in a headline.)

Posted by Bookman | Report as abusive


 Personally, if I see something worded in a way that is unfamiliar, I have a tendency to first look for a misspelling or a correctly spelled incorrect word caused by the author misspelling a word that would have logically fit… and subsequently choosing the wrong choice from the words offered by spell-check. With the way a lot of the stuff I have read nowadays (even some “edited” articles in “reputable sources”) is incorrectly spelled, punctuated, worded… it is regularly a correct explanation.

“Wheeze” being a misspelling of the word “whiz” in the headline was a logical assumption since “whiz” (or wiz) would be an accurate term to describe someone who, according to the article, appears to have legally circumvented the EU’s ban on conventional light bulbs… and is probably making a tidy profit from it. Whiz is also a much easier fit in the available space than entrepreneur, although it still would have needed a second line.

The headline “”Heatball” whiz outwits EU light bulb ban” would have been, in my opinion, a better title… and would have fit on one line.

Posted by DonP | Report as abusive