The other day someone asked me why I used the word “lede” instead of “lead” to talk about the opening paragraph in a news story. Actually, I believe they told me I had spelled it wrong. Anyway, the reason I did it was that I see all the journalism types spell it that way, and I was following the trend. I just learned that there is a reason they do so, and it actually makes sense. The Today’s Papers glossary defines “lead” as “The news story deemed most important by the newspaper. In most papers, the lead appears on the front page at the top of the right-hand column.” The other lead is spelled “lede” to avoid confusion.
Update: A reader sent in this even better explanation of how terms like “lede” came to be:
There is another, slightly older reason that lede is as it is. In the days when text was typed out (and then often had written amendments scrawled all over it) and then sent to typesetters to actually produce the paper, it was necessary make a distinction between written copy to be set and the instructions relating to it. The easiest way to do this was to miss-spell the instructions. Hence, lede, hed (for headline), col, graf (for paragraph) and the lovely TK for any fact that still needed to be checked. TK is in fact a double example of this as, according to some, its an abbreviation of “to kome” i.e. that the text will definitely be changed at least once. It then turned into TK, which does the same job.
We still use these in the electronic era. These days they have the advantage that they will be flagged by the spell check, provided nobody has been foolish enough to add them to the custom dictionary.