“Oil major” irritates me in a major way

April 7, 2011

I spy the term “oil major” in our stories more often than I should. In fact, spying it once is spying it too often. Oil majors, judging my searching on the Internet, appear to be the world’s biggest oil companies. Wikipedia says they are BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil, Royal Dutch Shell and Total SA. Well, Wikipedia says they are “supermajors.” Does that mean that there is a lower tier of plain old majors?

Why bother to have the argument? Let’s refer to them as “the world’s biggest oil companies” when we write about them. Maybe we can say, “Chevron, one of the world’s biggest oil companies…” and not, “Oil major Chevron…”

Writing “oil major” in our stories is the equivalent to an arrogant sign to our wider readership that we are talking at the cozy, highest levels with other people who talk that way. If our mission is to explain things simply and clearly to people, we should abandon the language of our beats and our sources, and write in the language of the people. That starts with killing “oil major.”

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