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/.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Off with their heads

A reader was momentarily puzzled by a Baltimore Sun headline —

Structure collapses dot city, region

— until he realized that collapses is a noun and dot a verb in this context.

Far more reprehensible, however, is today’s

Purrr-sonal finance

about the costs of owning a pet.

Were I still wielding the rubber chicken of authority, someone would smart for this: an ancient, labored pun requiring punctuation to nudge the reader in the ribs.

Of course, there is also CNN’s Ceremony marks Hariri’s 2005 death. Someone in Atlanta apparently missed English class on the day that “Cowards die many times before their deaths; / The valiant never taste of death but once” was taught.

On Friday, HeadsUp saw a Fox News headline, Iowa High School Football Coach Murder Trial Starts, and asked, reasonably, “Who did what to whom?”

The newspaper convention of using a comma in place of and comes a cropper in a Dayton Daily News headline noted at TestyCopyEditors.com: Man shot in chest, leg knocks on door for help.

None of these, however, rise to the level of embarrassment last Monday in Norfolk when the Virginian-Pilot reversed the score of the Superbowl on the front page of the sports section. AOL News quoted the paper’s managing editor, Maria Carrillo, as saying, “It’s just one of those things. We went over every aspect of that story a dozen times. Everything but the score.”

Not that AOL News has a lot to brag about with its own sports headlines, having given us Bledsoe Breathes Life Into Kentucky. I thought that chest compressions were now the preferred method of resuscitation.