Idiom tips: Bury the lede or bury the lead?

The meanings of "lede" and "lead"

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Bury the lede or bury the lead? Which one is the correct idiom?

Have you ever been thrown for a loop when trying to understand idioms? It can be frustrating, especially when using these phrases in a conversation. Also, it's more challenging to decode the homonyms in these phrases. 

"Bury the lede" or "bury the lead"? You may have found them both in texts and wondered about the striking similarity. Do they convey the same meaning, or are they homophones?

The meanings of "lede" and "lead"

These two words are often associated with each other. What do they mean, and how are they used in writing? Read on.

What does "lede" mean?

According to the Oxford Dictionary, "lede" is a journalistic word that refers to the hook of a newspaper story. It's the first paragraph or sentence that sets the article's tone and informs the readers about the story's key points. 

In the world of journalism, every story has a lede. A good lede is crucial to a well-written piece, whether it's the headline that grabs your attention, the first sentence that introduces the article, or the information that sets the scene.

Knowing how to write a lede that will capture the reader's attention and draw them in is essential for any journalist, and it's just as pivotal for bloggers.

For instance, if you are reading an article about the election, the introductory section or the lede might be "In the hotly-anticipated presidential election, Clinton and Trump face off in a race for the White House." Check some examples in sentences:

  • Drug abuse in sports is the front page lede in today's New York Times. 
  • The article's lede was about how fast food addicts are at an increased risk for obesity and heart disease.
  • In the lede paragraph, the author discusses how some parents choose home education over traditional schooling for their children. 

What does "lead" mean?

The word "lead" also has the same meaning as "lede." However, it has many other meanings and works as a noun and a verb. 

In journalism, "lead" can refer to a newsworthy story or a report's opening paragraph or statement. 

The lead story could be the most significant news piece or article in a publication's daily, bi-weekly, or monthly issue. Check these examples:  

  • Vogue did a lead story on Nicole Kidman last month.
  • The lead story in The Times today is on human trafficking. 

Also, "lead" can mean the essential lead-in to a story, just like "lede." The purpose of having a lead sentence is to establish an attention-grabbing hook for readers, which can help them stay engaged with your content.

Think about leads as opening statements for stories. They should be concise yet informative enough to whet the readers' appetites and set up the rest of your article clearly and logically.

  • The author addresses a common misconception about mental health disorders in the article's lead. 
  • The lead of the new research paper is about how regular exercise lowers the level of stress hormones. 

Bury the lede or bury the lead: Which one Is correct?

Both idioms are acceptable when used in the same context. You might still be wondering about the different spellings and the exact meanings of the words "lede" and "lead." 

We'll explain what they mean and give writing tips on using them. We'll also provide some example sentences to help you understand the idioms better.

What do the idioms mean?

Both idioms are used to describe starting a topic or piece of writing with an unimportant detail to obscure the fact that something more important is going to be discussed. It's a bad writing practice because delaying the delivery of important information distracts and confuses the readers. It also makes it difficult for readers to follow what you are discussing because they are not given enough information up front.

Suppose you're writing a news article about a charity’s money scamming scandal. But you will be burying the lead by opening the piece with a paragraph about  the excellent work the organisation has done over the years. 

Starting articles with a clear introduction that provides background information on the subject matter is good writing practice. It lets readers get comfortable with what they are about to read and sets expectations for how much detail will be included later in your piece.

"Lead" versus "lede": Why are there two different words?

Both "lead" and "lede" are pronounced /LEED/, and they also mean the same thing when used in the context of news writing. Why did the people in the newsroom invent a new word?

We will discuss two origin stories to find the answer.

The linotype machine

The typesetting machine revolutionised newspaper publishing as it could print an entire line. It was much faster than the old technique that allowed printing one character at a time. 

A strip of lead metal was used to separate the lines in the linotype machine. So, it's believed that the newsroom people created the word to avoid confusion between a story's lead and the machine's lead strip. 

