Saturday, January 30, 2010

Crash Blossoms Head Your Way

Ben Zimmer, writing in The New York Times, raises the issue of ambiguity in headlines, warning against dropping words or writing them in a way that leaves confusion in people's minds. Of course, words that can be read as either verbs or nouns tend to be the most confusing, and it's what often makes Yahoo or HuffPost headlines difficult to comprehend.

Then there are others that invite ridicule: the classic
may be this report on arable land:

Russian Virgin
Lands Short Of
Goal Again

Or, The Hartford Courant headline during World War II:
40,000 GIs Enter Florence

And though I didn't write it, after setting it aside, I accidentally allowed this gem slip through my fingers, to go to production which almost immediately put it into a back page of The Courant; it became famous through its pickup by CJR's Lower Case, Best of Category:

Rosemary Hall
Gets New Head

referring to the new headmaster at Rosemary Hall prep school

The gem, though not quite in the same category, was the misuse of Roman numerals in The New York Times. Reporting on the decision to use a civilian ship for military purposes during the Falkland war. In early editions it read:

Queen Elizabeth II
To Be Used by Troops

Later it was changed to: QE 2

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