Unpacking a hypnotic headline

Harlan sent an email the other day talking about hypnotic headlines.

He said the following headline had at least 8 presuppositions:

How Many Of These Secret Thai Chicken Recipes Have You Tasted So Far?

See how many you can find before you look at the way I unpack it…

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  1. There are such things as recipes.
  2. There are more than one ("how many")
  3. It’s possible to taste them.
  4. You’ve tasted some.
  5. You’ll taste more in the future.
  6. They are chicken recipes.
  7. They’re Thai recipes.
  8. They’re secret recipes.
  9. You’ll find out what the recipes are ("these").

How did you do?

The reason you might want to do this in a headline is the idea of the mind being able to keep track of 7 (+/- 2) chunks of information at a time. No doubt some of the chunks will already be in use just by the activity of reading. If they can’t distinguish something as a separate piece of info, they’ll generally accept it without question.

Fortunately, there’s not much in the headline that anyone would object to anyway. Maybe a reader could ask if there really are secret Thai chicken recipes. I mean secret recipes? It’s not like they’re KFC or Coke with a secret formula, right? But then if you’ve taken up the remaining slots available to separate things out, they won’t even notice there could be something worth objecting to.

Of course that’s something else that needs to be calibrated and tested. You’re not going to an elephant into the living room without anyone noticing just because you used a bunch of presuppositions.

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