Lead vs. lede

Long ago the noun lede was an alternative spelling of lead, but now lede is mainly journalism jargon for the introductory portion of a news story—or what might be called the lead portion of the news story. Strictly speaking, the lede is the first sentence or short portion of an article that gives the gist of the story and contains the most important points readers need to know. For example, the below lede, from New York Times story, gives the main piece of news, allowing readers who are not interested in the details to feel sufficiently informed:

The White House on Wednesday directed the Justice Department to release to the two Congressional Intelligence Committees classified documents discussing the legal justification for killing, by drone strikes and other means, American citizens abroad who are considered terrorists.

Lede also appears, sometimes figuratively, in the expression bury the lede, meaning to begin a news story with nonessential details. Bury the lead sort of works, but bury the lede is the conventional spelling of this expression.


The lede of Anne Marshall’s cover story in today’s City Paper grabs you by the collar. [Nashville Scene]

Most games weren’t even close, and let me tell you, coming up with a snappy lede for a 50-point blowout was beyond difficult. [mlive.com]

The Weiner quote was the lede in a notably vicious profile of Sadik-Khan in The New York Times. [Crosscut]

4 thoughts on “Lead vs. lede”

  1. I disagree with the “inappropriate example” above. While the writer there did use “lede” imprecisely, the way to fix that sentence is not to insert “lead.” Instead, the sentence bears revising. For example, the sentence could have said:

    “And it’s rather odd that the lede Gallup used in reporting these results was that Obama…”

    Having not seen the rest of the sentence, I assume the writer concluded that the Gallup poll contained a more noteworthy and newsworthy nugget of information that SHOULD have been used in the “lede.” In other words, this author is accusing Gallup of “burying the lede.”

    • I went and checked the context, and I stand by my original assessment. It was used imprecisely but not — technically — improperly. The awkward phraseology is the writer’s use of the phrase “chose to pursue.” I think the author here at grammarist made the assumption that Mr. Morrissey was referring to the act of “pursuing a lead.” The context of the sentence bears out that this is not the case.


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