Shooting all members of biker gangs

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A headline writer is apparently economizing on punctuation: Nomaan Merchant, "Police: 9 dead in Texas shooting all members of biker gangs", MyFoxDetroit (AP).

Obligatory screenshot:

Thor Lawrence observes that "One might have expected more fatalities from three gangs being involved".


  1. Mark Mandel said,

    May 18, 2015 @ 12:59 am

    And the writer's name isn't just odd, it's Odyssean.

  2. Jeroen Mostert said,

    May 18, 2015 @ 1:02 am

    It's like zombie versions of the Nazgûl mixed up with the Punisher. Beware the Necro Nine!

  3. James said,

    May 18, 2015 @ 4:40 am

    It took me a while to work out what punctuation you might add to the headline.

    I guess you had it as "The police said that 9 people died in a shooting in Texas, and that all of them were members of biker gangs".

    I had parsed it as "The police said that the 9 people who died in the shooting in Texas were all members of biker gangs", with the police making one statement rather than two and assuming that the person being addressed already knew that 9 people died in a shooting in Texas. In that interpretation I don't think there is any punctuation to add (and maybe the lack of punctuation suggests that this is the intended reading?).

  4. Ralph Hickok said,

    May 18, 2015 @ 7:32 am

    James is correct: By the rules of headline writing, such as they are, no punctuation is required. In fact, it would be wrong to add punctuation.

  5. GH said,

    May 18, 2015 @ 7:56 am

    "Police [say]: [The] 9 [people] dead in [the] Texas shooting [were] all members of biker gangs."

    I don't see any need for punctuation either.

  6. Craig said,

    May 18, 2015 @ 8:07 am

    I think the question here is what "shooting" means. Is it a noun or a verb? The intent, clearly, was to make it a noun: "9 dead in Texas shooting" is straightforward enough. But the reader can be thrown by the way "all members of biker gangs" is tacked on: you might wonder for a moment if "shooting" was meant as a verb, as in "Texas police are shooting all members of biker gangs". A comma after "shooting" would have made the intention more obvious. I don't really care whether the headline is "correct" according to the semi-literate rules of headline writing; as written, it's kind of confusing. Its intended sense is really the only way to make sense of it, but some readers will start to read it the wrong way, get confused, and have to read it again to figure out what it actually means.

  7. Brett said,

    May 18, 2015 @ 9:44 am

    @Jeroen Mostert: If there's not a Nazgûl motorcycle gang, there should be.

  8. Rod Johnson said,

    May 18, 2015 @ 11:06 am

    Mark Mandel: Is the writer's name odd? Or is it just Arabic? (I get the reference, it just seems like a strange reaction.)

  9. un_malpaso said,

    May 18, 2015 @ 12:26 pm

    OK… after a couple of tries, I finally parsed it correctly.
    But one of my first mental images was of 9 undead Texas Rangers on a rampage shooting every single biker gang member in the state.
    Apparently I wasn't alone (@Jeroen). Hmmm… perhaps my Mad Max: Fury Road weekend viewing is still bubbling in my subconscious? :)

  10. Linda said,

    May 18, 2015 @ 1:09 pm

    I don't see anything odd in the writer's name, compare it with Ismael Merchant the film producer.

  11. Linda said,

    May 18, 2015 @ 1:20 pm

    Probably the prevalence of (South) Asian names in the UK prevents me from making your Odyssean connections at first sight.

  12. cameron said,

    May 18, 2015 @ 2:49 pm

    A factoid I learned today is that the Department of Justice Refers to biker gangs as Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs, which they naturally abbreviate as OMGs:

  13. Andrew Bay said,

    May 18, 2015 @ 2:53 pm

    My quick read: The 9 who died shot at all of the members of biker gangs.

  14. marc sobel said,

    May 18, 2015 @ 4:49 pm

    I, being an optimist, had assumed it meant that 9 people had (tragically) died while in the process of shooting all member of a biker gang.

