Thursday, April 20, 2006

Amazingly dumb hed/proposed cure

OK. Thanks to a spate of examples in the past week, it looks as if we've finally figured out a way to describe and identify a particularly irritating sort of hed that the Missourian is far too fond of. And based on today's alarmingly dumb example, it's time to stop it entirely.

Here's the pattern, from today's 1A CP:

Poetic devotion
Religious writer receives Guggenheim Fellowship for prose, poetry

What we're trying to do (I'm digging through clips for some better examples, but this one will do for now) here is divorce words from their grammatical context. We don't have any idea if this guy's devotions are "poetic" or not in any sense of the term. The hed is using "poetic" as a flag to say the story is about a guy who writes poetry -- as if it can just carry that bit of meaning, without doing the grammatical stuff it actually does in that position, like modify "devotion."

That's the technical issue with the hed discussed below:

Gunmen take over Hamas building

The hed's trying to use "Hamas" to say "This is a story about Hamas," but "Hamas" doesn't care how it's being used. It's going to modify "building" whether we want it to or not. It's trying to cross too many boundaries -- like, from the arse end of a relative clause like "building that has become symbol of Hamas political power" -- to have the desired function.

Which gets us to today's dreadful example:

Pickled players
Brothers conquer dehydration

HAHAHAHAHA! Get it? Of course you don't. See, the story's about these two tennis players who combat dehydration and electrolyte loss by drinking pickle brine. But "pickle" can't move all that distance and still carry the meaning "who drink pickle brine." What it does is modify the noun, and there's a painfully good chance it does so in one of the ways prescribed by the OED:

1842 S. LOVER Handy Andy xxv, The poor pickled electors were driven back to their inn in dudgeon. 1865 Republican Banner (Nashville, Tennessee) 12 Oct. 3/2 The ‘caboose’ is neatly packed with ‘pickled’ offenders of municipal law. 1900 G. ADE More Fables 171 ‘It may be that I was a mite Polluted,’ he suggested. ‘You were a teeny bit Pickled about Two..,’ said Mr. Byrd. 1919 P. G. WODEHOUSE Damsel in Distress xx. 236 On that occasion a most rummy and extraordinary thing happened. I got pickled to the eyebrows. 1959 P. MOYES Dead Men don't Ski vii. 86 He gets the most extraordinary ideas sometimes, and he's pretty pickled, anyhow. 1994 New Yorker 19 Sept. 12/1 Within..staggering distance of both the White Horse Tavern..and St. Vincent's, the hospital in which he ended his pickled days.

We might have been trying to say "players who drink pickle brine." But readers don't know what we were trying to say. All they know is what we said:

Drunk players!

Usually when we close our eyes and pretend grammar has just gone away, the result is sort of irritating, but not really harmful. Sometimes it's misleading. And in cases like this, it's plainly and simply clueless. Let's never do this again, to which end I propose a ban on any hed that tries to use a word as a grammar-free flag.


Blogger aparker54 said...

Isn't tossing in the plural "devotions" a bit unfair? And what's wrong with a little transference, at least in the first case?

4:12 PM, April 20, 2006  
Blogger fev said...

Hey, tnx for checking in. End-of-term nonsense has prevented timelier replies.

A little transference isn't the problem. The problem is that transference comes and goes, but grammar is with us always. Assuming that readers will get the implied meaning while ignoring the plain meaning is a bad bet.

"Unfair," of course, is my middle name. That's what the 'e' stands for.

12:26 PM, April 21, 2006  
Blogger aparker54 said...

Doubtless I'm not understanding what's going on here. After all, I haven't read the first story. But can't the main headline be taken as saying, and without much of a stretch, that the subject's devotion to God takes a poetic turn? Too fluffy?

1:35 PM, April 21, 2006  

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