Hey Bulldog

Apple before iPodOver at Dawn Patrol, the talk lately has been about Scripture, Rapture, and Enlightenment, so Monday it was a welcome respite (for us Peppery heathens) to find Ms. Dawn describing the nuts and bolts of her job as a copy editor at a major New York newspaper.

Dawn mentions in her post that the first run of a daily paper is the “bulldog” edition, a bit of journo shop-talk slang she wonders about in passing. This – whoosh – is where I come in. (Among her other pursuits at the paper, Dawn is one of the clever smiths who mint sly headlines and keep the mornings lubricated for the newsy masses. I should probably call this entry “Heaven Scent” in deference, but “Hey Bulldog” is one of my favorite invisible Beatles tunes, and some kinds of happiness are measured out in words. As a music writer and rock historian, Dawn knows the peculiar pull of the obscure soft-spot song.)

I fancy myself more of a spaniel with aspirations to setterhood, but as a confirmed Taurus – well, all right, bulldog it is. I hardly ever dribble, though.

So with a bowl of Starbucks’ finest cooling on the desk and my chewy-mouse polished up and buffed to a shiny shimmer, I set off for the source of the river Google, deep in the foothills of the headlands. And this is where I ended up:

Dear Dawn:

Well, at last something I can get my secular teeth into.

The “bulldog edition” is, as you know, the early edition of the paper, which gnaws first at the day’s news. The origin of this term of art is not certain – this is common in journalism, where wit was traditionally excessive and the wags didn’t keep much in the way of internal records. There are three-ish current candidates for the origin of the term.

The leading theory attributes “bulldog edition” to an unsourced 1905 quote by William Randolph Hearst, who is said to have ordered his editors at the New York American to write headlines that would bite the public “like a bulldog.” This is plausible in part because of the second possibility, which suggests that the term loosely arose in the 1890′s, again in New York, when the New York World and other morning papers were in bitter if good-natured competition for morning-traffic newsvendors and the early departures of the a.m. trains; the overnight press staff was said to fight “like bulldogs” to make the mail-train deadlines, after which the more calm and settled day staff would come in. And would correct the errors, of course, for the peaceable “Late City” edition, which was called that because it was only published in the City, the mail trains having left long before. (The bulldog fighting can also apply here to tiffs for the better vendors and locations, if you like.)

I’m less convinced by suggestions that newsboys fought for stacks of this early first edition “like bulldogs,” or that typos were referred to as “bulls” and that the first edition was full of them (this is more likely a reversed derivation, to my thinking). Others have theorized that the first edition was the ugliest in terms of typos, inking, and layout, all of which would be corrected during the course of the day, and that this early edition was “bulldog ugly.” It seems to me that journos would have found a far more creative term for this, even if it was just intended for the office. My money is on some conflation of the first two origins.

One Internet source says that the term first appeared in print in 1926. The OED online would be the proper place to check, but I’m afraid I don’t have a subscription ($295 or so for jes’ folks, and I wish I did have one: but if I did, I’d never get any work done again. Ever).

One of the famous bulldogs – what a sea change telecommunications has brought to newspapers! – is the early edition of the Chicago Tribune from November 3, 1948, which blared: “DEWEY DEFEATS TRUMAN.” Ooops.

You can talk to me. Do the Dog, not the Donkey. Oh, how we danced and we swallowed the night. C-30, C-60, C-90, Go! Me and you and that Boo pet-fella, there. Bow wow. Woof woof.

About Linus

The man behind the curtain. But couldn't we get a nicer curtain?
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