Monday, 2 March 2015

Punctuated by weasels

It's been a while since I blogged about Hoggart's Law of the Ridiculous Reverse, so I'm grateful to Mr Scaryduck for drawing my attention to another handy tool for weeding out the stupid. This one is Betteridge's Law of Headlines:
... any headline which ends in a question mark can be answered by the word "no." The reason why journalists use that style of headline is that they know the story is probably bullshit, and don’t actually have the sources and facts to back it up, but still want to run. 
There are probably counter-examples but, in my experience, the tell-tale question-mark is a pretty reliable indicator that bullshit is present. Quotation marks in headlines are another signal alerting the careful reader to the high probability of daddy cow droppings on the road ahead:
There’s one thing that single quote marks in a headline almost never mean – that anyone has actually said the precise words they enclose.
I'm not sure whether there's a specific expression for quote marks which get wrapped round any phrase the writer fancies, in order to imply that somebody else might have said it, although this one will do for the time being. I guess the idea is just to lend spurious authority to something the writer just made up.

Alternatively,  it might be a case of a writer trying to maintain a bit of distance and wiggle room when making some assertion or insinuation that can't be backed up by actual facts (rather like Betteridge's rhetorical headline questions). If the stuff in quotes is later revealed to be nonsense, maybe people will just imagine that a big boy said it and ran away.

As for the separate category of passive-aggressive "scare quotes", these are a pretty good indication that the writer is presenting an opinion rather than a fact ("so-called").

Fortunately, there's some light relief from the dismal spectacle of weasel words punctuation cooped up in the narrow confines of a news headline, over at The "blog" of "unnecessary" quotation marks, where packs of superfluous punctuation marks can be seen roaming wild and free, just as nature intended.