Monday, December 31, 2007

Bizarre hed elision of the year

The best route to immortalization at the back of CJR or someplace like it isn't breaking the rules of hed elision, it's following them into the ground. That's why we never run short of stuff like "Smith gets shot at tournament" or "Player helps blind woman" to amuse colleagues and undergraduates with. Today's example, on the other hand, fits no known pattern and might represent an entirely new species of hed formation (take a bow there, Richmond Times-Dispatch). We simply don't have any idea what, or how much, or where, to fill in:
[We've] never been more at risk for fraud
Never [have you] been more at risk for fraud
Never [have there] been more at risk for fraud

Notice how normal the deck sounds in comparison to the main hed? Nobody who reads U.S. news regularly is going to trip on the missing "were" before "lost," or the use of the comma to replace "or" in "lost or stolen," or the missing "a" before "record." All those are in bounds.

A number of other standard truncations go unnoticed as well. Feature pages are particularly accepting of an understood "you can" or "you should," as in this hat trick from page 3C of today's Freep:

Decorate home with an aquarium or two
Welcome New Year with all kinds of shows and people
Be sure policy has you covered

And from the same T-D front as today's gem are two examples of an elided expletive phrase:

It's more common in U.S. feature or label heds, as at left: "[There is a] crackdown on DUI"; using it on spot news, as in the lede slot above, is rare here* but fairly common in British heds, as in these from today's Sun:
Two arrests over teen stabbing
Fears over kids' diet disaster

The redtops will also use prepositional phrases in cases where we'd try to work in a verb phrase:
Gordon Brown in poll plea

Gone, alas, are the days of the Flying Verb, as in this example (quoted by Liebling) from the glory days of the Chicago Tribune:

Hed fashions come and hed fashions go. Finding a flying verb in the wild** today would be worth a call to the bird lab people at Cornell or something, but clippings like "Dems" and "reps," which would have been substandard in broadsheet hed language a few years ago, have become pretty unexceptional. The "rules" of hed language are subject to evolution and change, but you can't declare a change unilaterally and expect to be understood.

* "Headless body in topless bar" is the classic exception
** In the broadsheet world, at least; I don't see enough tabs regularly to be too certain about what they're up to.



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