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Opening Arguments

Well, well

Not quite three hours back, and I already feel a fit of nitpicky pique coming on. The Terre Haue Tribune Star had a story about water quality --

Town residents hope to get to the bottom of well-water concerns affecting that northside neighborhood at a public forum Thursday evening.

Gail Phillips, president of the Terre Town Community Association, said the meeting will be hosted inside the Terre Town Elementary School at 6:30 p.m., and the public is encouraged to attend.

-- topped by the headline"How well is their water?" Ouch. The rule in writing clever headlines, which is what most copy editors most like to do, even if they don't admit it, is to not sacrifice clarity for wit and to not violate basic grammar just to score a pun. Substituting an adverb for the proper adjectival form is pretty darn basic. Most too-clever-for-their-own-good headlines come from a mistaken idea about the purpose of a headline. It's not to entice readers to read the story -- you're just competing against other stories in your own paper, after all. It's to help the readers know whether they want to read that story.

Well, yes, "well" can be an adjective, but only when it refers to a person's condition. "I think I'll skip the party tonight. I'm not at all well."


Mon, 05/16/2011 - 11:16am

The better pun is in the lead: "Get to the bottom..."
I always hated it when the reporter used the best pun in the lead because then I couldn't use it.
"Is well water plan all wet?" would have worked.
"Is all well with water plan?"
Actually, water puns are pretty easy. The copy editor should be ashamed.

Harl Delos
Mon, 05/16/2011 - 4:13pm

Actually well IS an adjective when it is applied to water, and it has a legal definition, found at 21 CFR 165.110.

The FDA, a couple of years ago, recalled a batch of water that was improperly labeled as spring water when it was, in fact, well water. If the water will flow to the surface under its own pressure, you're allowed to use pumps to assist the flow, but it it requires a pump to be extracted, it's well water, not spring water. The company sued the FDA over it, and after spending a couple of zillion in legal fees, lost.

God alone knows why that information floats around in my skull, instead of something *useful*.