Thursday, April 07, 2011

Hed of the morning: Inside of a dog ...

Local version of the Burning Man festival? Or what?

Post your best guess at the comments, or hang on until after the jump to discuss why it means what it means. Or both.

OK. If you are of the true copyediting blood, you took in with mother's milk the stylebook wisdom about "arrest":

To avoid any suggestion that someone is being judged before a trial, do not use a phrase such as arrested for killing. Instead, use arrested on a charge of killing. ...

Or, as you also quickly learned, "arrested in connection with the death" or "in connection with the fire" or whatever* -- which for hed purposes becomes "Ex-employee arrested in fire" or "2 charged in killing."

"Charged in killing" works because "killing" is a count noun for the thing that results from an act of killing. "Arrested in stealing" doesn't work. "Stealing" is a noun -- "stealing jewels is a useful complement to a career in copyediting" -- but it's not the noun for a case of stealing. That's a theft, or a heist, or whatever fits your house style and the hed count.

There's no problem with "charged in killing of uncle" or "arrested in theft of Mona Lisa," where there's a whole prepositional phrase after the noun. We're concerned the narrow case of what happens when the preposition falls out: "Charged in forging checks" or "arrested in stealing jewelry," where the "-ing" form has gone all participle on you. Those are false friends; they look like they should work, but they don't.**

Obviously, the word hasn't gotten out to everybody, or we wouldn't still see heds like "Man arrested in shooting roommate." That seems to be the general form this one started out as:

Man charged in house fire/Charges dropped in house fire

Man charged in burning dog/Charges dropped in burning dog

And thus are candidates for Hed of the Year born. Outside of a dog, a preposition is man's best friend.

* Not "in connection with the arson," because the fire hasn't been determined to be an arson yet. Tricksy lawyerses!
** Further speculation, grammatical corrections, &c are of course welcome.



Blogger The Ridger, FCD said...

Technically, the "stealing" in "stealing jewels" is not a noun; nouns can't have direct object complements. "The stealing of the the jewels" is a noun phrase; "stealing jewels" is a participial one.

It helps to remember that non-finite clauses can fill Noun Phrase slots in sentences.

Problem is, English has five different uses for the -ING form of the verb. One is clearly a noun; three clearly aren't. One is a hybrid thingie (a gerundive) that is best dealt with by acknowledging that English prepositions can directly govern clauses (which they can, though we tend to call them 'conjunctions' when they do; 'before the building' Prep, 'before I left' Conj...). But whatever you want to say about prepositions, nouns simply cannot have direct objects; they take their complements buffered by prepositions.

I don't know if speaking/writing English would be easier if we'd kept all our inflectional morphemes, but speaking/writing about English certainly would be...

12:24 PM, April 08, 2011  
Anonymous Ed Latham said...

Wouldn't 'Charges dropped in dog-burning' have met the case?

5:54 PM, April 08, 2011  
Anonymous Picky said...

The thought that occurred to Mr Latham occurred to me.

And for those who think the British press is unpleasantly creative in its headline language, I think I'm right in saying (correct me, pls, EL) that stuff like "ex-employee arrested in fire" would not be possible in BrPressspeak.

7:39 AM, April 10, 2011  
Anonymous Ed Latham said...

Agreed - that wouldn't do unless officers of the law had actually pulled him from the flames. But you might - might - get away with 'ex-employee arrested over fire', which leads us into the interesting question of which prepositions are understood figuratively and which are understood literally...

2:38 PM, April 10, 2011  

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