Tuesday, December 21, 2004

More on mull ...

OK, I'm being persnickety, but the use of "mull" in headlines really is bugging me lately (previous post). First, it is a word that should be used sparingly. (After all, when was the last time you told your significant other "I'm mulling (over) whether to take you to dinner or stay home, pop open a beer and watch the game"?) Second, it really should be used with precision. The short count (3 1/2) makes it dear to headline writers on a tight count, but mull, by itself, more commonly means to heat and sweeten or spice. The American idiom for using mull as a replacement for considering or pondering is mull over.

The Wall Street Journal, of all places, seems to have fallen in love with the term lately. Two heds sported the word today:

Field of Dreams?
D.C. Politicians
Mull Expos Deal

Were those pols preparing to sweeten the deal? Hardly. The deal, in fact, is falling apart over how much public financing there will be of the Nationals stadium.

OK, OK, I'll take the hit for being too precise on that (but precision is what we're supposed to be about, isn't it?). But the second hed was truly problematic:

Christmas Spirits:
To Loosen Wallets,
Stores Mull Wine

Maybe the pun was intended, but knowing the correct use of the term -- and I'm sure many other readers do, too -- I went into the story with a different mind-set than the writer intended. I really was looking for something about mulling wine -- a common thing this time of year -- not necessarily stores that serve wine to get customers to buy more. The second deck: "Offered a Boutique's Tipple, Ms. Daniel Drops $200; Ferried in a Fur-Lined Bus" helps a little, but not much. Of course, you don't have to get too far into the story to figure it out, but that's the point -- headlines should not make the reader have to figure it out; they should seamlessly guide the reader into the story.

So for the new year, let's mull over this proposition: When you find yourself reaching for "mull," stop a second and ask if it's really the best way to write the hed. And please, at least in text where you have the room, use the preferred "mull over."

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