Half a dog warden

In my last blog post I used hemicorporectomy (amputation of half the body) as an example of how affixes’ consistent meanings can help us decode an unfamiliar word. Indeed, unfamiliar words are sometimes more intelligible than entire sentences of common words. See for example this recent headline in Ireland’s Tuam Herald:

Headlines occasionally confuse readers by being elliptical or by taking the form of crash blossoms, but this one is something else altogether. Reading the article, I learned that County Galway had three acting dog wardens, then one died and another retired. The remaining warden is part-time, and cannot be solely responsible for handling the region’s stray and wandering dogs.

This explains the headline but doesn’t make it any less peculiar. Why not “One part-time dog warden not enough for entire county”? Though I’m posing the question, I’m not complaining. The headline delights me in its strangeness. When I first read “Half a dog warden”, I guessed the intended meaning after a moment’s reflection, but what initially came to mind was not a part-time worker but a hemicorporectomy.

18 Responses to Half a dog warden

  1. That’s hilarious! Is (s)he split down the middle, or across the waist? (A barely related digression: One of my pet hates while working in catering was the habit of customers in restaurants, with a child, asking for a table for “two and a half, please!” (a particularly English trait, in my experience). A child is not half a person, just a smaller and younger one! Would you describe a midget as half a person? Or someone who’s shorter than five foot as three-quarters of a person? And even if a person has been sliced in half at the waist and somehow survived, they’re still a full person, just in a damaged body. Sorry about that rant, but I had to get it off my chest…)

  2. On seeing the headline, I guessed that the dog warden was shared between two counties.

  3. Fran says:

    You could read it as a warden who deals in half-dogs – the half-a-dog warden – this is a special kind of warden who looks after dogs who have accidentally mated with an elephant/giraffe/duckbilledplatypus and thereby need special care. Then, I’m sure, just one warden for the whole county probably wouldn’t be enough, no.

  4. Stan says:

    Doubtful: Rant all you like! I don’t think I’ve ever heard the phrase “two and a half” used to refer to two adults and a child, and I’d be happy if I never did. I wonder if it arose from the fact that children sometimes get half-price tickets or meals.

    JD: That’s a reasonable guess, and a better fit than the truth.

    Fran: You’ve obviously done your research on the demidogs of Irish legend, but you seem to have overstated the variety of our local fauna. None the less, your point stands: one warden would not be enough to care for these divine beasts.

  5. Claudia says:

    Hahaha! Thanks for the rant D.E. From a 3/4 person (4 feet 9 and 1/2 inches tall). I lost 1 inch 1/2 somewhere along the way. Have no clue where the corporectomy was done…..Hope it wasn’t where the brain is nesting!

  6. The TV series ‘Two And A Half Men’ (allegedly a comedy, although I find it as grim as Beckett, but not nearly as funny) reminds me of the odious phrase every time I see it advertised! It hasn’t caught on over here, thank God. I just remember hearing it a lot in England when I worked there.

    A half-dog, half-giraffe hybrid? I want one!

    Your brain seems fine to me, Claudia…

  7. Stan says:

    Claudia: It’s said that people shrink a little over time (from about the age of 30, I once read), owing to the effects of gravity on human anatomy. Not everyone accepts this as inevitable, but it seems a common occurrence. As long as you didn’t lose the inch and a half overnight!

    Doubtful: I’m familiar with the name of that show, but I’ve never watched it and would amaze myself if I ever did. A glance at its Wikipedia page tells me the half man refers to a child, so it’s a good example. There’s also the slang “half pint” used to refer to a small person, which I probably came across in a comic when I was a half man myself. (And even that’s an exaggeration, since I was a small lad even by the standards of childhood.)

  8. a dog warden with a hemicorporectomy? the mind boggles!

  9. Stan says:

    Only in Ireland, Jams!

  10. william says:

    Falls in line with the “Shocker Isle” at your grocery store. Grabs your attention first .. And takes up less space then “One Part-Time”

  11. Stan says:

    William: It’s not a sensational headline, though; it’s merely silly. And I think space is secondary to sense when the sense is so flagrantly flouted. Besides, in my proposed alternative (“One part-time dog warden not enough for entire county”) I compensated by removing the superfluous just.

  12. Tim says:

    Headlines are crazy or confusing sometimes; especially if they use words that we would more often use in a different context. Another one is playing with someone’s name in some clever way.

    Actually, there are too many examples to list, as to just what constitutes a confusing headline — or at the least, one that forces you to scan at least the gist of the article to see what it is actually referring to.

    But that’s the point, isn’t it? Articles are there for the reading; their headlines are there to capture your attention so that you will read the article. ;)

    Check out this article from November last year from the New Zealand news website that I follow: http://www.stuff.co.nz/national/blogs/from-the-newsroom/3031691/Headlines-news-and-accidental-naughtiness

  13. Stan says:

    headlines are there to capture your attention so that you will read the article

    That’s often my impression too, Tim, though the article you shared has it otherwise, asserting that a headline “is meant to sum up the news story, so that the reader isn’t forced to read further to untangle what’s happening”. Some of the examples on that page are very funny: Schoolgirl has Thatcher’s ear; Stolen Painting Found by Tree; Kids Make Nutritious Snacks.

    In The Complete Plain Words, Ernest Gowers described headlines as “a language of their own, knowing no law and often quite incomprehensible until one has read the article that they profess to summarise” — which, as many readers conclude, often seems to be the implicit aim. I wrote (and ranted a little) about the shortcomings of headlinese in a post last year, with particular reference to their emphasis on punchy monosyllabicity and their potential for unsavoury misinterpretation.

  14. wisewebwoman says:

    My mother would say: “half a loaf is better than no bread”, which is the phrase that sprung to mind when I read your headline.

    I next had visions of a game warden in a wheelchair chasing lambs o’er hill and down dale at great risk to his half-self which was where the word ‘concern’ lay for his well-being.

    As you can see, I’m rather dangerous when left to my own interpretations of your headlines.

    XO
    WWW

  15. Stan says:

    WWW: I remember hearing the same expression when I was a child, though I can’t recall its source. I wouldn’t be surprised if it came back into fashion in modern, bankrupt Ireland.

    As strange as headlines can be, they’re nothing compared to the outlandish visions they can induce! Thanks for sharing yours.

  16. Nancy Ackles says:

    I hope you have read Squad Helps Dog Bite Victim (and other flubs from the nation’s press) published by the Columbia Journalism Review. The sequel,”Red Tape Hold Up New Bridge, is also excellent.

  17. Stan says:

    I haven’t, but I hope to. Thanks for reminding me, Nancy.

  18. […] 32. owning half a dog? [You’ll need half a dog warden.] […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s