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In This Weekend’s (poorly written) Headlines, Nicolas Cage and Hilary Swank

October 11, 2009

I write and edit stuff for a living, but outside the confines of my office, where I get paid to make the grammar train run on time, I try not to be too much of a language fascist. After all, in the world at large, plenty of others are already on the case.

However, the use of headline language that blatantly manipulates and misleads the reader still gets my ire up. It really splits my infinitive, so to speak, and as much as I like the site in general, the Huffington Post is a pretty egregious offender. This weekend, I noticed two good examples of the HuffPost’s tendency to attach sensationalistic headlines to rather drab articles. I’m here to say, as a public service, don’t believe the hype.

1. “Nicolas Cage is Millions in Debt”

Rest assured, Cage fans, your long-faced, laconic hero is fine. OK, so he owes $6.3 million in back taxes to the IRS. This does prove that he’s too busy grimacing and mangling dialogue to bother with such trifles as his own finances (dude probably doesn’t know how to hold his own pen any more, much less write a check). It does not, however, mean that he is in debt. If you owe your buddy $3 for that Whopper he bought you last week, but you’ve got a Hamilton in your pocket, you’re not in debt. Same principle applies here. Cage owes the government for the equivalent of two million Whoppers, but he’s got bazillions of National Treasure blood money in his coffers. So he won’t need to do any Burger King commercials or take other desperate measures any time soon. Which is too bad, because I’d love to see how much he could bring in by selling his hair.

2. Hilary Swank Sleeps Naked, Stays Naked in Front of Boyfriend’s 6-year-old

This one’s even worse than the careless Cage headline because it could theoretically harm Hilary Swank’s reputation. When I first skimmed the headline, my mind instantly went to some pretty bad Neverland Ranch places–I thought they were claiming that the child slept with the naked Oscar winner. Also, what does “stays naked” mean? It seems meant to convey the idea that Swank walks around naked all the time in the love nest she shares with her boyfriend, with no regard for the presence of a child. However, the article attached to the headline doesn’t paint nearly so sinister a picture. The HuffPost editors (I’m thinking it’s about a half dozen 13-year-old boys) should really be ashamed of this, ahem, naked effort to grab the reader’s attention.

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