No personal blog crapola.
Just one guy's quest to unlock the mysterious art of storytelling on screen.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Blackwater hit car with kids to avoid traffic

This post title appeared on digg.com:

US official: Blackwater hit car with kids to avoid traffic

It hit a car with kids? Impressive. But why resort to hurling children at the enemy?

What we have here is another case of failure to communicate. More murderous grammar.

This is the story:

The kids in the back seat looked back in horror, mouths agape at the sight of the heavily armored Suburbans driven by large, armed men in dark sunglasses. The poor Iraqi driver frantically searched for a means of escape, but there was none. So the lead Blackwater vehicle smashed heedlessly into the car, pushing it into the barrier.
Yes, that's an awful situation. One of many, many awful things going on over there.

Putting the content aside for a moment, let's consider the form. Is the sentence ambiguous? Yes it is. Is that a problem? Yes. Ambiguous is to writing what a Stop sign is to driving. No, it's more. It's a Go Back sign. Ambiguity forces the reader to backtrack, reread, and figure out what the heck the author meant to say.

So let's rephrase that Digg headline for clarity.

Blackwater SUV bulldozers Iraqi family's car
Iraqi kids no obstacle to Blackwater driver
Blackwater crushes car carrying kids, to avoid traffic
Blackwater avoids traffic by ramming kids in car

I wager that each of these replacements avoids the original's ambiguity, with some of them being more punchy and economical to boot.