The goal of a headline is to attract the attention of readers, enticing them to read the entire story. Recently, my eyes have been drawn to headlines for a different reason. Is it just me, or do Grammar Guardians need to be on “Headline Alert”?

First, I saw a headline that read, “Ex-drug lords’ property used by Haiti government.” Haiti government? Since government is a noun, shouldn’t an adjective precede it? Haiti is a country, which makes it a noun. Wouldn’t the correct form be the adjective, Haitian? Another part of the headline also unnerved me, though it is not grammatically incorrect. I’ve noticed an increase in the use of “ex” to indicate a person’s past involvement. “Ex-city commissioner,” “Ex-school board member” and now “Ex-drug lord.” Again, though it may not be incorrect, “former” is much more pleasant to the ear.

While I continued to debate the whole Haiti versus Haitian scenario, a similar headline caught my eye: “Young China girl survives quake by sleeping in.” China girl? It sounds like a movie. Again, China is a country. If I want to describe the girl, I should use the adjective, which is “Chinese,” right?

Now, let’s turn to the topic of sentences beginning with “Because.” As I’ve said before, don’t believe anyone who tells you it can’t be done correctly. Let’s practice:

John has a mouse in his house, so he put most of his food in plastic containers.

Why did John put most of his food in plastic containers?

The tendency is to write, “Because he has a mouse in his house.” My response to that is, “Don’t leave me hangin’.” Because he has a mouse in his house, what? He jumped up on a chair? He screamed so loudly he awakened the neighbors? The answer is an incomplete sentence. This would make it complete: “Because he has a mouse in his house, John put most of his food in plastic containers.” Don’t forget the comma.

I learned something new this month after receiving a phone call from my friend, a local principal. “Toward or towards?” she asked when I answered the phone. “What?” I asked, confused by that strange greeting. She wanted to know if she should write “moving toward success” or “moving towards success.” I said it both ways and confused myself. Each time I said the phrase, a different one sounded better.

I turned toward (notice how I’m practicing) a site I didn’t know existed,, and found an interesting explanation:

Both “toward” and “towards” are technically correct, according to most English language stylebooks. The difference is, “towards” is more likely to be used these days by the Brits, while “toward” has become the American favorite.

The Associated Press Stylebook, which most American businesses and publications use, takes a distinctly American stance, saying simply, “toward, not towards.” In short, according to AP, “towards” is dead.

So if you’re an American, or gravitate to the American English way of life, you’re safer to bury “towards.” Say a few kind words over its grave and move on. If you’re British, or believe that the Queen’s English is the only true and living form of the world’s most robust language, go ahead and use “towards.” It’s not worth another revolution.

Because I am out of space, until next month, thank you for Guarding Our Grammar.

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