Friday, September 21, 2007

Private language

More bad news for hed writers: You aren't the Red Queen. You don't get to unilaterally decide on new meanings for words and expect your poor reading public to understand what you're talking about. Today's case in point, from the metro front of one of the leading local dailies:

gala gets
top GOP

The hed is trying to reflect the second graf's "All of the major GOP candidates" (putting news into the lede simply isn't done anymore, one gathers), and it does so by shortening "candidates" to "runners." Unfortunate, because that isn't any of the scores of things that "runner" means. A candidate in front can be a "front-runner," and a candidate finishing out of the money can be an "also-ran," but a candidate isn't a "runner." The hed writer is indulging in some sort of private Secret Language and hoping readers will catch on. Given the number of meanings of "runner" available to readers, that doesn't seem a very good bet.

Now. HEADSUP-L is specifically not at home to bizarre arguments on the order of "Don't tell me 'pled' is now becoming an actual word (and turn that music down right now before you destroy the language of Shakespeare)." Of course "pled" is a word. It's a legitimate past tense of "plead," and if Shakespeare didn't use it, Spenser did. It's not the preferred form in U.S. news language, but proclaiming that it isn't a word is the sort of argument that makes copyeds look both tin-eared and technically inept. "Runner" is a word too. It just isn't a word that means "candidate."

Solution? Heh heh. There's plenty of room on that line for "hopefuls." You don't have to like it, but "candidate for a position" is a well-established meaning for "hopeful" in the language of Shakespeare's island descendents. And, as with "runner," you can look it up.


Blogger The Ridger, FCD said...

Hee-hee. "if Shakespeare didn't use it, Spenser did"

I love that.

11:17 AM, September 21, 2007  
Blogger Terry said...

Sorry, I'm a Briton, but use of 'runners' for 'candidates' didn't faze me - I thought it was a fair simile, derived, I'd guess, from 'runners and riders' - and 'hopefuls', depending on your typeface, is probably longer, too ...

4:17 PM, September 21, 2007  
Blogger The Ridger, FCD said...

"Runners and riders"? That's more confusing than "runners" alone to this American - I've never heard it. ("Runners" I could indeed figure out but it took a minute.)

8:33 AM, September 22, 2007  
Blogger fev said...

I do think 'runners' is a plausible figure of speech, but that's part of the problem; it has so many available meanings at hand that it's asking the poor readers to admire the sub's wordplay before being granted the keys to the story. I've seen writers to similar things with nouns from phrasal verbs (eg, 'storm riders' for 'people who ride out a storm'), and it tends to drive me batty. (inner prescriptivist now sent to his room)

But I do have to know -- what are 'runners and riders'?

5:43 PM, September 23, 2007  

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