CARDINAL PELL CHARGES

Today’s headline ambiguity is brought to you by the letter S. S has three major roles in English – marking plural nouns (the intended reading of this headline), 3rd person present simple verbs (the unintended reading of this headline) and (with an apostrophe) possession.

The intended reading is a noun phrase with a noun phrase modifier and a plural noun. The unintended reading is a clause with a noun phrase and a verb. The unintended reading gains strength by being standard English, while the intended reading is acceptable headlinese but not standard English. In standard English, we would have to talk about ‘Cardinal Pell’s charges’ (that is, the charges against him, not belonging to him).

Either way, the ambiguity continues because charge has multiple meanings both as a noun and a verb.

(Note: I am not commenting on the justice or injustice of the charges, or on His Eminence’s innocence or guilt. I am commenting on the linguistic ambiguity of the headline.)

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