A Panda Goes Home

Ya Ya is a female panda who’s been living at the Memphis Zoo for 20 years. Some animal activists say that she should have been sent back to China many years ago. You can read  about Ya Ya at this link: https://www.nytimes.com/2023/04/12/world/asia/panda-china-memphis-zoo-ya-ya.html

I’m glad Ya Ya is going home! But my subject today is something else – this headline from the print edition of the New York Times:

A Panda Homecoming Said to Be Long Overdue by Worried Activists

A grammarian would say that “by worried activists” is a misplaced modifier. In plain English, it’s awkwardly placed, sounding as if the worried activists are supposed to be the ones sending Ya Ya home to China.

A conventional editor would have changed it to this: Activists Are Worried about a Long-overdue Panda Homecoming.

But that’s not the solution I would have chosen. I think I know why the headline writer chose that awkward wording, and I would be inclined to leave it alone.

Here’s why: it’s a story about a panda, not a group of worried activists. The most important element of a sentence should usually go first in a sentence. (That’s an important writing principle called “emphasis.”)

If it were up to me, I would leave “A Panda Homecoming” at the beginning.

But there’s an even better solution, and that’s exactly what the Times did in their online edition. They rewrote the headline so that it made sense – while leaving the panda at the beginning. Here’s their revised headline:

A Panda Is Coming Home, and Her Chinese Fans Say It’s About Time

Welcome home, Ya Ya!

Ya Ya, a Chinese panda who lived at the Memphis Zoo for 20 years

                Ya Ya at the Memphis Zoo

Photo courtesy of Frank/Flickr  CC License


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