Headline writer’s premier blunder deserves the coup de grâce

By Calvin Palmer

It is widely assumed that people who work on newspapers are educated – in America it is possible to earn an undergraduate degree in journalism. However, the people who teach the courses often have no experience of  working on a newspaper.

Would you want your surgeon to be trained by someone who has never performed surgery? I thought not.

If journalists and members of the editorial team do not possess a degree, they usually more than compensate by having a broad knowledge of the world and its affairs. They are savoir-faire, as the French would say.

It is also a great shame that a great many Americans possess little or no understanding of a second language.

This linguistic shortfall, combined with a lack of knowledge that is within the grasp of most 11-year-olds in Britain, led to an unfortunate advertorial headline in the property section of my newspaper.

The headline ran : “Four premiere builders move to Durbin Crossing”.

I dare say 99 percent of the paper’s readership did not bat an eyelid. I would even guess that the editorial board thought the headline was all right, somewhat sophisticated by the newspaper’s usual standards.

But for the well-traveled and knowledgeable, the headline raised an eyebrow and consternation regarding the caliber of the newspaper’s editorial staff.

A premiere, which should take a grave accent and be written première, is the first performance of a play or film, a movie in American parlance.

Premier, on the other hand, means first in position, importance, order or time. Hence the English Premier League is football’s highest league in England.

So what the unfortunate headline writer wrote equates to four first performance builders move to Durbin Crossing. In other words, complete and utter nonsense.

It will probably come as no surprise that the newspaper in question was The Florida Times-Union, based in Jacksonville.

As a former copy editor, the only thing left to say is, Sacré bleu!

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Filed under Advertising, Media, Newspapers

2 responses to “Headline writer’s premier blunder deserves the coup de grâce

  1. Joe G

    I subscribe to the T-U and have, on occasion, written to its columnists and editors about the apparent lack of editing and proofreading. I agree with you about the use of premier, but I’d overlook the accent mark–mostly because (a) even one of the most respected U.S. dictionaries (Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate) doesn’t use it for the word (and uses it for very few) and (b) as you say, few Americans–sadly–know a second language, so the nuances of grave or acute accents or diacritical marks of any kind are beyond their understanding. Sorry.

    (I was reading your entry on Ms. Palin and backed up to this one.)

    • calvininjax

      I wonder what replies you received from the esteemed journalists at The Florida Times-Union? They would be lucky to sell newspapers on street corners if they tried to ply their trade in the UK.

      I go by the Oxford Dictionary — surprise, surprise — and première is clearly indicated as première. In the old days of hot metal, newspapers could be forgiven for omitting accents but in these days of computer-derived pages, there is no excuse.

      As a newspaper man, I am sorry you have to subscribe to The Florida Times-Union if you like to read a newspaper covering Jacksonville. You and the rest of the residents of Jacksonville deserve better.

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