  15. marc sobel said,

    May 18, 2015 @ 4:49 pm

    I, being an optimist, had assumed it meant that 9 people had (tragically) died while in the process of shooting all member of a biker gang.

  16. Jerry Friedman said,

    May 18, 2015 @ 5:17 pm

    Craig: I agree. I'd say changing "shooting" to "gunfight" might have helped even more than any punctuation.

  17. maidhc said,

    May 18, 2015 @ 7:25 pm

    Presumably it's meant to indicate that no innocent bystanders were killed. A comma would help to indicate that interpretation.

    I agree with Jerry Friedman too. A shooting is usually when one person shoots at other people. This was a gunfight.

  18. Ray said,

    May 18, 2015 @ 9:21 pm

    in today's political climate, it may be that an interest in 'who's to blame' is what's assumed to be uppermost in readers' minds (was it those terrorists again? underserved minority youths? a pilot asleep at the controls? a governor who won't fund schools or infrastructure? no, it was biker gangs!). still, it's not clear who actually killed (shot) the 9 dead: the police or the bikers or both?

  19. Jeff said,

    May 18, 2015 @ 11:50 pm

    James is correct. "Dead" is used in the headline as a noun rather than an adjective. Slightly ambiguous? Maybe, but it follows standard headline-writing protocol.

  20. Jeff said,

    May 18, 2015 @ 11:59 pm


    The writer simply omitted the articles and linking verb. Pretty basic.

    Police: (The) 9 dead (people) in (the) Texas shooting (were) all members of biker gangs.

  21. Nicki said,

    May 19, 2015 @ 5:13 am

    Police: 9 members of biker gangs dead in Texas shootings

  22. Jerry Friedman said,

    May 19, 2015 @ 12:37 pm

    Jeff: I don't see any doubt that it's more than slightly ambiguous, and "gunfight" or "shootout" (as in the first sentence of the article) would have made it unambiguous, as would some of the other suggestions.

    Ray: No doubt you're right that people often want to know who's to blame, but as you say, this headline doesn't address that. Instead it answers the question of who died.

  23. beheadedJOHN said,

    May 20, 2015 @ 11:07 am

    Why is the ad in French?

    Why is the tooltip "Click to embiggen"?

    Why is it that some of the commentators excuse this behaviour under the guise of tradition? It's not ambiguous? Of course it is!

    Why is it that our modern society expect us to be perfect disambiguator machines when it is clear that we are not nor can we ever be? From journalistic headlines to acronyms. And in certain cases we intentionally misinterpret them to serve our purposes: politics and law.

    How will future generations be able to parse these types of phrases? How about machine learning; we are becoming more and more dependent on them for everything.

    I know that this is mostly comedy for now but if something tragic happens. or perhaps has already happened?

  24. Hans Adler said,

    May 21, 2015 @ 2:41 am

    My favourite way of parsing this: "9 dead [people] in Texas [are] shooting all members of biker gangs."

    Obviously intended parsing: "9 [people] dead in [a] Texas shooting [were] all members of biker gangs."

    Getting rid of the ambiguity by just adding a semicolon: "9 dead in Texas shooting; all members of biker gangs."

    But with the semicolon there is an assumption that the reader hasn't heard about the shooting yet, or at least didn't know how many died. Without the semicolon, the headline appeals equally to readers of all levels of previous knowledge.

  25. Mark Mandel said,

    May 23, 2015 @ 11:27 am

    @Rod Johnson, Linda: Encountering the post at 1 a.m., I initially misread the first name as "Norman", then did a double-take.
    And while I'm accustomed to the name "Ismael", with boosts from its English cognate via the Book of Genesis and the famous first sentence of Moby Dick, I was quite unfamiliar with "Nomaan"— although I'm fairly well acquainted with the Odyssey and its hero's encounter with the Cyclops and his inauspicious parting taunt.

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