I am a non-English speaker and am reading Essential English for Journalists, Editors and Writers. There is a headline that I can't understand, thus I can't see the problem of splitting the headline at that position. This is the headline I'm struggling with:

WILSON: SMITH RIGHT
OFF COURSE

What is the true meaning of this headline? And what's the problem when splitting it like below?

  • If it makes you feel better, even many native English speakers sometimes find headlines confusing, because the headlines are so short and are missing so many "non-essential" words. Here's a list of many confusing headlines. – stangdon Sep 14 at 14:16
up vote 1 down vote accepted

As you saw, the section is warning you against producing splits like this where the split causes the first line, taken alone, to mean something completely different than what the full headline means.

The issue with this particular headline is that the first line, "Wilson: Smith Right", tells you that someone named Wilson says that someone else named Smith is correct about something. However, the actual intent of the complete headline is that Wilson says that Smith is "right off course" (which means "completely misguided"). (I would call this use of "right" as an intensifier a Britishism.)

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