Dee wrote an interesting comment (thanks Dee!) about my BBC News posting. Part of what she said is:

I think my assumption would be that ‘whatever is between the quotes’ is something that someone has said; so I’d expect to read the article and find that they interviewed someone who said what was quoted in the headline. Of course, I don’t know whether that’s the case with BBC.

This is an excellent suggestion, and while I didn’t consciously think of it, I didn’t believe it was true. Part of the reason is the ‘quotes’ are so short that there doesn’t seem to be any point. Also, doing this for three words in a six word headline seems pointless. Dee also pointed out the English use double-quotes where we use single, and vice versa. I do admit I’d completely forgotten this.

I went back to each of the five articles whose headlines I used in my message to BBC news. Four of them did not contain the quoted text appearing in the their headlines. The exception was the Mars lander article and it did contain “in good health” in the opening paragraph, and it wasn’t a quote. Bizarre.

To my surprise, an anonymous soul at the BBC did write me back this morning.

Dear Rick,

They are used to indicate attribution and differentiate from statements of fact.

I hope this helps.

I’m not sure if that’s a single use or two separate uses. Still, it doesn’t help me really understand when I compare the explanation to the headlines themselves. It doesn’t say they’re quotes, so that’s out. It seems to say they’re a kind of quote, but not verbatim. In a headline, I still see them doing more harm than good.

But hey, it’s their site.