What’s a Puff Piece?

Ben Zimmer explains in a Wall Street Journal piece titled “Puff Piece: From Pastries to Journalistic Insult”:

In the classic journalism textbook “News Reporting and Writing,” Melvin Mencher defines “puff piece” or “puffery” as a “publicity story or a story that contains unwarranted superlatives.”…

“Puff” as a noun and verb goes back to an Old English word for blowing with the mouth, imitating the sound of breath being emitted from the lips. The final “f” sound—what linguists call a “voiceless fricative”—is well-suited to such an airy onomatopoeia, also showing up in “huff” and “whiff.”…

“Puff piece” has continued to grow as a derisive jab against fawning media accounts—as has its antonym “hatchet job,” for an unfair attack on someone or something. Often the two phrases appear together, as when the producer of a 1965 television documentary about Lyndon B. Johnson’s administration insisted, “This is not a puff piece or a hatchet job.”


  1. Onomatopoeia? It’s the naming of a thing or action by a vocal imitation of the sound associated with it—such as buzz, hiss, puff.

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