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Tuesday, 30 January, 2001, 10:04 GMT
Feeding frenzy: When sharks attack

feeding frenzy, n, • where there is sudden, insatiable appetite for a news story; sometimes the hunger is shared by the public, more often it's just journalists and politicians, falling over each other to try to trump their colleagues (who are, more truthfully, their rivals), and come out on top.

MODERN EXAMPLE: Health Secretary Alan Milburn on Mandelson resignation: "The facts of the situation, beneath this sort of feeding frenzy that is going on, are these..."

ORIGINS: phrase comes from behaviour of sharks, which hunt by circling their prey; if another shark joins in, their swimming and attack speeds up; if even more sharks join in, their excitement can reach fever pitch, even to the point that injured sharks get eaten in the frenzy.

USAGE: first use of phrase concerning media people (rather than real sharks) is believed to be San Diego Union, 1977: "Which he says has prompted some journalists to act like 'sharks in a feeding frenzy'." (John Ayto, 20th Century Words, Oxford)

PARTICULARLY USEFUL PHRASE: for media studies undergraduates wanting to indicate some disdain for established mainstream media; for politicians wanting to assert that a difficult situation is the obsession of the chattering classes (cf liberal elite) and not actually the concerns of real people.


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