Dead Leaves Become a News Story

My friend Mary Dague told me about this headline from last Sunday’s newspaper: “Couple found dead leaves behind young boys.” Sadly, the story isn’t about dead leaves that were found behind some young boys. It’s about three small boys who lost their parents to an opioid overdose.

The obvious problem is the nature of headlines, which often omit words to save space and catch readers’ attention. The expanded sentence is perfectly clear:

A couple that was found dead has left behind young boys.

There are two points worth making today:

  1.  If you’re writing for anyone but yourself (a diary, for example), always have another person check what you’ve written.
  2. The postmodernists are right: language is a slippery business, full of booby traps for unsuspecting writers.

And I’m going to make an additional point: Today’s sentence might benefit from passive voice. It’s clear that the real concern is the young boys who have lost their parents. Passive voice allows you to put the boys in the position of importance: the front of the sentence.

Young boys were left behind when their parents were found dead.  PASSIVE VOICE

I sometimes encounter self-proclaimed language experts who insist that passive voice is always wrong. Don’t believe them!

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One thought on “Dead Leaves Become a News Story

  1. Margaret

    I skimmed that article and thought what have the dead leaves got to do with it before I caught on. Flubbed headlines sometimes make great fodder for humor, though not in this case.

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