“Sound Transit train hits teenage girl, survives” was the headline to an Associated Press story that did the rounds recently. You might well wonder at it. Trains, after all, are not usually considered to be in any danger after they hit teenage girls. It is the person who was hit that we worry about.
Many websites and news agencies, including MSNBC‘s newsvine.com (“Get Smarter Here”) and the Pulitzer-Prize-winning Seattle Times, reprinted the headline without seeming to notice the bizarre parallel world it conjured up.
How did so many people read, edit and arrange this and fail to notice its absurdity? A few outlets, to their credit, changed the headline (“Girl hit by Sound Transit train, survives”; “Teenage girl survives being hit by Sound Transit train”; “King County: Teen girl survives after being hit by Sound Transit train”):
KXLY.com added the relative pronoun who. This was a simple and effective strategy but it made the headlinese seem uncharacteristically like coherent prose:
Browsing the news websites that reported the event, I saw all sorts of variations on the theme, but a remarkable number retained the silly original. Accidental anthropomorphism for the win!
[Hat tip to Michael Quinion.]