Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Strange pairing

So apparently I still have grammar -- or the strange intersection of grammar and not-grammar that we teach and practice -- on the brain* this week, or I wouldn't have been struck by this one. In a pair like "Noun, noun among mine victims," I'm expecting some sort of lexical coordination too: two nouns of family relations or two of pastimes, sure, but not one of each. That just seems random, in more or less the sense Those Kids Today seem to mean it, if indeed they still say it.**

Kind of a coincidence, because on the way in this morning,*** we were talking about the slippery ground of who's who -- or maybe more precisely, who's what compared to whom -- in heds. If you're a loyal Fox reader, for instance, you probably get the point pretty quickly in

Ax-wielding man kills mom at swingset in park

... but there's a reasonable chance you'd get a different reading on a different family-status noun:

Ax-wielding man kills son at swingset in park

... because "mom" does things that "son" doesn't. There's a category of being "a mom," but not all moms fit it (Language Czarina's mom wouldn't qualify as "a mom" at Fox). And we don't really have a category of being "a son" without a particularly rare kind of ActionNews9 setup that introduces another family noun first: "A father angry. A son dead. We talk to the relatives after this from Belle Tire."

Great fun to talk about, but it really underscores the need for those disarmament talks. If copydesks ever start hiring again, we don't want to be sending our younguns out all stoked up about the headline ambiguity of family-status nouns if you guys still want unsplit verbs and virginal infinitives. Your move.

* Paper's finished. Sort of. Yes. Soon! Really.
** I'm pretty sure this is the AP's suggested hed, rather than one that originated at the paper. In the Good Old Days, using the AP hed unchanged was something good desks just didn't do.
*** It being one of those nice semesters, for a few more weeks at least, in which we both start at the same fairly civilized hour.

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Blogger John Cowan said...

I think the "kills mom" head actually is ambiguous.

But I sort of wonder if the main one actually started out as "Miners, hunters" and got misrepaired.

1:18 AM, April 07, 2010  
Blogger The Ridger, FCD said...

"kills mom" is only slightly ambiguous; I'd expect "kills mother" if it were his. But then, as fev says, "mom" is a label in the way "son" isn't - not just at Fox, but the tabs at the counter in the supermarket all use "mom" like that.

I wouldn't be surprised either way with "kills mom" but if "kills son" meant some random child, it would startle me.

6:57 PM, April 07, 2010  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A bit late to be commenting, but am I the only one to have read "Fathers, hunters" as an appositive the first time around?

1:17 AM, April 16, 2010  

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