Saturday, May 03, 2014

Today in claim quotes

Submitted for discussion: What are those suspiciously foreign quote marks doing on the front page of an (allegedly) American fishwrap?

"Bus slay punk," on its own, is a distinctly American tabloid noun phrase. It's nowhere near a genuine noun pile; the only thing British about it is the use of quotation marks to indicate -- in Ten Minutes Past Deadline's excellent summary -- "a newsworthy assertion made by a third party about which the news organisation is reserving judgment." That function is clear in "Under-fives death rate 'high in UK'," on the BBC home page even as we speak: there isn't room to attribute the assertion, but the claim quotes signal that the attribution is coming.

There's the odd part. Calling someone a punk might be rude, but calling him a killer would pose some actual legal risk, so a decent respect for the publisher's checkbook calls for a little attention to the niceties. If that's the point, though, the claim quotes aren't just in the wrong headline dialect, they're attributing the wrong thing. The one thing that doesn't appear to be in question in the Post's story is that a "bus slay" took place. Reserving judgment on that point is less a problem here than declaring him guilty in the body type, which the Post does with its usual glee.

What do you say, British readers? Do the claim quotes work correctly here?

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Anonymous Ed Latham said...

You're right - they don't, not if 'slay' just means 'killing' and not specifically 'murder'. 'Bus slay punk', all within quotes, would be more like it. Quotes around 'Bus slay' on its own suggests something more like a suspicious-death investigation that the police aren't quite ready to declare a homicide.

But my cautious sub-editor's soul wants to put an 'alleged' in at least three places in the second par of the story itself. The attribution/caution gets better further on in the story, but if you're just going to say

'A Brooklyn teen who fatally shot a hardworking father while aiming for a rival gang member on a crowded city bus had told cops, “It’s war out here,” and lamented the future he had flushed away'

as definitively as that, I'm wondering why you'd bother with quotes in the hed at all!

5:30 AM, May 04, 2014  

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