12 Headlines: Grammar Lessons To Remember

Rock concert scene for grammar bloopers postIt’s headline bloopers time again! This ruthless editor has been scanning online news sites in search of the good, the bad, the ugly and the confusing. I’ve not been disappointed. Here’s my favorite:

1) Kiss Former Member Hit By Drunken Gunfire
You want me to kiss whom?

This coverage from UltimateClassicRock.com describes a 2003 event: While walking on Sunset Blvd., former Kiss guitarist Bruce Kulick was struck in the leg and head by two stray bullets from an intoxicated man’s 9mm weapon. Fortunately, neither bullet did significant damage.

2) Jennifer Aniston Strips Down (Daily Beast 12.17.14)
And speaking of celebrities, did this headline writer think we needed clarification that Aniston was stripping down as opposed to stripping up? Redundancy alert!

3) Here’s A News Report We’d Be Reading If Walter Scott’s Killing Wasn’t On Video
(HuffPost 4.8.15) It should be:
Here’s A News Report We’d Be Reading If Walter Scott’s Killing Were Not On Video
This is a serious subject, but my best explanation involves a song title. Most folks who enjoy musicals know “If I Were a Rich Man” from Fiddler On The Roof. Those who follow this blog might recall that I used Fiddler as an example when I wrote about was vs. were a few months ago, pointing out the difference between I was (past tense) and if I were (subjunctive or conditional tense). I noted that Tyve didn’t sing “If I was a rich man”; he sang “If I were a rich man” because rich was not his condition at the time.

In the headline example, we all know that the shooting indeed was on video, so it should read read “if it were not on video.”

Now let’s catch up with the meandering modifier only. In each of these examples, only should be closest to what it modifies:

4) American Idol Will Only Have One More Season
(HuffPost 5.11.15) It should be:
American Idol Will Have Only One More Season

5) Troops Only Protecting White Baltimore
(HuffPost 4.29.15) It should be:
Troops Protecting Only White Baltimore

6) England Picks 1st Female Bishop: Only Took 500 years
(Daily Beast 12.17.14) It should be:
England Picks 1st Female Bishop: Took Only 500 Years

7) Obama Only Took Questions From Women At His Year-End Presser
(HuffPost 12.19.14) It should be:
Obama
 Took Questions Only From Women At His Year-End Presser
Have a little fun with this one and think of the implications of the original version. If the headline writer is specifying that the President only took questions from female reporters, does that imply that he might have, under other circumstances, taken something from them besides questions? Their cell phones or pens, for example? Or their criticism?

And here are some odds and ends of wrong or questionable usage:

8) Police Ball Benefitting Special Olympics
It should be:
Police Ball Benefiting Special Olympics
Benefiting has only one t, an exception to the guideline of doubling the final consonant of a word before adding ing. (Did you notice that I said “Benefiting has only one t” and not “Benefiting only has one t?)

9) 7 Services That’ll Basically Do Your Spring Cleaning For You
(HuffPost 3.12.15) It should be:
7 Services That’ll Do Your Spring Cleaning For You

Basically adds nothing to the meaning of this line. I often see basically and actually added to phrases where they are redundant, adding nothing but clutter.

10) Town Using Huge Fake Whale To Try And Scare Sea Lions From Harbor (HuffPost 5.24.2015) It should be:
Town Using Fake Whale To Try To Scare Sea Lions From Harbor
Again, I often see the common error of try and. And is a conjunction, a joiner that should not follow try. To Try To Scare is appropriate here.

11) The 20 European Cities Where Your Money Will Go Farthest
(HuffPost 3.17.15) It should be:
The 20 European Cities Where Your Money Will Go Furthest 

Here’s that farthest / furthest debate again. Farthest relates to distance, and furthest implies a greater degree of something. Is this headline a warning that your money might depart and go a great distance from you in these 20 European cities? Or will it buy you more in these 20 cities than it would elsewhere?

12) The Tech Billionaire That Wants To Save San Francisco
(HuffPost.com 12.30.14) It should be:
The Tech Billionaire Who Wants To Save San Francisco 

That refers to inanimate things or animals without names. Who is for people.

One could argue that these criticisms are petty because in most cases, we all understand what the headline is trying to convey. As a ruthless editor, I say there is ambiguity, word misuse and redundancy that could lead to misinterpretation.

The best way to send a clear message is to use grammar that is considered standard for English. If you’re not sure about word use or punctuation, email me at: Contact@RuthlessEditor.com

I love questions; they keep me on my toes!

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And if you see a headline blooper, please send it my way!

Kathy Watson
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Kathy Watson

Kathy has a love/hate relationship with grammar; she loves words and the punctuation that helps them make sense, yet she hates those pesky rules. A self-proclaimed ruthless editor, she prefers standard usage guidelines of The Associated Press Stylebook. Her easy-to-use Grammar for People Who Hate Rules helps people write and speak with authority and confidence. She encourages and welcomes questions and comments. (Email)

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