What do you make of the following BBC News headline:

Man convicted of murdering his girlfriend and their 10-month-old daughter at Winchester Crown Court

Is it just me, or does this read as if the murders were committed at the court?

  • 13
    Squad helps dog bite victim. – RegDwigнt Nov 30 '10 at 18:25
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    Two sisters reunite after eighteen years at checkout counter – mmyers Nov 30 '10 at 18:25
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    Wait, so the murders weren't committed at Winchester Crown Court? – Marthaª Nov 30 '10 at 18:50
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    Sometimes I think that the BBC staff quite likes trying to sneak little grammatical jokes into the fix. They're pretty good at subversive picture captions, too. – thesunneversets Nov 30 '10 at 20:54
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    The proper name for these is "crash blossoms": crashblossoms.com – JSBձոգչ Nov 30 '10 at 21:03

Yes. The meaning is understood, but a decent editor would have dropped the place reference from the headline. It adds nothing and introduces ambiguity.

To recast the sentence for clarity, I would suggest:

Man convicted at Winchester Crown Court of murdering his girlfriend and their 10-month-old daughter

That puts the money words ("murdering" "girlfriend" "daughter") at too far a remove from the beginning of the headline, however, so it is easy to see why the editor chose to put the place reference at the end. As I say, however, this information seems to belong more in body copy than in a headline.

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    But that puts "murder", an even better attention grabber than "convicted", farther from the beginning of the page. Grammar loses to marketing. – Sparr Dec 1 '10 at 0:28
  • We could argue about the best way to phrase the headline. I merely offered one idea. Still, one could argue that the man was not legally a murderer until convicted. Moreover, if you use up that provocative word as a noun, what are you going to use for the much more important verb? "Murderer convicted ... of killing ... "? Sounds anticlimactic to me. – Robusto Dec 1 '10 at 0:35
  • I agree with Sparr that "Man convicted of murdering…" is more attention-holding than "Man convicted at Winchester Crown Court…". If you could use "murderer", then of course you could write "Murderer of girlfriend and 10-month-old daughter convicted at Winchester Crown Court", which is perhaps even better. – ShreevatsaR Sep 1 '11 at 2:57

Another possible headline would be "Winchester Crown Court convicts man of murdering his girlfriend and their 10-month-old daughter". I agree, though, that mentioning the court at all seems quite unnecessary.

  • Agreed! ------- – Noldorin Dec 1 '10 at 12:41

No, you and many other people choose to ignore the rules of implicature. and wilfully misinterpret the sentence, for comic effect.

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