Among the bits of paper piled in loose heaps on my desk, which i’ve been trying to organize for months, i find a headline ripped from the Oct. 4 paper that drew attention from the boss as a Bad Example. Needless to say, i wrote it. But i’m keeping it in case i ever get a teaching job again, because i think it’s very instructive.
The head reads, “Italy mudslide toll climbs.” There was a horrible mudslide in Italy with loss of life; this was the “second-day” story, in which rescuers had found even more bodies. The boss insisted that that headline never should have made the paper — instead, he claimed, it should have said, “Italian mudslide …”
Somebody on the desk agreed with him (there’s always one of those), saying, “Yeah, like you don’t say, ‘France soldiers’; you say, ‘FRENCH soldiers.'” The truth is, and when i run a paper, i’ll tell all the copy-editors this: It’s a matter of ear. No, you DON’T say, ‘France soldiers.’ But you DO say, ‘U.S. soldiers’; in fact, we say it all the time. And G-d knows we say, ‘Newburgh police,’ ‘Middletown festival,’ ‘Ulster officials,’ etc., multiple times in every paper.
i say — and i say it often, with thanks to John Lennon each time — ‘Whatever gets you through the night.’ i would have had to come up with, in 5 7/8 inches, another way to say the same thing, or reduce the headline by about 5 points (the designers would have bounced that right back to me) to get ‘Italian’ in the place of ‘Italy.’ On deadline.
To me, an “Italian mudslide” is a dessert you’d order at a TGIFriday’s, or a drink at some bar in an Italian neighborhood in Syracuse. It would have espresso coffee in it, and Kahlua, and vanilla ice cream and brandy, and blackberry liqueur. (Wait here a minute while i retch, will you?)
There. All better. Anyway: ‘Italian mudslide’ just didn’t sound right to me, and it still doesn’t. What do you think?