Poorly Written Headline of the Day:

Washington Post: "Investors Confident Rescue Plan May Help"

Rodger Lodger (mail):
I can see not being confident it will help yet at the same time be confident it may, i.e., have a reasonable chance of doing so, help. (feel free to correct my diction)
9.19.2008 9:33pm
Joe Bingham (mail):
Rodger, a headline that said "investors are certain that they're not certain" would have linguistic meaning along the lines of what you're saying, but would still be a really stupid headline.
9.19.2008 9:42pm
Rizalist (www):
Yup, we are all socialists now.
9.19.2008 9:48pm
Joe Bingham (mail):

I don't think you understood the post...
9.19.2008 9:52pm
Mike& (mail):
It's a "rescue plan" not a "rescue." Jimmy Carter had a rescue plan. I imagine he was confident it would help. It didn't.

If the headline had read, "Investors Confident that Rescue Would Help," then, yes, it would have been poorly written.

That said, isn't "poorly written" a phrasal adjective; as such, shouldn't this post's headline have been hypenated as, "poorly-written headline"?

So do we have a poorly-written headline about a (not) poorly-written headline? I'm afraid the universe might now implode.
9.19.2008 10:20pm
Bill Poser (mail) (www):

That said, isn't "poorly written" a phrasal adjective; as such, shouldn't this post's headline have been hypenated as, "poorly-written headline"?


What you cite is one person's stylistic preference. It isn't a law of nature or even of English grammar.
9.19.2008 10:28pm
Bill Poser (mail) (www):

That said, isn't "poorly written" a phrasal adjective; as such, shouldn't this post's headline have been hypenated as, "poorly-written headline"?


What you cite is one person's stylistic preference. It isn't a law of nature or even of English grammar. In any case, no, "poorly written" is not a "phrasal adjective". It is an adjective phrase in which the adjective is modified by an adverb, like "very large (house)". Moreover, there is no ambiguity here and hence no motivation for using a hyphen to disambiguate. The cases cited by the source to which you link are cases in which the phrase structure is ambiguous, e.g. "crazy cat woman", which might be parsed either as [crazy [cat woman]] or as [[crazy cat] woman]. The function of the hyphen is to force the latter grouping. Here there is no need to disambiguate [poorly [written headline]] from [[poorly written] headline].
9.19.2008 10:33pm
Mike& (mail):
What you cite is one person's stylistic preference. It isn't a law of nature or even of English grammar.

Garner's Moderan American Usagestates otherwise.
9.19.2008 10:35pm
Mike Keenan:
Bernstein: The sky is blue.

What do you mean? The sky here looks pretty black at the moment.

What is blue?
9.19.2008 10:37pm
DiverDan (mail):
Setting aside all the quibling over grammatical usage, I still fail to see that this is a "poorly written headline", in that I understand completely what it [appears] to state: The investors at issue are not entirely confident that the rescue plan WILL help, and they are not entirely confident that the rescue plan WON'T help or will HURT the situation; rather, these investors are confident that the plan MIGHT help. In other words, the investors referenced in the headline (whoever they might be - presumably they are identified with greater certainty in the story) are confident in their uncertainty, but optomistic that the effects of the plan might be positive. Now, whether such a story is either newsworthy or enlightening is a whole other question; in my experience, anywhere between 20% and 90% of the news stories in any given news outlet are either not newsworthy, unenlightening or both, depending upon the source - Wall Street Journal usually has the greatest percentage of useful news, USA Today the lowest, New York Times and Washington Post run a tight 1-2 in most misleading or inaccurate stories (excluding, of course, rags like National Enquirer, Star, US, etc.). I suspect that this story is both not newsworthy and unenlightening, but the headline at least warned me and I wasn't sucked into wasting my time reading about the speculations of investors mired in uncertainty by an inaccurate headline.
9.19.2008 11:18pm
Roger Schlafly (www):
Those who bought stocks today had some confidence that the rescue plan was likely to be better than the alternatives. Makes sense to me.
9.19.2008 11:30pm
Nate in Alice:
Here's my take:

