Monday, March 16, 2015

Lost in translation: 3 examples

Journalists find it very hard to avoid the use of idioms which often take up precious space especially in headline writing. Here's another problem: use familiar easy-to-understand idioms and they are often the cliched ones ("Avoid cliches like the plague!"); resorting to unfamiliar idioms risks confounding the reader (or listener/viewer).

I was stumped by this recent ST headline:

I found this Urban Dictionary definition of "stub one's toe" hilarious!...

It is an awful headline. One can only hazard a guess that, on one hand, Mrs Clinton had only herself to blame for her careless self-inflicted political trouble but that, on the other hand, this "emailgate" setback would not deter her from running for the presidency next year. I am sure there is a way in plain English to get these points across in a headline.

A newsmaker might have used an idiom in his or her remarks but the headline writer should not blindly use it if it is better to use plain words to convey the intended message. This rather silly headline below looks like the work of a lazy headline writer:


Finally, I would have no quarrel with the use of "nuclear option" in this headline below if (a) the phrase was left in quotation marks; (b) the term itself was explained in the text of the story:

This was how one online business e-paper used the expression "nuclear option" in a headline and explained its figurative meaning in the text of the story; that's how it should be done!...

ECB's 'nuclear option' better as deterrent than weapon

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