Who is doing the labeling?

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In the most obvious grammatical interpretation of this headline, it’s the parent who’s doing the labeling: we don’t get to the teachers until we’re inside the prepositional phrase the end of the sentence (“of his teachers”).

But in the most obvious semantic interpretation–which emerges once we take in the whole sentence–the credit for class-clown labeling shifts from the mother to the teachers.

In general, we want the most obvious grammatical and semantic interpretations to coincide. And so they might have, had the headline read, say, “Labeling my child as ‘class clown,’ his teachers showed their true colors.” Or “Hearing my child being publicly shamed changed my view of his teachers.”

What’s fun about the original–besides the fact that it snuck into a headline–is that the initial grammatical interpretation (mother as labeler) almost works. Indeed, if you really want to, you can probably come up with a context that actually does work for you. Perhaps conceptualizing her son as a class clown somehow helps the mother understand some of the otherwise inexplicable ways in which his teachers were treating him.

Now that I think about it, that may have been my initial take on what the commentary was about. Perhaps it was the bizarre parenting insights that it seemed to promise that got me to read beyond its headline.

Grabby headlines–maybe it was all on purpose!

3 thoughts on “Who is doing the labeling?

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