Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Some verbs just aren't intransitive

This morning I spotted this local news item
Driver crashes, kills fleeing police
The salient bits of the article are:
Baltimore County Police say Aaron McCoy, 20, of the 4000 block of Cedardale Rd. in Baltimore, was driving a Honda Accord while he was trying to flee police.

Five minutes later, at Dulaney Valley Rd. and Ivy Church Rd., police say McCoy crashed into the two other vehicles.

He was transported to Shock Trauma, where he died.
So he didn't actually kill any police, fleeing or otherwise.

Parallelism is all well and good, but especially in headlinese you can't say "driver kills" without providing a direct object. Even moving "fleeing police" away from the DO slot (fleeing police, driver crashes, kills) doesn't work (and please note you need that comma! "Fleeing police driver crashes, kills" is all other kinds of bad.).

In fact, even if you convert "kills" into the participle, if you write this in headline syntax (as they have now changed the headline to read) you get a bad reading:
Driver crashes, killed fleeing police
The whole point is, he didn't kill any police, fleeing or otherwise; in fact, he didn't kill anyone, except himself.

Why the heck not "dies fleeing police"? Fev?

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1 Comments:

At 10:35 PM, January 26, 2012 Blogger fev had this to say...

Oh, wow. I'm glad you caught that one before it was changed. Never seen that, couldn't imagine it.

Only thing I can think of (besides a brain fart of epic proportion) is a misreading of a reference entry. I think the entry in Webster's 4th says that "kill" is the general term for killing, so perhaps someone looked things up and decided that it meant "general term for death."

Sounds dumb, but I have seen people stop partway through stylebook entry and come away with a meaning opposite to what the stylebook intends. Case in point, an entry like "Koran. The preferred spelling for the Muslim holy book is Quran" -- you get a very different meaning if you stop after "book" than if you finish.

I expect "brain fart" is a better explanation (this is a broadcaster producing news in print form, after all), but, y'know, there it is.

 

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