Reading 1: Investors (are) Confident Rescue Plan Will Help

Reading 2: Investors' Rescue Plan, which is a confident one, Will Help

9.20.2008 12:00am
Asher (mail):
I don't think you can be confident that something might happen. Although, in fairness, you can be pretty confident that there's a 50/50 chance that a coin-toss will come up heads, so... maybe it does make perfect sense after all? No, I still don't think so.
9.20.2008 12:01am
Nate in Alice:
Of course you can be confident something may happen. It's just a meaningless confidence, except compared to the confidence something won't happen (the alternatives).
9.20.2008 12:17am
Asher (mail):
I guess you can be certain that something might happen, but confidence carries a connotation of, well, confidence if you know what I mean. It's very odd usage to say, "I'm confident that the Eagles might win this game," or, "I'm confident that McCain might win the election." What it means is that you're sure that the chance of those things happening is greater than zero, but there's nothing confident about that.
9.20.2008 12:26am
LM (mail):
I agree with DB that the headline is clumsy. And I agree with Mike&about the hyphen. Not because I have the foggiest idea what the rule is, but because "poorly" doesn't just modify "written headline." It's required in order for "written headline" to make any sense at all.
9.20.2008 3:09am
Anonymous Grammarian:

Did you even read the link that you sent? At the bottom, it makes it clear that adverbs (it says verbs, but I think it means adverbs) ending in "ly" are an exception to the rule. If that's even a list of rules; as someone else said, it looks just like preferences.

Additionally, it just seems bizarre that anyone would ever ask me to hyphenate an adverb and an adjective when it clearly can modify only the adjective (i.e. poorly is an adverb, it can't modify a noun like "written headline", just like "crazily" can't modify "talking person" -- it modifies "talking," otherwise you would be saying "crazy talking person." if you wanted to mean that the person who is talking is crazy).
9.20.2008 3:34am
Automatic Caution Door:
Yep, Anonymous Grammarian nails it, on both counts: Adverbs ending in "-ly" (and adjectives ending in "-y") typically are not to be followed by a hyphen. And clearly there's no risk that "poorly" could be read as modifying the noun phrase "written headline," because adverbs never modify nouns.
9.20.2008 1:20pm
OmniBob (mail):
As a bit of a grammar cop by trade, let me weigh in:

1. Adverbs modify adjectives and verbs. It's easy to remember, if one keeps the ad- (adjectives) and -verb (verbs) parts of the word in mind.

2. Per the Chicago Manual of Style (7.90.1) and common usage, an -ly adverb is not hyphenated when it is part of an adjective phrase.

Now on to the topic of this post: the headline is, in fact, poorly written. Investors can be confident that the rescue plan will help or hopeful that it may help, but they cannot be confident that it may help.
9.20.2008 1:26pm
The Ace:
Nate in Alice:

You added an apostrophe to make the "plan" belong to the investors, so I don't think your second reading is a reasonable one.
9.20.2008 4:10pm
jccamp (mail):
So, in conclusion, posters confident headline may be poorly written?
9.20.2008 4:36pm
CDR D (mail):
Nice haiku!
9.20.2008 6:42pm
William D. Tanksley, Jr:
Here's another parsing:

"Investors confident. Rescue plan may help."

That actually makes sense, although it's also unclear whether the rescue plan is expected to help something ELSE (the economy perhaps) or just help the investors' confidence, and conceivably the headline was intended to be optimistic that the plan might help erase that unreasonable confidence.

9.20.2008 7:49pm
Tony Tutins (mail):
Brian Fantana: They've done studies, you know. 60% of the time it works, every time.
9.20.2008 11:56pm
Opher Banarie (mail) (www):
Reminds me of a reference to SIPC as "Securities Industry Protection Corporation". (It is, of course, the "Securities Investor Protection Corporation".)
9.22.2008 6:32pm