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Timespeak: Backward ran sentences until reeled the mind

with 10 comments

TIME magazine used to have a famously distinct style, a precursor of some of today’s awkward journalese (which Dan Brown foisted upon the world at large). Dubbed “Timespeak”, it consisted of some favourite adjectives, a disdain for articles, coined nouns of a type of which “Timespeak” is itself an example, and a sentence order famously parodied by Wolcott Gibbs as “Backward ran sentences until reeled the mind”.
(Those days are finally over: in 2007, the New York Times had an article titled With Redesign of Time, Sentences Run Forward.)

I just found the complete text of Wolcott Gibbs’s article, which is an unflattering, biting, full-length profile of Henry Luce, Time’s co-founder, written entirely in “Timese” and published in The New Yorker, 1936. The section where he describes the language:

Puny in spite of these preparations, prosy in spite of the contributions of Yale poets Archibald McLeish & John Farrar, was the first issue of Time on March 3, 1923. Magazine went to 9,000 subscribers; readers learned that Uncle Joe Cannon had retired at 86, that there was famine in Russia, that Thornton Wilder friend Gene Tunney had defeated Greb.

Yet to suggest itself as a rational method of communication, of infuriating readers into buying the magazine, was strange inverted Timestyle. It was months before Hadden’s impish contempt for his readers, his impatience with the English language, crystallized into gibberish. By the end of the first year, however, Timeditors were calling people able, potent, nimble;  “Tycoon”, most successful Timepithet, had been coined by Editor Laird Shields Goldsborough; so fascinated Hadden with “beady-eyed” that for months nobody was anything else. Timeworthy were deemed such designations as “Tom-tom” Heflin, “Body-lover” Macfadden.

“Great word! Great word!” would crow Hadden, coming upon “snaggle-toothed,” “pig-faced.” Appearing already were such maddening coagulations as “cinemaddict,” “radiorator.” Appearing also were first gratuitous invasions of privacy. Always mentioned as William Randolph Hearst’s “great & good friend” was Cinemactress Marion Davies, stressed was the bastardy of Ramsay MacDonald, the “cozy hospitality” of Mae West. Backward ran sentences until reeled the mind.

It ends with a flourish:

Certainly to be taken with seriousness is Luce at thirty-eight, his fellowman already informed up to his ears, the shadow of his enterprises long across the land, his future plans impossible to imagine, staggering to contemplate. Where it all will end, knows God!

Preparation is all this for this post on the A Roguish Chrestomathy blog (On the lucidity of Yoda), where followed up are various prior analyses of Yoda’s syntax, including relations to Irish and whether use the past tense Yoda does.

Written by S

Mon, 2010-05-24 at 21:50:42

Posted in language

Tagged with , , ,

10 Responses

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  1. […] too cautious, and its filling under ‘religion obituaries’ is plain wrong. In the unique journalese it now reserves for only the most solemn occasion, Time declared, “Death Comes For the […]

  2. […] the imps who created the feed, more was available from Montreal City Weblog, who reminded me of this excellent parody of Timespeak, referring to Time magazine, “Backwards Ran Sentences Until Reeled the […]

  3. This is brilliant; thanks!!

    P. Bharat

    Sat, 2013-11-02 at 22:11:23

  4. […] magazine’s fiction writers. (Journonerds will probably best know Gibbs for his famous ‘Backward ran sentences until reeled the mind‘ parody of Time magazine’s […]

    In the 1930s, a New Yorker editor wrote the perfect style guide for today’s bloggers | PandoDaily

    Thu, 2014-08-14 at 04:00:46

  5. […] the magazine’s fiction writers. (Journonerds will probably best know Gibbs for his famous ‘Backward ran sentences until reeled the mind‘ parody of Time magazine’s […]

  6. How do I understand “Backward ran sentences until reeled the mind”?

    It’s a parody of the sort of sentences Time magazine was known for in, I think, the 1920s and 30s, though maybe it was later than that (going from memory here). I suppose Time was known for varying sentence structure and putting the subject in unusual…


    Tue, 2015-06-02 at 19:26:11

  7. The phrase today just heard I. First result of google search this was. Amusing it is.

    James Leroy Wilson

    Thu, 2016-04-21 at 08:48:08

  8. […] it’s a “sketch”. Get it right, God damn it!ALSO SEE:NEW YORKER VS. TIME*NOVELTYFICTIONAL BAND*AVATAR OF THE […]

  9. […] itself) which Ross’s venerable magazine published, before it was quite so venerable. SEE:GOLDEN ANNIVERSARY IN WHICHY […]

  10. It reminds me of song writers who put the verb before the subject to make a rhyme.


    Wed, 2022-03-09 at 15:55:25

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