Tracking funds consultants raise

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Headline from the San Francisco Chronicle:

Are some consultants funding their salary increases by tracking things — maybe by tracking *us*? Has something been revealed about a raise awarded to the consultants to "tracking funds", whatever those might be?

Apparently not. The on-line version of the article (Marisa Lagos, "State tracks commercial fundraising for charities", 12/25/2011) tells us about a report by the California attorney general on the activities of commercial fund-raising consultants who are hired to raise money for charities. This year, about 45% of the money actually went to the charities, up from 43% a year ago.

So the headline is short for "[The attorney general is] tracking [the] funds [that] consultants raise [for charities]". The telegraphic style leaves us with four words, three of which are syntactically ambiguous. They could have saved a few characters, and increased the ambiguity still further, by using "Tracking funds firms raise"

A picture of the print headline in context is here.

[Tip of the hat to John V. Burke.]


  1. Alan said,

    December 26, 2011 @ 12:46 am

    Doo dah. Doo dah.

  2. Ast A. Moore said,

    December 26, 2011 @ 4:26 am

    Oddly enough, I had no problem parsing the headline as “tracking [the] funds [that] consultants raise.” The “raise” part is slightly ambiguous (i.e. deciding between “to increase” and “to levy, collect”), and I think upon the first reading I leaned toward the “to increase” sense.

  3. Lane said,

    December 26, 2011 @ 6:06 am

    Slightly oblique to the issue ("Are some consultants funding their salary increases by tracking things — maybe by tracking *us*?"), the standard noun for a (pay) raise in Britain is "pay rise", so Mark's first interpretation wouldn't work there.

  4. Russell from VT said,

    December 26, 2011 @ 8:19 am

    I started to read this as being about "tracking funds consultants" figuring they had to be those high-paid wall-street guys who choose the individual stocks in mutual funds that track…I dunno…an industry of sector or such. I hit a wall when the headline refused to tell me exactly what they had raised.

  5. Stitch said,

    December 26, 2011 @ 11:36 am

    "Doo dah. Doo dah."

    Headline left us in a haze,
    All the doo-dah day.

  6. Tom Recht said,

    December 26, 2011 @ 1:44 pm

    There's a higher-level ambiguity here than is found in your usual crash blossom, namely whether the headline is intended to be a sentence or a nominal clause.

  7. Ralph Hickok said,

    December 26, 2011 @ 5:43 pm

    My first thought was that "raise" should be "rise" and the hed meant that the number of consultants who track funds had increased.

  8. Peter said,

    December 26, 2011 @ 6:36 pm

    Another unusual aspect: in everyday English, this has (as far as I can see) only one non-forced interpretation, and that’s the correct one. Only when seen as headlinese does it becomes ambiguous, with two incorrect interpretations becoming at least as plausible.

  9. Daniel Barkalow said,

    December 26, 2011 @ 9:37 pm

    I could see this as a sentence from live coverage of a poker game between advocates for index funds and managers of traditional mutual funds, followed, perhaps, by "Managed funds managers fold".

  10. Aidan Wilson said,

    December 27, 2011 @ 12:04 am

    It feels odd for a headline to be a present durative clause like (expanded) 'tracking the funds raised by consultants'. Most often, I feel, headlines are sort of headless passive clauses, which become decapitated participles. So this one, I'd have expected, would have become "funds raised by consultants tracked" or "consultancies' fundraising tracked".

  11. Not My Leg said,

    December 27, 2011 @ 11:45 am

    I assumed that, for some reason, the headline had omitted an apostrophe, and it meant "tracking the raises received by funds consultants." In my world, this is a financial services article about increasing salaries for hedge fund consultants, even in the face of falling returns, or something like that.

    Note, I have no idea how hedge funds have been doing relative to the market as a whole. The article could be about tracking the raises of funds consultants as their performance has improved since the crash. Well, in my head it could be that, it actually obviously isn't related at all.

  12. Janice Byer said,

    December 29, 2011 @ 6:24 pm

    "Stasi files row as Britain refuses to return documents to Germany"

    The above headline begins well but ends up making its point clear. A crash blossom manqué?

  13. Eneri Rose said,

    January 1, 2012 @ 3:22 pm

    Another example of COIK, clear only if known.

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