Headless Body in Topless Bar – and other favorite headlines

Fri, Jul 10, 2009


Print newspapers may be, like the Cheshire cat, slowly vanishing. Within a decade or two, the pundits tell us, newspapers will only exist online.

Does this mean big changes? Does this mean that newspaperese will disappear, to be replaced by plain English?

For readers unacquainted with the term, newspaperese is a peculiar subset of the English language. Its use came about because of the characteristics of the printed page.

Headlines had to be brief, yet informative. Two syllables=bad. One syllable=good. Short verbs=good. Long verbs=bad. A print headline has to fit into a small space, and every letter counts. People in headlines don’t praise – they “laud.” They don’t look at things-they “eye” them.

The greatest headlines are short, snappy, and self-explanatory. They may seem easy to write-but they aren’t. Headline writing, like songwriting or poetry, is both a craft and an art. Here are some favorites.

-From the Sun, an English Tabloid, reporting a North Korean nuclear test “HOW DO YOU SOLVE A PROBLEM LIKE KOREA?”

-From the Sun, reporting an attempt by thieves to steal a De Beers diamond at the Millennium Dome ”I’M ONLY HERE FOR DE BEERS”

-From the Harvard Crimson, chronicling the 1968 football game when Harvard scored 16 points in the last 42 seconds. “HARVARD BEATS YALE, 29-29”

-From the New York Post, 1983: “HEADLESS BODY IN TOPLESS BAR’

-From the New York Daily News, reporting on President Ford’s refusal to give federal aid to a broke New York City, “FORD TO CITY; DROP DEAD”

-From the Daily News, reporting a 1980 state transit rescue package “SICK TRANSIT’S GLORIOUS MONDAY”

-From Variety, reporting during 1936 that rural Americans prefer urban-themed movies “STIX NIX HIX FLIX”

Immortal prose, which will long endure! And it’s clear that newspaperese flourishes on the web- here are some run-of-the-mill headlines which appeared in the online edition of the Denver Post during the last few weeks, with newspaperese italicized.

G8 Summit: Promises to curb warming are vague – 07/09
Hit by fees, Colorado GOP official pushes gas-tax hike< – 07/09
Colorado budget complexity daunts panel – 07/09
Obama takes new tack on finding illegal workers 3 – 07/08
Blagojevich aide vows to testify in plea deal – 07/09
Sen. Penry raising funds, but for which Colorado post? – 07/09
Long-term-care policies urged for Coloradans – 07/07
Penry remains mum on Colorado gubernatorial plans – 07/08
Sebelius lauds Colo. effort with uninsured – 07/07
Angling for a rematch on personhood – 07/03
New Colorado auto fees stir shock, anger – 07/02
Obama touts health care plan – 07/02
Sanford breaks vow to release travel records – 07/02
States in budget quicksand
Two Coloradans take posts with the USDA
Obama hosts gay and lesbian leaders – 06/29
Ruling spurs Ritter campaign appeal – 06/26
Obama condemns Iran’s crackdown, lauds protesters – 06/24
Denver judge shelves donations ban - 06/24

Coming Monday: the lamentable disappearance of “bus plunges” from the pages of daily newspapers.

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4 Comments For This Post

  1. Dick Burns Says:

    How about:
    Newspaper publisher mulls rugby stadium

  2. Dick Burns Says:

    Bruce says license fees are naked attempt to skirt TABOR

  3. Lon Says:

    in Rugbyese that term would be Mauls rugby stadium

  4. Alysabeth Says: