‘Ludicrous’ people can’t have drink

Where would we be without unintentionally funny newspaper headlines? Probably still here, but less amused. This week a local newspaper supplied an instructive example of the perils of omitting that:

‘Ludicrous’ people can’t have drink with their meal on Good Friday – judge

If I hadn’t just finished a strong mug of tea when I saw this, I might have wondered why only ludicrous people should be prevented from drinking on Good Friday, how ludicrous one had to be to fall under this peculiar prohibition, and who would assess a person’s ludicrousness. Cheap amusement aside, it’s true that the inverted commas indicate quoted material, but miscues can arise unless the missing words are reinstated:

[It is] ‘ludicrous’ [that] people can’t have drink with their meal on Good Friday – judge

This expanded version is no longer headline material, and I’m not suggesting that it should be. As Ernest Gowers pointed out in The Complete Plain Words, headlines have become “a language of their own, knowing no law and often quite incomprehensible until one has read the article that they profess to summarise”. But the original headline shows how omitting that can result in unintentional absurdity. You can avoid this if you stay alert to the possibility of its occurrence.

On the other hand, amusement levels would drop.

7 Responses to ‘Ludicrous’ people can’t have drink

  1. Oslo says:

    Love it! Those poor, sober, ludicrous people :-)

  2. Andrew says:

    Yesterday’s Irish Times (Sept 10 2008) had the headline:

    Five held over ‘bomb factory’ in Dublin apartment.

    I suppose it’s one way of questioning suspects !!!!

  3. Stan says:

    On Good Friday it’s either be poor, sober and ludicrous or get drunk out of sheer spite, which might also be ludicrous.

    It seems the long arm of the law has its uses.

  4. I like the Irish politician who said he’d take concrete steps.

    I can’t remember which of the dimwits it was.

  5. […] posts: ‘Ludicrous’ people can’t have drink; ‘That’ is the […]

  6. […] there are more crash blossoms mentioned and dissected at Language Log. I have also written about a couple of them here on Sentence first, and am delighted to finally know what to call them. It can only […]

  7. […] which can be omitted. This leeway has its limits, though, as the Observer’s line and two previous posts […]

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