OK, I’ll admit it. I read five newspapers every day, starting the morning with, of course, the Daily Republic.
I have the famous remark attributed to Mark Twain (aka Samuel Clemens) stuck in the recesses of my mind. To paraphrase, more or less, “I read the obituaries first when I open the morning paper, to see if my name is in it.” Well, I do read this newspaper’s obituaries every day, and once every 10 years, I say “good” to myself when I see a particular announcement.
When I eventually can’t defy gravity, I do expect a full memorial at City Hall, complete with a mournful bagpipe band and a crowd of thousands wearing black armbands. But keep the speeches down to less than 20 minutes.
OK, enough about me, as Bette Midler said, now let’s talk about me. One of my great pleasures when I read newspapers is spotting what I think are unclear, or inaccurate, headlines. Years ago, before the Ice Age and the dawn of the Internet, if you wanted to “correct, criticize, or compliment” the editor, you actually had to pick up pen and paper, write your thoughts down, fold the letter, put it in an envelope, address it, put a stamp on it and walk with the letter to your mailbox. The chances of a metropolitan newspaper like The New York Times or the San Francisco Chronicle running your letter were about one in a zillion.
These days, with the availability of the Internet, writing a letter to the editor, unless it’s your community newspaper, may satisfy your inner critic and take only a minute or two, but you will look hopefully at the opinion page, only to be disappointed day after day.
That’s by way of introduction to my only attempt in many years to criticize the Chronicle for a headline, this one in their Sporting Green. See what you think: There was a photo of new 49ers running back Carlos Hyde, with the headline, “Injuries put rookie in a vital new role.” My first and genuine reaction was, “How can someone coming aboard the team with multiple injuries take over from veteran running back Frank Gore?” As I read the story, I realized the “injuries” in the headline were not to Carlos Hyde, but to other running backs in the 49ers backfield.
Now the headline made sense. But my momentary confusion forced me to send an email to the editor, accusing him of poor editing. I even suggested in my email that now that the 49ers had recruited a Mr. Hyde, were they looking for a quarterback named Dr. Jekyll? Yeah, I know, how arrogant of me.
Many years ago, almost 60, the example of a confusing headline was about a visitor to New York City who said: “Walking down Fifth Avenue, the Empire State Building looked bigger than I remembered.” All right, students, why is that sentence confusing? It’s all about a dangling participle, which many of us giggled at, and to this day, “dangling participle” is stuck in my devious mind. The sentence should have perhaps read, “As I walked down Fifth Avenue, the Empire State Building looked bigger than I remembered.”
I guess I’m a fine one to talk, since editors of this newspaper have saved me from various usage, definition and grammatical errors over the years. I admit I’m not perfect, but I expect others to be.
Bud Stevenson, a retired stockbroker, lives in Fairfield. Reach him at [email protected]