Friday, May 14, 2010

Grammar dogs write stuff

This is sort of like watching the Flying Missouri Death Carp slowly make their way toward the Great Lakes. A bizarre usage hops the fence from one press sector to another, and we're left wondering if it's just a one-off or if the damn things have started to breed.

Hed language is as rule-bound as any other dialect. Standard American heds have no problem losing the "be" verb in "2 hurt in accident" but would balk at something like "Mayor arrested after found nude" or "Boy dies after dragged by own cow." Those have generally stayed on the tabloid side of the fence. This is the first case of "being"-elision I've seen in a fishwrap that -- at least on good days -- pays some attention to being careful with hed language. I don't like it, and I hope it doesn't catch on, but as with lexical items like "drawdown" and "went missing," my opinion isn't likely to count for much.

It's hard to see "After missing for 13 years" as a space issue, because "Missing for 13 years, Barfy returns" would have been fine. Except for ... wait, how does the lede go again?

Terry and Blaine Horne had to go to a church meeting 13 years ago this summer on a beautiful hot evening.


... Simba was their beautiful, less than a year old, red-coated Siberian Husky with the ice-blue eyes. (Emergency hyphen drop!)

... They came home, and Simba, with a tag around his neck that identified him as having shots at a certain place, with an ID number, was gone.

Well,the years pass (much more quickly than the story), and three weeks ago ...

She looked outside, and there in the grass, rolling in the morning dew, was the skinniest, sorriest looking excuse for a dog that might have once been red anybody ever saw.

Don't you love the puppyish enthusiasm of a relative clause on the loose? "You're a sorry looking excuse for a dog that might have once been red!" (What's taking so long with the hyphens?)

... This dog, clearly old, back leg limping, close to skin and bones and covered with fleas, walked right up on the deck and sat in its old spot.

"Just like Simba used to," Blaine said.

To summarize the evidence: Young dog vanishes. Thirteen years on, old dog turns up, sits in same spot. Vet says -- eh, can't say it isn't the same dog. What would help us cast the deciding vote here?

... Their daughter, a fourth-grade teacher at Westminster Catawba Christian School in Rock Hill, polled her class. Each kid said it was Simba.

Well, that settles that.

It'd be nice not to push the hed envelope without good reason. It'd be nice if soaring prose had a few more hours of training before it tried to solo. But it'd be even nicer if we saved those conversations for stories that need to run, rather than spending them on stories that ought to be bound up in burlap bags and dropped quietly into the pond.

In case you were wondering, no. I don't think it's a sweet, heartwarming story, and I don't think those alleged virtues, even if present, would make up for holes you could drive a fleet of delivery trucks through. If you want a friend, go hyphenate a sorry-looking excuse for what might once have been a yellow dog.

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