Tuesday, May 10, 2011

BBC Making Liberal Use of Quotes in Headlines

As I was browsing the BBC News headlines, I noticed that many of them included quotations. The following examples constitute my effort to make sense of this odd phenomenon.

Probe after ‘kiwi’ found in Russia

The term ‘kiwi’ <---(legitimate use of quotes) can refer to a bird, a fruit or a person from New Zealand. With quotes added, the meaning of the term becomes virtually inscrutable. Perhaps someone glued lint to a lime. Then again, it may have been a Russian doing a horrendous impression of a New Zealand accent. If referring to a bird, the reporter may have been praising or criticizing a chicken. It’s impossible to know which is the case because I don’t know whether ‘kiwi’ is a complement or a pejorative in the avian world.

France football quota talk ‘not illegal’

Whatever is meant here, it must be the opposite of ‘not legal’, which simply translates to ‘legal’. However, when someone employs quotations in discussing legal matters, it usually suggests that the topic in question is actually illegal.

Example: Invest your money with Drug Bribery Murder Capital and receive a guaranteed 100% return on investment in under a month! All of our operations are completely ‘legal’!

Therefore, it would seem that ‘legal’ refers to something that is, in fact, illegal. But does the same rule hold true for ‘not illegal’? This one is very confusing, but I have one theory on what it could mean. Perhaps the reporter didn’t understand French and therefore didn’t know what to write in the article. Drawing on her resourceful nature, the reporter crafted an article full of ambiguous terms, double negatives and quotes to produce a piece that made no discernible points in an effort to mask her ignorance.

The headlines in question

Japan ‘to review energy policy’

This one is a real accomplishment. If the quotations extended one more word the entire headline would apparently be ironic. As it is, the mention of Japan is the only concrete element.

So, what is Japan actually doing? My top three guesses are playing video games, sumo wrestling or shooting a game show that will blow my mind no less than five times when I eventually watch it.

Egypt tourism minister ‘jailed’

They’re talking about the tourism minister, so maybe this has to do with some kind of tourism promotion.

Possibility #1: A brochure features an image of the tourism minister behind bars along with a photo of the pyramids. A message reads, “Come to Egypt and see a real pyramid scheme!”

I made an 'effort' to create a conceptual image.

Possibility #2: The tourism minister appears in a TV commercial promoting Egypt as a tourist destination. The minister exclaims, “This is the perfect time to visit Egypt. Travel and lodging rates are so low, they are illegal under Sharia law!” The commercial ends with members of the Muslim Brotherhood apprehending the minister and throwing him in prison.

Tanks ‘near’ restive Syria city

This one is peculiar in that it couldn’t be more straightforward, yet quotes still appear. Upon further inspection, it is really an ingenious headline in that it protects the reporter from making an error. ‘Near’ is a relative term. We know for a fact that tanks exist and we also know that Syria exists and that it contains cities.

If tanks are on the border of a Syrian city, everyone would agree that the tanks are near the city. However, what about tanks located in the United States? Are they near a Syrian city? Relative to their distance from Mars, yes. Therefore, there will always be tanks near a Syrian city in some sense for the foreseeable future.

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