The Grammarphobia Blog

What’s up in headlinese?

Q: A recent headline in the Jersey Journal: Gunfire erupts in Jersey City after exchange of “What ups?” My question: What’s up here?

A: We’re not surprised that the headline caught your attention!

This might have been a better headline: Gunfire erupts in Jersey City after exchange of “What’s up?” Or maybe this: Gunfire erupts in Jersey City after “What’s up?” exchange.

There’s always a way!

(Like you, we didn’t put the headline within quotes so we wouldn’t have a pileup of quotation marks at the end.)

For the rest of our readers, here’s the key part of the story, courtesy of nj.com:

“The 19-year-old victim said he was walking east on Wegman Parkway near Ocean Avenue shortly after midnight when he was approached by two men wearing hoodies, according to police.

“The two men said, ‘What’s up?’ to the man, who responded with, ‘What’s up?’ police said.

“When the victim was about 20 feet away from the two men, the taller of the two suspects started shooting at him with a handgun, hitting him once in the left calf, according to police.”

Granted, each of the parties—the victim and the shooters—said, “What’s up?” But the headline writer made a mess by trying to pluralize the quotation.

There’s no correct way to do this, though. Or, rather, the “correct” way would be a monstrosity like “What’s up?”s. See what we mean?

But don’t be too hard on the headline writer. We’ve been in the newspaper business, and these things happen.

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