N-pf#4: ADD

Last week I wrote a trivial (all right, all right, so most of what I write is trivial, I mean even more so than usual trivial) about the English language: Non-political frippery #4. I noted that study of newspaper headlines was a good way to learn the idiomatic intricacies of English. And I gave an example from my morning paper, a headline which — unless you already knew what the story was about — might prove absolutely senseless. It was

Mayor
floats
sharing
chief

and I asked if anyone cared to hazard a guess at its meaning.

For those of you waiting breathlessly (by now, seriously blue in the face), today’s paper presented the perfect follow-up. Events proposed in the original story… proceeded as planned, and now there is an answer, something like a sequel story. This one also has a headline. And this new headline may be all you need to figure out what the first headline was about

Idea to
share fire
chief not
received
very well

The problem with that one — and I can find lexical/grammatical/syntactical problems where others fear to tread — is that the first three lines do not read well in isolation. That is, the easiest way to grasp the statement break-down something like this:

Idea
to share
fire chief
not received
very well

But that headline would not have fit across the single column alloted to the story.

This is the sort of thing which makes enemies of writers and art directors. The art director, or whoever laid out the page, is probably happy with the headline as it was printed. The writer is probably not. Because newspapers work to such close deadlines, and one day’s paper is the next day’s fire-starter, the arguments evaporate quickly. When this clash occurs at an ad agency, and everyone involved has to live for days or weeks or months with a copy line which cheers one department and depresses the other department, long-term enmities develop.

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