Saturday, May 30, 2009

Incomprehensible hed of the month

Who did what to whom here? Or put another way, why are any of these actors in the story, and what's their relationship to each other? Ten people were poisoned, and the pharmacist saved nine? Horrible freeway smash, but the pharmacist leapt into the cab of the out-of-control semi and steered it to safety before it could squash any more grannies? Whence all this death and praise?

If you've been following this one (and obviously you must have been, given that it's the top story on the half-page or so that the Freep can spare for the rest of the nation and the other 190-odd countries in the world), you know it's the tale of the Oklahoma pharmacist who, having shot a would-be robber once, saw off the would-be accomplice and came back to finish off the one he'd shot. Trouble is, the headline packs in a bunch of random information without regard for the way information works in Headline World.

The "(number) dead" construction usually implies more than one; when there's only one of something, it's more common to use a singular noun (teen, toddler, missing mom, tourist, robber) to carry the number while providing a little more information. What we have sounds more like a tornado than an armed robbery attempt. "Pharmacist," while it's one of the second actor's roles, isn't the one that links him to the first part of the hed. "Praised," while also true, leaves out the middle term: what did he have to do with the death?

It makes sense, more or less, if you know the story -- but in that case, why the first-day approach of "1 dead"? (Given that the guy was charged Wednesday and today is what my people call "Saturday.") Better to stick to one idea per deck here, and even better to insist on enough room to say something intelligible.



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