Garner’s Usage Tip of the Day: sensational; sensationalistic.

sensational; sensationalistic. “Sensational” answers to “sensation” (excitement) and may mean either “awesome” {a sensational performance by the orchestra} or “commanding attention” (in the sense, actually, of “awful”) {the sensational O.J. Simpson trial}. “Sensationalistic” (= overblown; distorted to shock the emotions), answering to “sensationalism,” always carries strongly negative connotations — e.g.: “Print media are being just as sensationalistic as TV. The Oct. 21 cover of Newsweek featured the figure of a skeleton carrying a scythe and the screaming headline ‘The Tarot Card Killer’ (ah, they have given him a name — part of the tradition).” Tom Shales, “Sniper Shootings Have Everyone Running Off to Join Media Circus,” San Diego Union-Trib., 18 Oct. 2002, at E7. Because “sensationalistic” cannot be ambiguous, it is the better choice for signaling disapproval — e.g.: “CBS and NBC did far less sweeps stunting than Fox and ABC, which blew out almost its entire schedule for sensational [read ‘sensationalistic’] Michael Jackson exposés and The Bachelorette’s infatuation of the moment.” Tom Jicha, “Ratings Reality,” Sun-Sentinel (Ft. Lauderdale), 28 Feb. 2003, at D1. Language-Change Index — “sensational” misused for “sensationalistic”: Stage 1. ——————– Quotation of the Day: “Professional writers realize the value of planning. Hardly any of them would touch a typewriter until they have their ideas firmly in mind. But unskilled writers, obviously, don’t consider planning that important. It is.” Jerome H. Perlmutter, A Practical Guide to Effective Writing 4 (1965).
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