British subjects

31 Oct

Hot on the heels of HeadsUp’s discovery of a 1940s style guide covering flying verbs, which advises against their  use “if the verb might be understood to be in the imperative mode”, here’s a good example of an imperative and a flying verb side by side:

Seeing them in close proximity, you realise how easy it is to distinguish one form from the other when that golden rule is followed: “Hid” (clearly implied subject: third person, unknown) against “Go” (clearly implied subject: you). There is none of the confusion caused when, for example, POLICE ARREST DANGER MAN becomes ARREST DANGER MAN.

Nonetheless, it’s still quite ambitious: I’ve never before seen a flying verb headline introduce a second, explicit, subject (“we”) before clarifying who the implied one is (“him”). And the most striking thing of all is that this appeared on the BBC news website: only the second flying verb I have ever encountered in a British-English publication. The article headline itself contains an explicit subject, so the distinctively transatlantic omission on the homepage is presumably only for space reasons. But still, if the classic British existential headline* is now starting to appear in the US, as HeadsUp has observed, perhaps a full-scale cultural exchange is under way?


*Those starting FURY AS… , OUTRAGE AS… , JOY AS… , etc

2 Responses to “British subjects”

  1. Jeff November 1, 2017 at 3:28 pm #

    It seems to me there may be a tense angle to this too. If it said ‘Hidden in cupboard’ or ‘Hiding in cupboard’ would it jump out quite so much?

    (Also I think it would be good form to link to the BBC story so we can check the claim about the headline on the article itself.)

    • edlatham November 1, 2017 at 3:50 pm #

      Oops, thanks, completely forgot to do that! I will insert it forthwith. The only trouble with “hidden” or “hiding” in this construction is it creates a dangling modifier – who was hiding in the cupboard, “we” or “him”?

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