Friday, March 14, 2008

Hitting the double-meaning exacta

I was on the road last week and came across this headline in a usually good paper:

Minnesota bars staging
protest of smoking ban

OK, so here's a quiz. Is this story about:

a) the state's banning protests of its smoking ban
b) bars in that state holding some kind of protest against the ban
c) bars in that state using a loophole that allows smoking in the staging of theatrical performances by turning all their customers into "actors."

The answer of course is ... Well, just wait a second. Before you looked at those possible answers, what did you really think that headline was about? I'll give good odds that many of you went with a).

Of course, the answer is c). You got that, didn't you?

At attempt to be cute foundered on the shoals of abstruse. The problem: "Bars" can be not only a noun, but also a verb -- to block. And "staging a protest" is a time-honored phrase for simply holding a protest, without the theatrical overtones.

The simple solution - one that would not work in the space - is to use "are" before "staging," That makes clear "bars" is a noun.

Bottom like: Clever is good. Confusing, even if for a second, is not.

(Here's the story; here's a Google page of some ways it was handled.)

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