Editorial: Slugs at the newspaper
"Slug it for sports."
Does this phrase make any sense to you? You might have to work on a newspaper to follow the logic.
"Sports" would mean the sports pages. Clear enough. "Slug"? Hit it? Put a slug of the slimy molluscan variety on it? What indeed is "it"—quick answer, the newspaper article being written. The writer is being directed by the editor to mark it for the sports page.
Dear readers, slug is a leftover term from the days that type was set on a Linotype machine … each line of type, a row of letters in reverse (so they would be legible after ink was applied to them and this ink was applied to the paper) was called a slug. The slugs were about one inch of solid lead in height, topped by the type—as in the decoration on a frosted cake.
The Linotype was the keystone of the "hot metal" era of printing. The Linotype operator sat at a keyboard, which incidentally was not arranged like the familiar QWERTY keyboard, and set the stories placed before him that had been typed or written out by hand. The operator converted this to columns with headlines and body type in appropriate sizes. A heater melted a "pig" or a long tube of lead. The molten lead fed into the typesetting apparatus. After each line was set, it came out in a slug. A stack of slugs made up a galley of type. Proofs were taken from these galleys (galley proofs) to be read over for correction.
The term "slug" as used in the top line of a news article is a remnant. Each article submitted for use in a week’s newspaper has an isolated descriptive tagline (or header, in modern Microsoft language) to tell compositors, proofreaders, etc., where the article should ultimately be placed.
We have moved from hot type to offset imaging and finally to all-computer writing, typesetting and layout … but a lot of language from those earlier days remains.
We slugged this brief article "edit funny newspaper term slug" and ultimately, when space permits, it will show up on the editorial page, to edify and, we hope, entertain.