The newspaper career of Wisconsin native Winifred Bonfils spanned five decades, beginning in 1890 at the San Francisco Examiner. Her syndicated pieces for Hearst ran under the byline “Winifred Black,” but Examiner readers knew her as Annie Laurie.

Critics denigrated her features work as “sob sister” stuff, but she also exhibited hard-news chops. In her first year at the Examiner, she investigated an emergency ward from the inside and wrote an expose that resulted in the creation of San Francisco’s first ambulance service. In 1900, she disguised herself as a boy to get access to hurricane-ravaged Galveston and was purported to be the first reporter on the scene.

The Minneapolis Star carried her syndicated column in the early 1930s, including this swell musing published a few years before her death.

Owners of Good Vocabularies Are
Urged to Dig Up Some New Words

It Would Be a Great Relief to Hear an Expression Other Than ‘Dumb’ or ‘Swell,’ Winifred Black Opines


   Bonfils’ exposés apparently did not include the fur industry.

Forty-thousand words – that’s the average vocabulary in America today. So declares Dr. William D. Boutwell of the United States office of education. And the average doctor, lawyer and newspaper man has a vocabulary of 45,000 words.

Ah indeed, Dr. Boutwell. Now ain’t that jes’ grand.

I wish they’d use some of the words sometimes, don’t you?

I'm getting a little tired of elegant and grand and swell and rotten and oh, if I could stop hearing about “guys” and “birds” for just one fleeting hour.

So nice and so soothing, don’t you think?

‘Rotten’ or ‘swell’

Ask the average young man how he liked the play he has just seen and before he opens his youthful lips to speak you know that he has just two words with which to characterize the burning effort of some hopeful brain.

The play to him is simply either “swell” or “rotten.”

It is never “dull” or “brilliant.” It is never “dramatic” or “startling.”

It is never “witty” or “stupid.”

It is just “rotten” or it is “swell” – and out of these two cryptic words you must make the best you can.

I’m sort of tired of the “boy friend” and the “girl friend,” too, aren’t you? Of course the police forces have put the word “lover” out of print, and nobody wants to rouse the loud guffaw by speaking innocently of a sweetheart; but oh, why do not some of these owners of the amazing vocabularies think of something besides “boy friend”?

‘Dumbbells’ and ‘Duds’

People who do not know the latest dance step and who are not quick at the game of wise-cracking – oh they’re “just dumbbells, or duds” – no mater how wise or competent or clear-headed they may be otherwise.

What’s the difference between a boob and a slob and a mutt?

I once heard a two-hour discussion along this line.

The mutt, it was decided, was usually thin and a little shabby. The boob, on the other hand, was round-faced and moon-eyed and wore goodish clothes.

The slob – oh, he must be fat and slovenly and his hat is always either too large or too small.

The days of such distinction have vanished down the echoing corridors of time.

Boobs, slobs, guys and birds throng our streets and we don’t know one from the other.

Polish up your vocabularies, gentlemen and brothers of the press, medicine and bar. We’re all aching for a little desperately needed variety.