Saturday, February 26, 2011

Garden Path Newspaper Heading

Newspapers are well-known for potentially vague and ambiguous headings for stories, but the following heading, for me, was really just confusing:

Police: Crying toddler 4 hours in shut bank vault

I had to read that several times before my brain made sense of it.

I don't normally think of newspaper headings as garden path sentences, but I think this might qualify as one--the problem for me is the "4 hours" bit. If it had come after "in the bank vault", some weirdness could have been avoided: "crying toddler in shut bank vault 4 hours". That kind of sounds better, but it leaves me wondering what advantage that has over putting in the preposition 'for' in front of "4 hours". And was the 'crying' necessary? Why not cut out 'crying' in favor of words that would help in understanding the heading? After all, I can't imagine a toddler being stuck in a vault for 4 hours without some crying involved.

In reading the article, though, some of the sentences inside the article were also a bit, uh, interesting in their structures:

Authorities say police and firefighters couldn't free the toddler and feverishly summoned the locksmith after the child apparently strayed into the open vault as the bank was closing Friday — before an employee shut the vault door for the day.

My issue is with the "after the child apparently strayed into the open vault as the bank was closing Friday" clause--it comes in an odd place to logically follow the flow of the story. If police and firefighters summed a locksmith, then it would have to be after the child had already gotten stuck in the vault. My thought is that the story would have been more clear if the bit about how the toddler got stuck in the vault in the first place had been placed before the police and firefighters summoning a locksmith.

Here's the real question: Am I just being picky? Or do other readers find the piece a bit jilted because it jumps back and forth in the telling?

No comments:

Post a Comment