Them’s Fighting Words!

Stories that use these words are much more likely than others to be involved in libel suits. Calling someone a "coward" or a "fool" in print is a quick way to learn more about the judicial system than you really want to know. Here's a list of "danger words" compiled by Bruce Sanford, counsel for the Society of Professional Journalists.

    Adulterer
    Bankrupt
    Blackmailer
    Booze-hound
    Coward
    Crook
    Deadbeat
    Drug addict
    Drunkard
    Ex-convict
    Fool
    Gay
    Groveling office seeker
    Illegitimate
    Informer
    Kept woman
    Nazi
    Peeping tom
    Rascal
    Scandalmonger
    Scoundrel
    Seducer
    Shyster
    Skunk
    Sneak
    Sold his influence
    Stool pigeon
    Stuffed the ballot box
    Suicide
    Suspect
    Swindler
    Thief
    Unethical
    Unmarried mother
    Unprofessional
    Unsound mind
    Unworthy of credit
    Villain

Does this mean you never use the word "villian" or "thief" in a story? Of course not. This list is simply a tool to help you identify possible problem areas so you can be sure that you're saying exactly what you mean to say, and can think about whether you're ready to defend your words in court.