I got thinking about stings because of Fergie, obviously. What a sting that was. Fergie with her bundles of cash like a small boy faced with a chocolate fountain having to restrain himself from leaping in and waving his arms around in the stuff. We think of stings - of the wasp variety - as brief, painful incidents. The tabloid variety are more effortful, and their consequences a little greater than a sore red spot - more like a total collapse in the victim's career, reputation and well-being.

All from a little sting!

Maybe that's the point. Calling a story like that a sting makes it sound like a small, if unpleasant, act. It also puts the tabloid hack in the role of the wasp - a fine piece of casting if ever there was one. Wasps: they buzz around making a nuisance of themselves, hurting people unnecessarily and feeding off nice things like jam and flowers. Tabloid hacks: they buzz around making a nuisance of themselves, hurting people unnecessarily and feeding off nice things like, er, Fergie? Doesn't quite work. But you get the point.

Newspapers love the lingo of their trade: off stone, scoops, splashes, stings. Every workplace has its jargon, but you'd think we wordy types, who pride ourselves on sidestepping cliché, would avoid it. But no, we lap up the meaningless patter like everyone else. A lot of it - like off stone - lingers on from the old days.

Off stone was the moment pages were sent to be printed, so it became a byword for the point at which a newspaper edition is finalised. Now, with the interweb, the lingo's changed. If you don't know what retweeting means you might as well hurl yourself under a steam train - an apt death for one so hopelessly out of kilter with the modern age.

Back to stings. In fact, back to Sting, aka Gordon Sumner. Apparently he got the nickname when he wore a black and yellow stripy jumper at a gig. You can't imagine a worse ambassador for the word. Sting, in all his Tantric, lute-playing, soft-rocking glory, is a world away from both the mean insect and the tabloid bully boy. But he's almost offering himself up for trouble. The Sting sting. Now that'll be a story.

Sophie Elmhirst is features editor of the New Statesman

This article first appeared in the 07 June 2010 issue of the New Statesman, The myth of Mandela