Tuesday, July 25, 2006
Headline of the Day
Five 'killed' in Gaza shelling —BBC
Notice the quotation marks. Quotation marks have two basic uses. The first, as indicated by the name, is to mark off the exact words of a speaker or of a text. The second use is to indicate that the word or words in quotation marks carries some special or metaphorical meaning.
To illustrate this second use, someone might write that "Jon Stewart 'killed' the audience last night," and you would understand that he didn't actually exterminate them. It can also be illustrated by the text of the article cited—
Mr Obeid said he was being "tortured" by living in a building in "the direct line of fire" of Israeli artillery.
We all know that being shelled by Israeli artillery is not actually "torture," as defined by the Bush administration, but is a somewhat exaggerated metaphor for "discomfitted." Not a drop of vital bodily fluid was spilt. As for being in "the direct line of fire," that is merely Mr. Obeid's opinion and illustrates the first use of quotation marks.
The first use also occurs frequently in U.S. headlines whenever an accusation is made against the U.S. military. You will usually see the words "rape," "torture," or "murder"—depending upon the atrocity—in quotation marks. The implication is that the act may or may not have occurred, that someone is being quoted and that the publication in no way wishes to assert that the allegation is in fact true. This is a technique to avoid being accused of prejudgment or, worse, disloyalty to one's country.
But I confess that I've never seen "killed" put in quotation marks, especially when the story asserts that the killing did indeed take place.
Three people were killed when a shell hit a crowd outside a block of flats near the Israeli border.
Later, a shell exploded in an area of open ground to the town's west, killing a 14-year-old boy and his grandmother.
The headline is also a bit timid as to who did the killing. You have to read the article to learn that it was the Israeli military. I mean, the headline writer might at least have written "Israel 'killed' five Gazans" and leave it for us to guess whether the event actually occurred.
Is this a new editorial policy at the BBC? That Palestinians are "killed" but Israelis killed?
It is much worse actually to be killed than merely to be "killed." Being "killed" leaves some room for maneuver.
I get the impression that the Israelis really are "taking it on the chin," don't you?