Friday, August 21, 2009

Separated by a common welcome

Today's wizard hed noun prang head-scratcher comes from the BBC. You probably got the meaning right away -- or, put a bit better, you probably got "a" meaning right away, and it was different depending on which side of the pond you opened your browser on.

Let's propose a testable hypothesis: This particular flavor of verb-elided hed produces distinct British and American readings. The American reading puts a linking verb after the noun phrase:

Anger at Lockerbie bomber [is] welcome

The British reading is an expletive verb at the beginning:

[There is] anger at Lockerbie bomber welcome

Which is more or less what other verb-free heds on the front page are doing: "Israel fury at Sweden organ claim" and "Mexico probe over kidnap deaths" (three-word pileups like "child smack ban" and "gender row athlete" -- or "Lockerbie bomber welcome" -- are a different matter).

The American reading puts a few extra Wheaties on the keyboard because it crosses a perceived bright white line into editorializing: You could get away with saying a forecast of rain is welcome, but anger is a different matter. We'd generally try to displace that with a passive verb. "Anger welcomed" doesn't say who's doing the welcoming, but at least it makes clear that it isn't you. (UPDATE: As the tabloids often make clear, some flavors of newspage editorializing are more welcome than others.)

We can probably adapt to each other's hed dialects pretty fast, but I'd still put it in the category of remembering which way to look when you cross the street: Don't try it for the first few hours after you get off the plane.

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Blogger The Ridger, FCD said...

I got exactly that "anger is welcome" reading this morning!

2:01 PM, August 21, 2009  
Anonymous Ed said...

Over on this side of the pond, the British reading was the one I immediately got. And you're right - as a Brit, I instinctively discounted the possibility that the BBC might be editorialising to that extent.

If someone had been applauding the outcry over the bomber's release, the good old claim quotes would have come out again, I think, and had the instant effect of deleting the understood expletive opener and replacing it with a linking 'is':
" Anger at Lockerbie bomber 'welcome' ".

I wonder if claim quotes are far more likely to exist in hed dialects where noun pileups are acceptable?

10:45 AM, August 22, 2009  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

For the record, as an Australian I went with the American reading. As for who welcomes the anger, my first reaction was that it might be the people responsible for the bomber itself (maybe they like the publicity).

I must say that a bomber seems a strange thing to hold a welcoming party for.

7:14 AM, August 24, 2009  

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