Saturday, April 14, 2007

Fun with hed dialect

Like any other dialect, headlines are more rule-bound than they sometimes appear to the casual observer. An entertaining and instructive sample from Fox News:

'Winkler tried to pass bad checks'

It looks really weird. If you're used to reading American news, it looks like either a direct quote or a scare quote. It's neither. At a guess, I'd say it's Fox lapsing into British hedspeak, in which quotes are a standard way of summarizing an assertion (a common way to do it here is with the colon, as in Witness: Winkler tried to pass bad checks).

It's a bit out of tune even for that, since the British generally leave the subject out of the summary:

Ross ‘faces jail sentence as she admits drink-driving’
Ross is Diana Ross, who we can probably agree is a headline name. Whether Mary Winkler is a hed name isn't a dialect issue but a shop-style issue; in Fox World, where runaway wives are standard fare, apparently she is.

Here's an example with a non-celeb:
Man ‘kept dead victim as trophy in storage unit’
A part-time musician with an interest in websites about violent sex murdered a teacher to satisfy his “macabre” fantasies, a court heard yesterday.

Graham Coutts then hid the body of 31-year-old Jane Longhust in a storage unit and visited “his trophy” regularly.

Sometimes part of the verb falls out of the summary:
Writer is ‘killed by face op’

And sometimes an attribute of the main actor ends up included:
164 ‘killed by Nazi fiend, 86’
A frail 86-year-old man has been accused of murdering 164 people in Nazi-occupied Slovakia during World War Two.

British heds also take a lot more liberties with hauling stuff around from the end of prepositional phrases than we do:
Nude pic row vicar resigns

When you throw in a relative clause, it gets out-and-out kinky:
Storm after FA let manslaughter coach teach kids
(A "manslaughter coach" isn't like a "strength and conditioning coach"; it's a coach who was convicted of involuntary manslaughter.)

Just another reason Fox-watching is so much fun. You never know what they're going to do next.


Blogger Phillip said...


12:12 PM, April 15, 2007  
Blogger Nicole said...

We had a British copy editor at the Sun-Sentinel who routinly sent over heds of this nature. The one that lasted as an example of what not to do: Party beating death man...

10:05 AM, April 17, 2007  

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