Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Stop giggling, dammit, this is grammar

OK. You may all now raise your hands if you read this Fox hed the same way I did. I think there's a reason for that, but if any of you grownup language people would like to jump in with a real explanation, please do.

To start with, your brain has a lot to do, so when it can take a shortcut, it does. As you read the news, your brain is looking for ways to make sense of it all, so it's happy when a story fits a particular category at first glance --- no problem figuring out what folder the story goes in.* So if you're a regular Fox reader, "inflatable mattress sex" goes in the folder marked "People Bonking Durable Goods" -- as in, oh, "Cops: Man tried to have sex with a fence."

Why that folder? Because your brain also knows that headlines are supposed to be about what's different or unusual, and today's particular combination of noun and attributive noun modifier has its own folder to accommodate just such a signal -- say, "Jail time dropped in Dubai beach sex trial." So we can't mean "place," because that's boring. Taste in mattresses -- inflatable, Craftmatic, Posturepedic, whatever -- just isn't the stuff dreams are made of, hedwise.

Out of today's story, then, the Foxsters chose the least interesting -- and the most heuristically misleading -- hed approach possible:
... seven Spirit Creek Middle School faculty members have been implicated in a series of incidents that included daytime sexual encounters on an inflatable mattress in the school's public safety office.

Evidently there's a planet somewhere on which "inflatable mattress" is more interesting than "broad daylight in the freakin' public safety office." Its signal seems to be coming through loud and clear at Fox.

* Which, of course, is why certain specific points of view stand to gain when the War On Terror Dust is sprinkled around too liberally in your news copy. Framing is often misunderstood, but it ain't a joke.

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Blogger The Ridger, FCD said...

As in the "cops crack down on counterfeit goods" story tonight. The reporter said that many people might wonder why the cops are spending what seems like a lot of time cruising flea markets looking for fake football jerseys and purses, but she had a cop on hand to point out that "people think this is a victimless crime, but it's not. Most of this stuff is made in China, and (no, he didn't go with the balance of trade or the plight of American counterfeiters, which would have been interesting) there's child labor issues, and ties to organized crime." Pause. "And terrorism." Full stop.

7:06 PM, December 11, 2008  

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