Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Stupid adverb tricks at the Times

The New York Times pulls another semantic fast one today. Check out this headline:

Danish Antiterror Police Seize 9 Men, Mostly Young Muslims

Now, to native speakers of English, this fairly simple sentence means that at least five of the men seized are Muslim, and no more than four of them are non-Muslim. Conversely, no more than eight of the nine could be Muslim, and no fewer than one must be non-Muslim, otherwise the sentence would have to read, "Danish Antiterror Police Seize 9 Men, All Young Muslims."

Strangely, the fourth paragraph of the article contradicts the headline:

Danish intelligence officials said the men were between 18 and 35 and were Muslims who appeared to have been recently radicalized.

Oh, I get it. The clever editor who crafted that headline didn't mean that the men were mostly Muslims. He or she meant that they were mostly young. After all, that's really the crux of the matter, isn't it? Don't forget, five years ago nineteen young people brought down the World Trade Center. Maybe they were also just mostly young. It takes some time to get that radicalized.

So here's a clarified version of the headline. Let's see if the Times picks it up:

Danish Antiterror Police Seize 9 Men, Mostly Young Muslims Except for One 35-Year-Old Muslim

Boy, do I feel old now.


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