Wordwatch Towers

A plain language guide to punctuation, grammar and writing well.

When correct grammar doesn’t help

with 6 comments

All the Way (Etta James album)
Image via Wikipedia

The Daily Mail got its headline about Etta James’ death spectacularly wrong even though it was right. If you see what I mean.

Here’s the original headline used by the MailOnline:

At Last singer Etta James dies at 73 after battle with leukaemia

Read it and wince. Of course, the headline writer simply meant to highlight At Last, one of the songs most associated with Etta James; the punctuation and grammar are correct. But this is how it can so easily be read:

At last, singer Etta James dies at 73 after battle with leukaemia (‘last’ not capitalised, and followed by a comma).

The MailOnline later changed the headline to read:

Grammy-award winning singer Etta James dies at 73 after battle with leukaemia

(There’s a discussion to be had about whether there should also be a hyphen between ‘award’ and ‘winning’ there, but I’ll not go down that road today.)

With thanks to Craig Silverman. See his screen grabs of these headlines here.

And in honour of Etta, here is a Wordwatch first: Etta singing At Last. (Not, Etta singing, at last.)


Written by Wordwatch

21/01/2012 at 9:53 am

6 Responses

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  1. Someone should have caught that.

    Years ago on the local news they were announcing the death of a local boy that had gotten caught up in a hay-bailer and was found hours later by his family. The broadcaster commented that the family must have been “torn up.” Bad choice of words!


    21/01/2012 at 7:51 pm

    • Hi, you’re very welcome. Oh, no — that’s just awful.These things happen so easily, but it’s so much worse when the mistake goes out over the airwaves. Thanks very much for taking the time to comment here.


      22/01/2012 at 8:28 am

  2. That headline is poorly constructed because it encourages, as you point out, such an easy confusion in the intended message. Duple entendre ought to be by choice, and directed to a purpose.

    I was toying with writing an article with advice for men on how to keep from making their female partners and spouses mad, but when I entitled it “How to Avoid Irritating Women”, I read that, groaned, banged my head against the desk, and passed out.

    Invisible Mikey

    22/01/2012 at 1:45 am

    • How I wish you would write that article, Mikey! I always knew there was a comic writer lurking in there somewhere.

      Note to self: Don’t drink tea when reading Mikey’s comments.


      22/01/2012 at 8:31 am

  3. Talk about a screw up


    22/01/2012 at 7:05 am

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