Tuesday, April 27, 2004

Today's exquisite corpse

For background, see this.

Today's is from John Bremner's "Words on Words," copyright 1980. It's just happens to be a classic.
You could lead a happy life thinking it's better to be fooled occasionally than to be suspicious constantly. But not on a copy desk. With accuracy, consistency, fairness and imagination, suspicion is a cardinal virtue for a copy editor. Not only must a copy editor know something about everything and where to find out everything about anything, but also he must distrust his own mother. If his mother tells him she loves him, he should check it out.

Suspicion is especially important when a copy editor writes headlines, which are set larger than body type and attract more attention than copy. ... A headline writer must check and recheck a head for clarity and single meaning or he may find himself with another embarrassing headline story to add to his reminiscences.

A headline doesn't tell an accurate story if its language is ambiguous, open to more than one interpretation. For example, in some contexts an innocent noun is found guilty of having more than one meaning: "Beauty Unveils Bust at Ceremony." ... "Mr. McClusky Will Give / Free Goose to 4-H Girls."

Sometimes the culprit is a verb: "Missouri Pacific to Drop / Passengers from 3 Trains." Or: "Avoid Having Baby / At the Dinner Table." Worse: "President Eats Turkey, / Lays a Cornerstone." ...

Be suspicious.


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