Press Box

To Gelb, To Raines, To Lelyveld

And other Timesian verbs.

Near the end of his 20,000-word love song to himself in the May Atlantic Monthly, Howell Raines swats former Times Managing Editor Arthur Gelb for “furiously” criticizing his handling of the Jayson Blair affair as “vast overkill.” (Raines authorized a Blair investigation that took up four inside pages in the paper.)

Raines retaliates, accusing Gelb of favoring the “modified, limited hangout” tactics used in the Nixon White House. “Part of Gelb’s charm is his pragmatism. He was famous for insincere praise of Times staff members and made it a main tool of his management style,” Raines writes in the Atlantic, continuing the payback:

He prided himself on being the ultimate newsroom situationalist. In the series of New York Times “irregular verbs” invented by the waggish foreign correspondent David Binder, “to Gelb” meant “to cling steadfastly to ever-changing principles.”

Binder, an occasional Times contributor these days, says Raines got the wording of “to Gelb” wrong. The correct definition is “to remain absolutely loyal to constantly changing principles (or principals).” Binder had a co-author for the definition but will identify him only as an Irishman born on St. Patrick’s Day who is retired from the Times.

Binder claims only one other irregular verb as his own—”to Binder” means “to succeed downward.” It will take a book advance of $200,000 to spring more definitions out of him, he says.

Other irregular verbs attributed to Binder:

To Rosenthal: To be jealous when somebody else’s grandmother dies.
Abe Rosenthal, executive editor from 1977 to 1986

To Frankel: To stuff your own shirt.
Max Frankel, executive editor from 1986 to 1994

To Lelyveld: To reach out and touch nobody.
Joseph Lelyveld,executive editor from 1994 to 2001 and for a sliver of time in 2003

To Raines: To pretend not to own slaves.
Howell Raines, executive editor from 2001 to 2003. (Etymology: Raines won a feature Pulitzer for his New York Times Magazine profile of his African-American nanny. Some Times staffers refer to this article as “Driving Mr. Raines.”)

To Vinocur: To trample on people and then ask why they are underfoot.
John Vinocur, former International Herald Tribune executive editor and former Times reporter and editor.

A team of creative lexicon devils assisted me in Binderizing other Times figures. Their findings:

To Keller: To inspire through sheer force of comparison.
Bill Keller, appointed executive editor in 2003

To Boyd: To manage up without ever looking down.
Gerald Boyd, managing editor from 2001 to 2003

To Siegal: To elevate a passing thought to an immutable principle. Alternatively: To make an iron rule out of an idle whim. Alternatively: To vigorously maintain standards while rigorously keeping ambitions in check. Alternatively: To express disappointment with the arch of a single brow.
Allan M. Siegal, assistant managing editor (standards)

To Sulzberger: To maintain a great distance between one’s rhetoric and one’s wallet.
Arthur O. Sulzberger Jr., publisher

To Rich: To persuade your readers of what they already know.
Frank Rich, associate editor

To Landman: To use gasoline to douse a fire.
Jonathan Landman, assistant managing editor

To Mathis: To use active, vigorous language to say nothing in particular.
Catherine J. Mathis, vice president, corporate communications

To Pear: To time a dry policy story for the weekend so it will get on the front page.
Robert Pear, reporter

To Miller: To amplify government propaganda.
Judith Miller, reporter

Who have we left out? “To Okrent”? “To Abramson”? “To Whitney”? “To Bragg”? “To Oreskes”? “To Collins”? “To Safire”? “To Vescey”? “To Morgenson”? “To Tyler”? “To Butterfield”? “To Weinraub”? “To Risen”? “To Apple”? Send your definitions and suggestions to (E-mail may be quoted by name unless the writer stipulates otherwise.)