Monday, August 18, 2008

Foot fault

What do you do with a grammar argument -- or, at least, something that looks like a grammar argument -- when the "grammar" in question isn't wrong? Sometimes the best approach is to treat it as a signaling issue: Is the message you're encoding up on your end of the Great Pneumatic Tube the same message somebody's going to decode on the other end? If the answer is "no," or "maybe," or "who knows," you might want to rethink the premises.

That's the issue with the "Sweet-tea vodka catches on quick" hed at right. (The bears are just there so you too can wonder why a story about bears in Alaska is frontpage news in Piedmont North Carolina.) Is it ungrammatical? Not really; "quick" as an adverb has been around for a good seven centuries. But if you look a bit further, you'll find suggestions that this is a case in which some adverbs are more equal than others. The OED says: "now usually considered less formal than quickly, and found chiefly in informal or colloquial contexts, often in standard constructions," with these among recent examples:

1901 M. FRANKLIN My Brilliant Career xxxii. 272 Lizer, shut the winder quick. 1936 C. SANDBURG People, Yes 83 Some men dress quick, others take as much time as a woman.

That makes things a bit confusing for the coffee-deprived reader. Does the hed mean someone's trying to sound like a novelist (or, worse, like Carl Sandburg), or that the desk doesn't do well at sticking to standard, or what? Put another way: Are you talking down to me (owin' to the story's about sweet tea, and that brings out the g-droppin' in all of us), or can't you tell the difference?

Heds have many purposes. Distracting the reader shouldn't be any of them.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think I would have passed right over the sweet-tea-vodka article, wrongly inferring from the typographical cues and the big photo of the product that it was a paid advertisement.

8:56 PM, August 18, 2008  
Blogger fev said...

Oops. Wonder if there's a lesson in that, given the apparent boom in the use of stock photos and the like for 1A illustrations (saw a few genuinely awful examples at the weekend).

10:28 PM, August 18, 2008  

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