Confusing Headlines

Thu May 7 15:32:30 UTC 2009

        I just saw a headline in a mutual fund industry trade
publication:  "Asset Drops Fuel Expense Ratio Rise."

        Its meaning?  Decreases in the assets under management in mutual
funds (mainly because of declining prices in the stock market) have
caused the funds' expense ratios to increase.  (For example, a mutual
fund with $200 million in assets might have annual expenses of $2
million, for a 1.00% expense ratio; if the fund's assets dropped to $100
million, but the expenses dropped only to $1.5 million, the new expense
ratio would be 1.50%.)  I'm in the target audience for this publication
and already knew what it was trying to say, but I still had to read the
headline twice to understand it.  It's intrinsically difficult because
four of the six words in the headline (drops, fuel, expense, and rise)
can function as either verbs or nouns.

John Baker

The American Dialect Society -

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