Brief notice: headlines

Yesterday’s posting on ambiguity in headlines looked at:

Racing star could prove Einstein’s theory

which for a moment I didn’t interpret correctly (with racing star‘ (astronomical) star that is racing’), since I was hung up on racing star ‘a (figurative) star in/of/for racing’.  The puzzle is about my mental processes: why didn’t I see the intended interpretation, when it was so clearly signaled by the content of the headline and by the accompanying photo? (Most people probably got the inteded interpretation right off.)

Then in the NYT yesterday, a teaser headline on p. 1:

Fraud Claims Dog Operative

which I read, at first, as having the subject fraud, the verb claims, and the direct object dog operative (a N + N compound: ‘operative that is a dog’), while the intended interpretation has the subject fraud claims, the verb dog, and the direct object operative. Again, many people will have zoomed right in on the intended interpretation, but apparently I was reluctant to posit the verb dog ‘follow closely and persistently’ (which does occur in ordinary text, but finds its natural home in headlines, because of its brevity).

That poor dog operative, done in by fraud. With the assistance of my mental processes.

5 Responses to “Brief notice: headlines”

  1. Jan Says:

    Who knew that [Mario] Andretti [the star of auto racing] was a closet genius?

  2. Ellen Says:

    I read both of them the way you did!

  3. Rick Sprague Says:

    Mark me down as a third on the first example. On the second, my first reading was “fraud claims” (N + N compound as attributive modifier) “dog” (subject) “operative” (predicate ADJ with headlinese omission of the copula). That is, a dog being trained to detect fraud claims has now been commissioned and is acting in that role.

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