A newsroom colleague leaned back in his chair a few days ago, scratched his stomach indulgently and slowly drawled “Scamper. You ever notice how seldom you see that word in the newspaper anymore? Scaaaamperrrr. It’s a positively dee-lightful word, but it’s scarcer than a possum at a Rotary convention these days.”
I rather expected that comment would be an end to the unexpected diatribe, but my officemate was locked on target and he wasn’t about to let the two-syllable word get away without a thorough discussion.
“It’s like one of those words that says it all about everything. It’s got life. It’s got action. It’s got joie de vivre – kind of makes you all tingly like when you were a kid waiting for the Easter bunny to scamper out of the woods, or Big Eddie to scamper out onto the playground and pound you into the dirt,” he rhapsodized.
“Look, there goes the publisher scampering down to his office. See what I mean? Whenever you apply the word scamper to someone, they just start to seem like a big, lovable squirrel. I bet he’s got a whole mess o’ acorns stuffed in his desk drawer gettin’ ready for next winter…”
My buddy’s observations were beginning to verge on the obsessive, but he’s from South Carolina, so there’s not much you can do with him except let him wind down or try to sedate him with a fifth of Jack Daniels.
In retrospect, I have to agree with him about the need for more scamperliness in the newspaper.
It is, after all, a feel-good word that probably should be used with giddy abandon not only in newspaper stories, but in newspaper headlines and even in stuffy editorials.
Think about it. You slither out of bed Monday morning with one eye barely propped open, pour yourself a cup of rancid butter and trip over the dog on your way to the front porch. And you don’t even own a dog…
The day is not off to a good start.
Then you pick up your newspaper and read the first headline that catches your eye (the one that’s open):
“Senate scampers to sink tax plan”
Sure, that soon-to-be-scuttled tax plan might have saved your asparagus farm from ruin and you may detest senators in general, but the mental picture of all those windbags scampering anywhere to do anything is guaranteed to put a big, goofy grin on your face for the rest of the morning.
Even a rather mundane wartime dispatch can be brightened with this all-purpose verb:
“Tariq Aziz, Iraq’s deputy prime minister under Saddam Hussein and a familiar public face of the ousted regime, scampered into the custody of U.S. forces Thursday.”
Yes, anytime you can insert the word scamper into a newspaper story about SWAT teams, bulldozers, volcanoes, venture capitalists, federal grand jury indictments or municipal general plans, you’re going to have a much more enjoyable newspaper story.
In coming weeks, we hope to increase the overall use of the word scamper in the newspaper by roughly 38.65 percent. Let us know if you’re feeling more cheerful by, say, July 1.
Later, amigos – gotta scamper!
Originally published May 25, 2003