Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Alfred Hitchcock, OB/GYN

From the Maryland buro comes this outstanding hed, spotted in the WashPost online:

Surfers accused of pap attack plead not guilty
LOS ANGELES -- Two surfers have pleaded not guilty to misdemeanor battery charges for allegedly throwing a photographer into the water as he tried to shoot pictures of Matthew McConaughey on the waves.

The surfers _ Skylar Peak and Philip Hildebrand _ are accused of confronting several paparazzi who showed up June 21 on a Malibu beach to take pictures and film the "Fool's Gold" and "Failure to Launch" star.

It's sort of a mike/mic issue, but it's much, much more! By the time you finish the second graf, you've figured out that "pap attack" is not The Movie Hitchcock Dared Not Make* but something involving "paparazzi." So now you're wondering -- gee, do I shorten that to "paps," based on the spelling of the full word, or "pops," based on what my friends and I mutter when we're ducking into trendy sidewalk cafes in sun-drenched Rome to avoid one? At which point it sort of dawns -- there's a reason that issue hasn't come up. Paparazzi just don't figure in day-to-day conversations around here. We could make a rule, but it's sort of like a protocol for introducing an allosaurus at the Rotary Club.

But the broader matter leads to a couple of issues of interest to journalists. One is whether clipping, which is a natural thing for languages to do, is neutral -- or, given that we're going to abbreviate stuff (and that columns and pages aren't going to get wider again), are there more and less neutral ways to be shorter? When all the police are "cops" and all mothers are "moms," something's going on. How close is it to what goes on when all Democrats are "Dems" and anybody who draws a paycheck on the US govment is a "fed"? Are we sure we want to go there, and how awake are we while we're doing it?

Which leads to the second point: Not very. As of this writing, "surfers accused of pap attack" gets about 122,000 Google hits. From the first couple pages, it's pretty clear that what the AP sends as a suggested hed goes up untouched at, um, thousands upon thousands of sites across and around the fruited plain. That's sort of interesting as a factor in the process of language change, but from an agenda-setting perspective -- does anybody out there think we ought to be looking for ways to edit more stuff, rather than less?

* I stole this one from Language Czarina. In her defense, that was a really big flock of starlings.



Blogger The Ridger, FCD said...

But, but ... the Allosaurus is president!

In a moment of synchronicity over sixty years, today's entry in the Orwell diary includes this: Immense flocks of starlings, probably as many as 5000 in a flock, all the while attacking the olives, which are now ripe on the trees. Arabs out all day in the olive groves, shouting to scare the starlings away. E. compares the sound of the starlings’ twittering to the rustle of a silk dress.

And on a more serious note - you're right about the reflexive (indiscriminate?) use of the AP headlines. I hadn't thought about it, just marveled at this particular example.

5:54 AM, November 13, 2008  
Blogger Strayhorn said...

When I scan the Left Coast papers and blogs I've always seen it as "paps" in heads and lately in body copy. Think I first saw it that way in LAObserved or The LAist.

On a sad note, Mitch Mitchell died yesterday - the last member of the Experience, Noel Redding having died five years ago. He was 61.

7:53 AM, November 13, 2008  
Blogger Old Word Wolf said...

My brain went all Woody Allen -- the great pap-attack scene in Sex and Death, I believe it was, where gigantic breasts roll in from the horizon.

4:06 PM, November 13, 2008  
Blogger fev said...

I think that's "Everything You Always Wanted To Know ..." (not enough Eisenstein homages for Love & Death), and just the one giant breast -- doesn't the police chief end up warning that those things usually travel in pairs?

(For today's comment on the state o'journalism, Google another suggested hed from the same week: "Angolan troops fighting in Congo." All of 16,500 hits ...)

4:26 PM, November 13, 2008  
Blogger Old Word Wolf said...

That was it! Thanks! -- and a fairly forgettable movie it was.

8:25 AM, November 14, 2008  

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