Why we don't write English the way they write headlines

Uber isn’t exactly known for treating their drivers well, but I never thought they’d go so far as to engage in cannibalism. Was the customer killed for trying to stop it?

Uber Eats Driver Allegedly Shoots And Kills Customer In Atlanta

Of course, my interpretation overlooks the lack of a comma after “Driver”, but it’d have been much more clear if they could have written “An Uber Eats driver allegedly shoots and kills a customer in Atlanta.” like a real English sentence.

(with apologies for making a grammar joke about an actual murder)

For what it’s worth, I really did stare at the headline and think “Uber does what?!” for a moment before it clicked.

To be even a bit geekier about it, the problem is that the mapping from “normal” English writing to headline writing isn’t an injective function. The two inputs “An Uber Eats driver” and “Uber eats a driver” both map to the same output, “Uber Eats Driver”.

Your preferred solution is still incorrect. It should be this–
‘Uber Eats’ Driver Allegedly Shoots And Kills Customer In Atlanta.

That clarifies the issue while barely using any more space than the original.

This wouldn’t help at all; it would make matters worse. Given the conventions used to construct newspaper headlines, “Uber Eats Driver, Allegedly Shoots And Kills Customer In Atlanta” would indicate that Uber first ate a driver, and then allegedly shot a customer to death.

here’s a book on the subject:
Eats Shoots and Leaves

(the reference, of course, is to a panda bear :slight_smile: )

This book is often mentioned (including on this board) in discussions of unclear writing, but it’s not really an issue of punctuation that we’re talking about here. Rather, it involves normal, natural syntactic ambiguity. The Wiki article includes a discussion of newspaper headlines, which are particularly susceptible to syntactic ambiguity because they omit copulas, articles, etc., but even regular written discourse can embody it, (e.g., John saw the man on the mountain with a telescope.)

A “real English sentence” would be: An Uber Eats driver allegedly shot and killed a customer in Atlanta.

The conventions of “headlinese” include using present tense for recent past events. (Events in the far past are rendered in past tense, though.)

Indeed. But what I meant was that the lack of a comma was what should have tipped me off that the headline wasn’t meant to be read that way. Only it’s subtle enough that I still had a momentary reaction of “Uber eats who now?!” It doesn’t help that Uber has been around a lot longer than Uber Eats, at least where I live.

I sometimes wish English writing worked like algebra, and you could use parentheses to eliminate such ambiguities.

E.g., “John saw (the man on the mountain with a telescope).” vs. something like “John (saw the man on the mountain) with a telescope.”

I guess sentence diagrams also express this structure in an unambiguous way.

I never heard of Uber Eats. I finally figured out that it had to be a phrase, but it was extremely confusing!

The purpose of the headline is to get the reader engaged. If is ambiguous and makes the reader think twice about its meaning, or otherwise makes the reader want to read more to be able to figure out what is going on, it is doing its job. This is not just different that other writing, but pretty much the opposite of other writing.

I agree.

Another possible solution: Uber Eats driver allegedly shoots and kills customer in Atlanta.

So the head line should be:

Uber Eats Driver Shoots and Leaves

“Wow. Uber ate one of its drivers and then is alleged to have shot one of its customers.”

One could just say "Using a telescope, John saw the man on the mountain’'.

Or one could keep their mouth shut and let John tell what he saw. :smiley:

It’s up there with Meat Shortage: MPs Attack Minister or* Eighth Army Push Bottles Up Germans*.

Yes, this is exactly what headlines (in a money-making environment) are intended to do. More like click-bait than actually conveying the correct story.