Saturday, February 02, 2008

Metaphor crashes, burns

If your notional copy editor from Mars was trying to write out the rules of earthling hed writing, he/she/them/howevermany* would pretty quickly infer the verbal metaphor rule: Heds are always "improved" if the verb makes some metaphorical connection to the story topic. The most common case, shopworn as it might be, is "snuff out" for smoking, which often starts in ledes:

The Board of Trustees unanimously decided to snuff out smoking on Ball State University's campus, and a group of students helped make that happen, according to University officials.

Drivers chauffeuring young passengers would be prohibited from smoking in the car, under a bill that passed the Utah Senate on Tuesday, but the House may once again snuff out the measure.

and migrates north:
Insurers should help smokers snuff out dangerous habit
The Patriot-News, 1/20

It can change topics:
Blanket effort to snuff out coal
Charlotte Observer, 1/20

And it can get a little mixed up:
Evidence gathers steam on second-hand smoke
Observer, 1/13

Apparently, you get the same effect from a contrary metaphor:
UNCC will light up new smoking rules
Butts move out 25 feet in July
Observer, 1/31; the judges especially appreciate the multiple meanings of "butts" here

The real fun comes when the hed writer reaches for a metaphor and comes away with a meaning that's radically different from the story's intent, as in the example shown here (Thank you, Cleveland Plain Dealer). To "land" in a hed means pretty much what it does in the OED: To secure, win or obtain; "to catch or 'get hold of' a person" (as in "You must be gentle with me if you want to land me"):

Osborne helps land West Point CC star
Omaha World-Herald, 12/4
Pedigrees help land Utahns team title
Salt Lake Tribune, 11/15

So is "Airline helped land Cleveland drug ring" just garden-variety civic boosterism? No, apparently "airline" was supposed to make some sort of metaphoric connection to the process of running something to ground (though "landing" an airplane doesn't mean that at all). And the poor readers are expected to believe what the hed writer thought, rather than their own lying eyes.

* What a shame that the only online references to Ed Subitzky's "Saturday Night On Antares: The Planet With 12 Different Sexes" appear to be in the National Review.

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Blogger The Ridger, FCD said...

And they could have said "ground" so easily.

5:13 PM, February 02, 2008  
Blogger fev said...

Yes, but "grounded" has so many fun levels itself: "Three kilos of cocaine? Buffy, you're grounded!"

11:05 PM, February 02, 2008  

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