Knobbly monsters

Claret-coloured vegetarian eye waterers … obviously

Do you know what a knobbly monster is?

Having just a few weeks ago come across the term, I’m not ashamed to say that until then I hadn’t a clue — and this, two decades into a career in journalism and writing.

So on the basis that surely I can’t be the only one, here’s a definition for those similarly in the dark …

Knobbly monster is a light-hearted expression referring to the second (or sometimes third) reference to your subject in an article, especially an amusing or heavily contrived one, when the obvious word or term has already been used in your first or second reference, and you wish at all costs to avoid a repetition close by.

These bumpy journalistic ogres (ahem) are named after a journalist Paul Hudson who was writing about alligators, had also referred to them as ‘reptiles’ in his article, and subsequently plumped for ‘knobbly monsters’ as an alternative to the obvious two options.

Gloriously, they have their own Twitter account — scrolling through which you can spend many procrastinating hours, mainly chuckling — or alternatively you may like to know that humorous online publication The Poke collected some of the finest (and rudest) examples in this round-up article from earlier this year.

Curious, I spent some time trawling through my back catalogue in an effort to track down my own knobblies, and could only identify a couple of admirable ones, both food-related — “sticky ubiquitous grain protein” (gluten) and “the toothsome cocoa-based delight” (chocolate).

It’s fair to say that they ‘suit’ some forms of writing more than they do others. Indeed, tabloid news writing strikes me as their obvious stomping ground. Light-reading articles may also make a welcome home to these writerly gnarled beasts (ahem, again). My two foodie articles above weren’t heavily medical, but more serious health-related features, for instance, may be inappropriate places to find a knobbly.

Should you use them? Perhaps, subconsciously, you already do or occasionally have. If not, and depending on the type of non-fiction you write, you could certainly give them a go. They’re fun, and might add a sprinkling of colour to your work. You could experiment with some in your blog posts, if you write them.

I’d perhaps caution against over-use: one per article seems to be the safest bet, perhaps two at most, rather than coming up with ever more contorted, strained and wordy synonyms to avoid re-referring to your subject by its or their obvious name throughout your piece of writing.

Anyway, I’d love to hear some of your own … or any you’ve spotted recently that you liked! Let me know …

Comments 4

  • Never heard of these before, either! But I am now following the Twitter account because it is Important Stuff! Occasionally I find myself on the Daily Wail website (procrastinating and looking for gossip but I know, there’s not really an excuse for it) and when they’re describing a celeb, instead of saying ‘her hair’ (for the second or third time) they write, “her auburn tresses’ or “her brunette tresses” . It always makes me smile because who the hell uses the word ‘tresses’ for hair, in the 21st century?! And now I know that it is a Knobbly Monster.

    • Learning of them has changed the way I read some articles … scanning for that critical second mention! I warn you – once you know about them, you start looking for them everywhere!

  • Love it! I’m guilty of that myself in my fiction, although I can’t think of too many examples at the moment…
    (How many ways can you say villains, thugs, perpetrators?)

    • Dastardly-deed doer! Marauding mayhem merchant! I hadn’t even thought of the fictional possibilities …. You must go find some of your best, Cathy, you must!!!

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