So, the story lead (pronounced /LEED/) and linotype lead strip (pronounced /LED/) have similar spellings. It makes sense that they created a homophone for more clarity. 

The earliest examples of the word "lede" have been found in writings in the 1970s. Some other sources claim that the alternate spelling was started in the 1950s.  

The 1950s origin makes more sense because the linotype machine was an integral part of the newsroom then. However, the origin claims tied to the 1970s have more substance as Merriam-Webster and other credible sources mention it. 

But the linotype typesetting started losing its place to phototypesetting and digital typesetting in the 70s and 80s. So, why would people create a new word to avoid mixing it up with something that was already (almost) a goner ? 

Some people argue that they did it out of nostalgia and to remember the groundbreaking technology that completely changed the publishing industry. 

Is that true? Well, read the second origin story to get an entirely different perspective.  

A shortcut word 

Donald Murray, an American journalist and Pulitzer Prize winner, shared a completely different origin story of "lede" in Writing to Deadline.

In that 2000 book title, he wrote that they used the word "lede" instead of "lead" to make it noticeable on the telegraphic printout. The whole phrase was "NU LEDE" (or NEW LEDE) to signal that there was a new lead for the stories. 

According to Murray, the misspelt phrase was intended to notify the editors about the changes. 

This version of the original story confirms that the word is an alternation of "lead" but does not have any connection to the linotype machine. 

Murray's origin story makes more sense because journalists often invent shortcuts and odd spellings to keep up with their fast-paced workplace. Newsrooms have their own vocabulary sets, and they could be unique to the newsroom of a particular publishing company. For example, the New York Times newsroom may have its own glossary apart from the common journalistic jargon and slang. 

So, the use of "lede" or "bury the lede" makes more sense as a newsroom lingo than as a nod to the linotype romanticism. 

Lede or lead: The verdict

Also, if you think about the origin of "lede," it feels more like slang than jargon. People in the newsroom invented it to use among themselves exclusively. It's similar to other journalistic slang words, including "hed" for the headline, "nutgraf" for a nutshell paragraph, and "30" for the ending of a news piece. 

However, you can still use both words and idioms as they are acceptable in the English language.

FAQs about Bury the Lede or Bury the Lead

Is it "bury the lede?"

Both "bury the lede" and "bury the lead" are correct. The first expression is primarily used in journalism to refer to "not starting a write-up with a newsworthy fact." A buried lead gets lost in the body of the text and distracts the readers.

What does the phrase "bury the lede" mean?

To "bury the lede" means starting your article or news story with secondary information, facts, or details. By burying the lede or skipping over essential points in the introduction, you may make the readers reluctant to keep reading.

The term has its root in journalism, but it's now used in all areas of writing. Burying the lede is a rookie mistake, but writers sometimes do it intentionally. In that case, they start the write-up with a fact or anecdote that catches readers' attention and then gradually move toward the more critical points in several paragraphs.

Is it "lede" or "lead" journalism?

News writers mostly use the phrase "bury the lede", which originated in the 1970s. People in the newsrooms changed the word from "lead" to "lede" to distinguish it from the lead part of the linotype machine. 

A linotype machine is a printing press that was first developed in the 19th century. It uses type metal fonts to produce high-quality newspapers, magazines, and books. Because of its unique technology, the machine is often used for typesetting vintage publications.

What's the difference between a "lede'' and a "lead?"

"Lede" and "lead" indicate the opening lines of a news writing or article. The "lede" or "lead" catches the readers' attention and gives them an idea about the rest of the story. So, the idiom "bury the lede" has the same meaning as "bury the lead"—delaying the delivery of the most important information in a news article. 

However, "lead" as a word has several other meanings. For examples:

  • Without leads, a business cannot generate the revenue it needs to grow.
  • He leads a busy life. 
  • You can lead your team to success with these tips. 
  • The detectives found a major lead in the murder investigation.
  • The local water source is contaminated with lead. 

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