Happy Grammar Day! It’s time to acknowledge the importance of picking just the right words and just the right punctuation to clearly communicate your message. If you think “proper” grammar, with all of its rules and guidelines, is a thing of the past, please check out my Ruthless Editor Grammar Day column: What Is Grammar, and Why Does It Matter?
Here are some headlines with their own grammar lessons:
1) The Coming Most-Popular Baby Names (huffpost.com 11.7.14)
Kudos for this headline writer! Most-Popular is a compound modifier for Baby Names, so it is acceptable to hyphenate it. That being said, the hyphen is optional in this case, as lack of a hyphen would not necessarily confuse the reader.
But consider this phrase: Most used furniture shows wear. It implies that you can tell the difference between most — but perhaps not all — furniture that has been used.
Now consider this phrase: Our most-used furniture shows wear. It implies that furniture having had a high level of use does indeed show wear.
2) Frozen Chicken Truck Bursts Into Flames After Collision With Bee Truck (huffpost.com 2.3.15)
That frozen truck must have melted quickly after bursting into flames! A hyphen would have made it clear that the truck was not frozen, but its contents were: Frozen-Chicken Truck.
3) Nel-Turner Media Group Is Pursuing a Project Manager (LinkedIn group 2.26.15)
If I were a potential project manager, I’d run fast if I thought I were being pursued. Seeking a Project Manager would have been a better choice.
4) Man’s Food Poisoning Could Realistically Be Traced Back To Any Meal From Past Week (theonion.com 2.13.15)
Yes, this is The Onion, and staffers there take their satire seriously. Were it not a spoof, I’d call Could Realistically Be Traced Back To redundant. Could Be Traced To would suffice.
5) Supremes Squash Alabama Revolt (huffpost.com 2.9.15)
Squash is to press or crush something until it is flat. I’d prefer the verb Quash in this case; it means to reject, to suppress, to stop or extinguish, especially by judicial action.
6) De Blasio Calls For Major Minimum Wage Hike In NYC (huffpost.com 2.3.15)
Major strikes me as an odd modifier for Minimum, especially when the words are juxtapositioned. Small-word synonyms would be big or large; large-word options would be significant or sizable.
Early in my career when I was producing newsletters in print, I always wrote the headline last, creating words to fit — or to fill — the space. Although a short word is almost always the best choice, nuances of meaning can make one word preferable to another.
7) Now We Finally Know Why She Never Smiles (huffpost.com 1.8.15)
There are three temporal (time-related) terms in this headline: Now, Finally and Never. One of the first two would have been enough: Now We Know … or We Finally Know … . Using both is redundant.
8) 2015 Cardinals Could Look Very Different Than 2014 Version (Arizona Republic 1.5.14)
• Very is generally regarded as a weak modifier. Consider:
Her purse was very small vs. Her purse was tiny.
His muscles were very large vs. His muscles were gigantic.
I am very angry vs. I am furious.
• Different should be followed by from, not than.
9) Facebook Reportedly Wants To Use Drones To Actually Make The Web Wordwide (huffpost.com 3.4.14)
Reportedly and Actually are redundant; they add no meaning to the headline.
10) New Van Gogh Painting Found (dailybeast.com 9.9.13)
Van Gogh died in 1890, so there is nothing whatsoever new about the painting that was found. Either newly discovered painting or newfound painting would have been more accurate. Here’s how npr.com wrote its headline for the story:
‘New’ Van Gogh Painting Identified; Was In A Norwegian Attic
Headlines make for good grammar lessons. They’re easy to skim, and because of news deadlines, they often are hastily written, giving rise to the potential for error.
Have you come across headlines that make you smile … or shake your head or roll your eyes? Please submit them in the comment section, along with any topic requests you might have. Let’s make every day Grammar Day!
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