Sunday, May 04, 2008

Richard Goldstein, Headliner

There, Mr. Goldstein, in the title of this post, is illustration of why your headline for the NY Times obit of Frank Whiteley Jr. is not so good. You wrote

Frank Whiteley Jr., Trained Ruffian, Is Dead at 93.

The reader immediately wonders just how rough Mr. Whiteley had been, and where he got his training.

Don't claim that your economy of headlining words is acceptable for the NY Times obituaries, because in that day's list are examples of the inclusion of the who that would have provided the needed clarification. The capitalization throughout also necessitates extra care.

As William Grimes wrote Philipp von Boeselager, Who Attempted an Assassination of Hitler, and as John F. Burns wrote William Frankel, Who Edited Jewish Chronicle, so should you have written Frank Whiteley Jr., Who Trained Ruffian.

We must be vigilant about ambitious ambiguity, Mr. Goldstein, to prevent concoctions such as the title of this post that might imply your sharing a Las Vegas dressing room with Cher.

We can hope that the family of Mr. Whiteley, and the ruffian himself, wherever he may be, have a sense of humor.

1 comment:

Birdie said...

When I worked as a proofreader at a newspaper, headlines were exempt from our red pencils. I guess they figure editors should know how to write. They are limited by the size of the column and the vertical space they must fill with words, but still...

I understand newspapers no longer employ proofreaders anyway. I can tell.

P.S. After several pokes—yours among them—I've got a blog. Come visit.