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Journalism Writing

Grammar, crash blossoms, and 140 characters

I was disturbed by this tweet from the New York Times National News account.


It felt off. There was something about the grammar that I didn’t like. I spent over a minute trying to decipher what it meant.

How do you break down this headline? Was it “Trump and House”? And what linguistic role does the word “Work” play — a verb, a noun, or an adjective? I thought I had forgotten how to read English.

I then realized that it wasn’t my fault: the tweet itself was problematic, because the order of the words was confusing my brain’s ability to put them together.

An illustration of my first interpretation of the word groups. These word groupings don’t make sense as a sentence.

We understand sentences as we read them. This sentence is problematic because it’s not immediately clear how the words are supposed to be grouped.

How the tweet was supposed to be grouped.

This type of wieldy, unclear sentence is known as a crash blossom, after a badly-written Japan Today headline confused readers.


I wasn’t just going to criticise The New York Times without knowing how to improve upon it. And I tweeted a suggestion.
https://twitter.com/theleoji/status/842976133360447488
But I’ve since come up with a better text for tweeting this story: “Trump and G.O.P in House Agree to Require Medicaid Recipients to Work”.


I added the preposition “in” to clarify the relationship between the House and the G.O.P.

I shortened “make a requirement” to “require.” I put in “recipients” to clarify the requirement will apply to people, not the Medicaid program.

It’s short. It’s clear. And it’s only 69 characters, which means it can fit in a tweet.


Incidentally, the article’s headline says it will be the states, not the federal government, that will actually decide to require able-bodied Medicaid beneficiaries to work.

But the article itself doesn’t say who gets the final decision about this requirement. It could be a requirement written into the bill itself by Congress and the president, or the bill will merely include permission for states to decide.

Huh.

By Leo Ji

software engineer and news nerd