Say what you mean: NYT headline shows the danger of wordplay

New York Times headline that reads, "Routine Goal-Line Play Leads to a Sudden Death And Unsettling Questions"Journalists can’t afford to be misunderstood.

Their motto mirrors that of Horton the elephant from the Dr. Seuss stories: “I meant what I said and I said what I meant.”

Unfortunately, that doesn’t always happen. Consider this headline from Monday’s New York Times.

On the sports page, “sudden death” nearly always means a tie-breaker.

In this case, though, “sudden death” meant that a high school football player had died.

That’s not a story you want readers to misunderstand. Either the headline writer created an insensitive pun or somehow didn’t notice the double-entendre. (I find it hard to believe the latter.) As of this morning, the same headline appeared with the online story.

In this case, there’s an easy fix: Substituting “student’s” for “sudden” eliminates the double-entendre and makes the headline more meaningful.

Routine Goal-Line Play

Leads to a Student’s Death

And Unsettling Questions

That would have been an easy way to keep from laying an egg.

Right, Horton?

 

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