Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Misguided heds

A few instructive hed mistakes pop out from this morning's scan of news-about-news. They aren't the sort that make the back of CJR; indeed, the only thing that stands out about them is how typical they are. An extra second of attention from copyed or slot is usually all it takes to keep these things out of print. The trick is making sure to allot that second, even if you don't think you need to.

First up, the Lexington Herald-Leader:
UK study: Tax breaks create
fewer jobs than state claims
Raising the musical question: How many jobs do state claims create? Pick a verb ("says" or "contends") that can't do double duty as a plural noun.

Army corps says safety must rank above tourism
There are two ways to shorten "Army Corps of Engineers" (Kentucky being well within the borders of the United States, there's little point in calling it the "U.S. Army Corps of Engineers"). "Army corps" is the wrong one. What's relevant about this organization is its engineer-ness, not its army-ness (another Army corps, the 18th Airborne, has a strong presence in Kentucky too). Make it the Corps of Engineers. Turn "rank above" into "outrank." Throw out the "must" construction. If it still won't fit, throw out the silly "rank" metaphor altogether.

And from Romenesko:
Schultz returns to Plain Dealer as columnist-senator's wife
The hyphen, as your AP Stylebook notes, is a joiner. It creates compounds. Here, alas, it creates a compound from the wrong end of the noun phrase. In real life, Schultz is a columnist who's married to a senator; in this hed, she's the wife of a columnist-senator. "Senator's wife-columnist" wouldn't be any better, though it does have a charming Old English sort of ring to it ("Aelfrics wyf-columnist ywrites of courtshippe in charmyng new boke").

Lots of solutions suggest themselves. There's the conjunctive comma ("columnist, senator's wife"). There's the good old conjunction itself. You could break the compound apart ("columnist returns as senator's wife"). You could downscale the potential sexism a bit ("columnist returns after husband's Senate victory"). But you can't pretend a compound is something other than what it is. Actual rules of grammar are afoot there.


Anonymous Denise Covert said...

Heh, the Mighty Mr. R. actually wrote me back when I sent him news of our paper's owner dying, so I was emboldened to send him your link. He didn't change the Schultz hed, though, so I guess I've been summarily dismissed. . .:-P

11:14 AM, January 24, 2007  

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