Sunday, January 22, 2012

NPR on the garden path

Just heard this momentarily misleading report on "All Things Considered":
A Pennsylvania hospital says it was spreading lung cancer …
Wait, spreading it how? It’s not contagious, is it? Well, no:
… it was spreading lung cancer that killed Joe Paterno.
Amazing how far your mind can race down the wrong fork of a garden-path sentence before the truth catches up with it.


Kay L. Davies said...

"A Pennsylvania hospital report says the spread of lung cancer killed..."
There are supposed to be qualified writers who prepare news items for announcers, except those on the scene of a battle or a disaster, who must, perforce, ad lib.

T. Roger Thomas said...

It seems to me that there are fewer and fewer reporters who have been trained to write properly.

Jimbo said...

As the brother of two Pulitzer-award winning reporters, I can say that there is a lot of good reporting out there but there is a real problem, IMO, with the editorial control at the major papers. (This has nothingnto do with OPSo, it may be that stories that are politically controversial annd originally good may get some "scrubbing". Most other stories are well-written IMO. However, the Internet adds another whole dimension to traditional journalism that has hugely complicated traditional newsrooms. So suddenly, they have to write on deadline and do videos and blog, tweet, and occasionally tv interviews.

Gregory Lee said...

That's not the only problem here. Was it spreading lung cancer that killed him, or was it lung cancer spreading? Putting the modifier first makes "spreading" a type of lung cancer, while putting it last makes it the progressive of a verb. (As the visible stars are a type of especially bright star, while the stars visible are just those that happen not to be behind a cloud.) I'd guess the latter was intended.

Anonymous said...

I heard a funny (though completely deliberate) garden path in a comedy podcast recently. It works better heard than read, so I'm deliberately under-punctuating:

"Racehorse names are getting longer and weirder won the Kentucky Derby this weekend. It was the closest race in Derby history came in a distant second."