Sunday, April 18, 2004Here's a classic case of "syntax means everything": the headline of this CNN.com article, "Dog Found Six Days After Avalanche Kills Owner," might lead one to believe it's the ultimate example of biting the hand that feeds you. However, the content of the piece reveals otherwise - the owner was killed by the avalanche, not by the dog.
This is a tricky one. If you re-word the sentence to read "Dog Found Six Days After Owner Was Killed by Avalanche," we still don't know whether the dog was found dead six days after the owner, if the owner was found dead, or both are dead. I suppose the least ambiguous, least-passive form of this sentence would be "Avalanche Kills Owner, Dog Found Six Days Later."
Then again, I don't write for CNN, and I suppose taking the time for perfect syntax on a found-dog story doesn't take precedence over tasks such as covering the 9/11 hearings or the war in Iraq. The cynical part of me just thinks CNN was being deliberately ambiguous, to get readers to click through in hopes of reading a grisly ungrateful-dog-kills-owner story: "you should have left me in that damned avalanche, wretched human!"