Thursday, August 19, 2010

Headline Madness

How bad a job could you do preparing headlines for news items? You could not hope to do worse than this, analyzed wonderfully at Language Log.
I am assuming that Canadian Press are to blame though I'd love to pin it on the illiterates at the CBC.
The headline writer, astonishingly, picked the second type of construction, and wrote about freeing the jar. Go figure.
Who was just days from death? Well, this is a headline, so we have no prior context, so we don't initially know. But we see that someone is days from death, and the comma tells us that this is an adjunct introducing a clause that is almost certainly going to tell us, so we read on, and we hit the main clause subject: Florida wildlife officials. We are all mortal, and some day every Florida wildlife official must prepare to meet the Creator of all wildlife, so it is the most natural thing in the world to take them as the target of predication that we need, and we fill it in: we understand (for a split second) that some Florida wildlife officials were just days from death. So now, what did they do?
And at that point we learn that they freed a plastic jar. Even though they were dying. The story is getting stranger and stranger.
I will confess I find displays of egregious stupidity like this a pleasure, as they guarantee a fine giggle at the start of the day.


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