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 jemcintyre@gmail.com, 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/.

Monday, May 10, 2010

You can't call the trucks back

In what he described as a pre-emptive gesture, Steve Gould of The Sun’s sports desk sent out word on Facebook and Twitter earlier today: “Yes, I realize the first line of the headline on the golf story says, ‘Woods pulls out’ and no, the humor is not lost on me.”

Not that Mr. Gould should beat himself up too much for The Sun’s failure to scotch that one— I did a quick Web search and counted two dozen “Woods pulls out” headlines at various news sites before giving up. Apparently it was irresistible.

One indispensable qualification for a professional copy editor is possession of a filthy mind. English is rich in the possibilities of double entendres, with nouns that are also verbs, verbs that are also nouns, and countless idiomatic expressions that can take on salacious overtones.

The Anchorage Times once ran a headline, “Messiah climaxes in chorus of hallelujahs.” Putting “Messiah” within quotation marks would have helped some, but not enough.

The Miami Herald published a headline about a business takeover, “Textron Inc. makes offer to screw company stockholders.” It was a company that makes screws.

The Chicago Daily News advised, “Petroleum jelly keeps idle tools rust-free.” Noted.

You may also recall the famed Evening Sun­ headline on home canning and preserving, “You can put pickles up yourself.”

And not just in headline type, either: “The impact of the scandal has stretched from Aberdeen’s privates to its top officer.”

Or this lead sentence about a waterman: “Aboard the Becky D, Ren Bowman grins with delight as his rod throbs with the energy of a large rockfish.” One thing you can take to the bank, I tell my students every semester, is that you never want to use rod and throb in the same sentence.

I know, when I sit at the desk among the editors and hear the first muffled snort, or outright cackle of glee, that a dirty mind has registered another ripe one. And I am grateful for the sensibility that sniffs out smut in unlikely places.

Editing is not for the pure in heart.


17 comments:

  1. If it makes Mr. Gould feel any better, here's the headline the Syracuse Post-Standard (fondly known to those of us who subscribe to it primarily for the comics and the garage sale ads as the Sub-Standard) put on this story: "Pain in neck forces Tiger to withdraw."

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  2. is this considered irony:

    "It was a company that males screws."

    :)

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  3. Damn. You see how these things happen.

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  4. Patrick K. LackeyMay 10, 2010 at 10:20 AM

    On the bright side, "Woods pulls out" sounds less salacious than "Woods withdraws."

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  5. In northwestern Minnesota there are two small towns called Fertile and Climax (that much is true). A legend has gone around that a headline once read "Fertile Woman Dies in Climax." Not sure if that's true or just the product of someone's imaginiation, but still.

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  6. I had to triple-check a deck hed last night -- his bulging WHAT? OH disk. Gotcha. :-P

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  7. From Futility Closet:

    "In reviewing a Royal Shakespeare Company production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream for the New York Times in 1970, Clive Barnes found “David Waller’s virile bottom particularly splendid.”

    He’d intended to capitalize “bottom.”

    In 1915, Woodrow Wilson escorted his fiancee, Edith Galt, to the theater. The Washington Post reported that he “spent most of his time entering Mrs. Galt.”

    That should have read entertaining — though presumably she would have been entertained either way."

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  8. And from the Further Adventures of You Can't Make This up: The Beaver County (Pa.) Times recently carried an obit for a Mrs. Betty (Strapon) Jones.

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  9. After review, it was Betty Strapon Johnson.

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  10. 'Ring lost in snatch'.

    Words were had with the naive young sub-editor who put that one in the paper.

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  11. Did Lyndon Johnson or Andy Dick ever drop out of anything? Just wondering.

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  12. I had a story last night about a Chinese NFL draft pick named Ed Wang. One sentence read "Wang gets his size from his parents." Luckily someone caught it on proof. Changed "Wang" to "the rookie."

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  13. Oddly enough, just this Saturday, we started chuckling on the desk when we came across this line: "In that decade, the group welcomed its first male member..." in a story about the local League of Women Voters group. It does help to be able to channel the mind of a 14-year-old boy sometimes.

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  14. We're still breaking up over a headline written years ago by our sports desk about our Triple-A baseball team winning a game without its best player: "Triplets win with Peters out"

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  15. "One indispensable qualification for a professional copy editor is possession of a filthy mind."

    Well worth embroidering on a sampler.

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  16. Fantastic blog. Keep on rockin, Radu Prisacaru – UK Internet Marketer & Web Developer

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  17. Caught in the composing room of the Middletown Times Herald-Record:
    "Close Your Eyes and Eat Abroad"

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