John McIntyre, whom James Wolcott calls "the Dave Brubeck of the art and craft of copy editing," writes on language, editing, journalism, and other manifestations of human frailty. Comments welcome. Identifying his errors relieves him of the burden of omniscience. Write to firstname.lastname@example.org, befriend at Facebook, or follow at Twitter: @johnemcintyre. Back 2009-2012 at the original site, http://weblogs.baltimoresun.com/news/mcintyre/blog/ and now at www.baltimoresun.com/news/language-blog/.
Tuesday, December 29, 2009
It took more than a glance for me to decipher this headline on the front page of this morning’s Baltimore Sun:
This is one of those headlines that make sense only after you read the story: That the annual Ed Block Courage Award is being given to Michael Vick of the Philadelphia Eagles — the man who ran a dog-fighting operation — has caused local outrage.
There are two ways in which this headline tries too hard and defeats its own purposes. The first is to jam all those proper nouns, Block, Eagles, Vick. Michael Vick is notorious enough locally that Eagles could have been sacrificed. The second mistake was to try to be clever while jamming all that information in with wordplay on flag down on play. You know, football.
The result is a headline that has too much — information — and too little — context for the wordplay. It is only in the secondary headline, Animal advocates outraged / over teammates’ choice, that the penny drops.