I noticed that there is a column called the day of the week’s ‘Political Ledes’ written by Mark Halperin in Time magazine. Today’s (August 17) ‘Political Ledes’ picks up headlines of

New York Times: “Romney Says He Paid at Least 13% in Income Taxes”

Washington Post: “Obama Steps Up Portrayal of Romney, Ryan as Out of Touch with Middle America”

Wall Street Journal: “Campaigns Seek Positives in Negative Tone,” and three other news sources.

As I was unfamiliar with the word, ‘Lede’ I checked Cambridge, Merriam-Webster, and Oxford online dictionary. Only Merriam-Webster registers ‘lede’ with the definition - ‘the introductory section of a news story that is intended to entice the reader to read the full story’.

Google Ngram registers both ‘lede’ and ‘ledes.’ The usage of ‘lede’ continues to decline from the peak during 1840 – 1860, while the latter has been also consistently declining after the peak of usage during 1920 -1980.

Isn’t ‘lede’ an outdated word, or still is popular?

The choice of word of course belongs to the taste and up to the freedom of authors, but I wonder why the Time magazine is using ‘”Political ‘Ledes’” which isn’t registered in neither Cambridge or Oxford English Dictionary instead of simply saying “‘Political ‘Leads, (or Catches)’” which I think is easier to understand and is more current.

MicroSoft spell-checker keeps urging me to correct the spelling of ‘lede’ at this very moment I’m typing this question.

5 Answers 5


As the NYTimes.com blog The Lede explains:

Lede derives from an intentional misspelling of the word “lead” (“lede” rhymes with “breed”), which developed in the newspaper industry to avoid confusion with the kind of metal used in printing presses (“lead” rhymes with “bread”). The lede of a newspaper’s front page is the main story; the lede of an article is the way it begins: the statement of facts or the anecdote that the writer lays out to lead readers into a story.

It's a term specific to journalism, the newspaper industry in particular.

Of the 11 instances of lede that show up in the Corpus of Contemporary American English that aren't someone's name (belonging to one Cliff Lede), all are journalistic references from newspapers or news magazines.

  • Ah, that makes sense. But lead (the metal) was obsolete in printing a century before "lede" become popular. My guess, the confusion was with "lead" in the sense of spacing between lines. Aug 18, 2012 at 2:08
  • @Malvolio, that is known as "leading" (pronounced led-ing), and it is derived from the days of hot metal type when strips of lead were placed between lines of type for line spacing.
    – JLG
    Aug 18, 2012 at 3:10
  • 2
    @Malvolio I'm pretty sure typesetting using hot lead was the primary method of typesetting used until the late 1970s/early 1980s en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hot_metal_typesetting
    – nohat
    Aug 25, 2012 at 0:45
  • @nohat -- maybe, but when I was putting myself through college working as a typesetter in late 1970s/early 1980s, we used photo-typesetting and that was fast being replaced by digital typesetting. The link you gave referred to hot metal typesetting as "19th-century technologies", the 19th Century being the 1800s. Aug 25, 2012 at 4:44
  • 1
    @Malvolio, phototypesetting wasn't even invented until the 1960s, so I'm not sure how one could consider hot metal to be "obsolete" until the 1960s, at the very earliest, which not a century before anything, yet.
    – nohat
    Aug 25, 2012 at 16:39

I consider lede journalism jargon. It is not popular in the public. They're probably using it to show that they're taking the main points of numerous news stories. Lede is defined, as you said, as the introductory section of a news story that is intended to pique the reader's interest so he or she reads the entire story.

According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, lede may have been used "to distinguish this sense from other possible meanings of the word, perhaps especially the molten lead used in typesetting machines."


I first encountered "lede" on English Wikipedia, where some prominent editors and editing tools/scripts even use the term. Nonetheless, I've noticed that most Wikipedians tend to be unfamiliar with it, and there's been plenty of discussion on Wikipedia about it, e.g. Talk:Lead Paragraph and Wikipedia_talk:Manual_of_Style/Lead_section . If you read through it all (phew!), you'll find that "lede" is definitely not popular.

  • In the last 10 years it seems to have become jargon on wikis, not just Wikipedia. But there are few active Wikipedia editors (as is often lamented), so that's only another very small group of people familiar with it.
    – Stuart F
    Jul 7, 2021 at 19:26

Dear Time Magazine: "LEDES" Looks pretentious and awkward, especially since modern readers just see a typo of LEADS. These headlines are LEADS - not LEDES !

  • 1
    Yes, it looks strange but it is a word that is commonly used in newspaper circles.
    – Mitch
    Nov 27, 2012 at 17:23
  • Newspaper circles are getting smaller and smaller all the time…
    – user205876
    Jul 7, 2021 at 23:55

Lede is only one of a number of intentionally misspelled content labels in U.S. publishing. Others are hed, dek, subhed, graf, and TK (a placeholder/marker signifying "content still to come"). Presumably, the fact that hed, dek, lede, graf, etc., have no legitimate reason to appear in the final version of the publication (unlike, in some instances, head, deck, lead, and graph) makes them easier to detect and remove before the issue goes to press than head, deck, lead, graph, etc., would be. The idea of adopting this bit of shop talk as a regular column title must have sounded brilliant to someone with more authority than judgment at Time magazine.

As to why article manuscripts need these various labels at all, the reason is that, at some point in the layout phase of the publishing process, a bleary-eyed functionary plows through various articles slated for publication in the next issue and mechanically applies a pre-established style to each labeled component. Any simple, inexpensive measure that helps this person avoid misapplying styles—or mistaking labels for content—is not to be dismissed lightly.

I am aware of at least one U.S. publication that adopted the tactic of filling caption boxes not with "Tktktktktktktkttk," but with an intentionally absurd sentence along the lines of "The purple hippopotamus umbrella contrapuntal washbasin despair." I'm aware of it because it showed up as the caption for two different photos on the same page of the published magazine. No doubt the same thing has happened with "Lorem ipsum dolor" greeking and with "Tktktktktktktktk," too. But given the choice, I'd rather present readers with Tktktktktktktktk than with purple hippopotamus umbrellas when I overlook a TK in a final layout.

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