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Word Watch

"Shadowy"

April 09, 2006|Michael Soller

Lurkers, look out. Your dimly lighted corner is getting crowded. Since Jan. 1, U.S. newspapers have deployed the word "shadowy" nearly 900 times to describe all manner of things neither darkling nor artful. When it doesn't apply to a shrub-shaded prowler or the lighting of noir film, the word means ghostly, dim or indistinct -- so aren't writers who use it flashing their own shadowy knowledge?

Last week, a New York Times reporter vainly stalked Pakistan's "shadowy Baluchistan Liberation Army." A Wichita Eagle editorial toured illegal immigrants' "shadowy underground economy." And a Chicago Sun-Times columnist was spooked by "shadowy strength trainers" behind Major League Baseball's steroid nightmare. Note to writers: If you're looking for a skulking Snidely Whiplash twist, try "sinister" or "mysterious."

The other Times is the country's top obfuscator, with 243 uses over the past year, trailed by this Times' 141 and the Washington Post's 116. The Sunshine State's Miami Herald (72) nearly matched the two papers of cloud-shrouded Seattle (77) for shadowy references.

Amid last week's images of terror cells, immigrant economies and the steroid menace, there was a bright spot. The Kansas City Royals, a team that has long skulked in the basement of the American League, narrowly lost its first game to the Detroit Tigers. "On a shadowy and cool opening day where very little went right, the Royals played good, solid baseball," beamed a local editorialist. There's nothing sinister about that.

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-- MICHAEL SOLLER

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