I was reading a New York Times article yesterday morning about three recent bombings in Pakistan, and I had to read the headline twice to fully understand it. This is what it said: Three Attacks in Pakistan Spotlight a Nation’s Rifts. Reading it now, it is clear to me what the headline is trying to convey. The series of attacks inside Pakistan is highlighting internal divisions in the state. But the first time I read it, the word spotlight tripped me up.
This is a perfect demonstration of what Katherine is always saying about choosing verbs wisely. When you read a word that is both a noun and a verb, your brain simultaneously presents both forms to you. This can greatly impede your reading comprehension. When I first read the headline I was not certain if “spotlight” was in verb form, meaning to direct attention to, or in noun form, meaning a narrow intense beam of light. I am as guilty as anyone about writing unintelligible or confusing headlines, but hopefully, if I’m starting to notice them in other people’s writing, I’ll start picking up on it in mine as well.