Recently in the Headlines Category

run of wines?

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I thought a recent headline said this:

Asian scientists set to topple America's run of wines

But then while I still trying to figure out the context for that, I realized that it was an article about Nobel prizes, and that the last word was actually “wins.”

Which makes more sense, but is less entertaining.

Texas city

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Eyebrow-raising headline:

BP plans to sell Texas city, California plants

I knew BP was powerful, but do they really own an entire city in Texas?

The first line of the story doesn't help much:

British oil giant BP Plc intends to sell its giant Texas city sprawling 1,200-acre plant [...]

But later in the story, a United Steelworkers executive is quoted as saying “BP had a terrible reputation in Texas City,” which reveals the answer to the mystery: there's a city in Texas called Texas City. So the writers just failed to capitalize the C in City in both the headline and the story, and then wrote a sloppy opening sentence.

Still, I was amused. And even with the correction, it would have taken me a moment to figure out that the headline meant it was selling its Texas City plant, rather than the city itself.

(I also had a moment of wondering whether “California plants” was a euphemism for a certain herb often associated with some parts of California, but I think that was due to my being sleepy rather than anything wrong with the headline.)

. . . I should note that it's possible that some of the odd-seeming-to-me phrasing is due to this article being from an Indian publication; I know that Indian English doesn't always match American English phrasings. But I don't think that the uncapitalized C is an Indian English thing; I think it's just sloppy editing.


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There's a stylistic convention in newspaper headlines that I never got the hang of: paraphrasing something someone said, then a colon, then an indication of whoever it was that said it.

This morning, I saw this Reuters headline:

Iran searching for nuclear bomb materials: cables

And I thought, huh, who'd have thought that nuclear bombs would require some kind of hard-to-find cables? If the Iranians had Radio Shack or Fry's, would that bring them closer to nuclear capability?

And then I realized that the headline meant “according to diplomatic cables.”

Headlines to confuse time travelers

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Just saw this headline:

77 Percent of Android Devices Running Eclair, Froyo

And I wondered: if a time traveler from fifty or a hundred years ago saw that headline, what sort of picture of today's world would it give them? Assuming they could make any sense out of it at all?

The word “android” has been around for a while, so presumably they would think we had actual androids. They would know what an eclair was, of course, but not fro-yo; and even if they did, they would likely have a hard time figuring out what it would mean for an android—or an “android device,” whatever that is—to “run” desserts.

For that matter, probably a huge number of modern people have no idea what that last phrase means; Eclair and Froyo are the code names for the latest versions of the operating system that runs Android cell phones. So perhaps this isn't the best possible example of the kind of headline I'm talking about, since it might be nearly as confusing to most modern people as to our time traveler.

But now I'm intrigued by the general idea. Got any other examples of headlines that would leave time travelers with very misleading (and/or just plain confusing) ideas of what the modern world is like?

Nearly every major-news-venue article I've seen about California's Proposition 19 (the one to legalize marijuana) has used the word “hazy” and/or some other pun about marijuana smoke or getting high. Some samples:

And so on.

It's like the puns are addictive. It's like the writers (or the editors) are giddy. They can't resist, like a stoner can't resist snacking. It's like the prospect of a pun has clouded their minds. It's like—

Never mind. You get the idea.

It makes me want to do an ad: “This is your article. This is your article on cheap obvious puns.” Or: “Friends don't let friends litter serious news articles and headlines with cheap dumb jokes.”

I know this is nothing new. Headline writers in particular have always loved puns. And articles about sports games and box-office results have always featured puns relevant to the teams or movies involved.

But something about Prop 19 really seems to bring out this tendency in a way that other propositions don't seem to do.

What are these writers smoking?

(PS: Just to be clear: I love puns. What bugs me about these is that they're obvious and ubiquitous and not terribly funny.)

Comma, importance of

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Back in March, I came across this AP headline:

More than math, reading important

I read it as saying that reading was more important than math, but the article is about attempts to "broaden the focus [of education] beyond math and reading." So I started to write an entry here to make fun of the headline for having nothing to do with the article body.

And then I realized that I'd misread the headline.

It's using the common headline technique of replacing an "and" with a comma. So it really meant that more topics than math and reading are important.

So it's a perfectly reasonable headline for the article, except for the ease of misreading it. I would still say it's a bad headline, but on very different grounds than my original impression.

Placeholders appear in newspaper

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Some years back, I saw an employment ad for a major computer company in which all the text said "Lorem ipsum." Clearly someone was supposed to fill in actual copy, but had neglected to do so.

Something similar, though less extreme, happened in the San Diego Union-Tribune the other day, when their new automated pagination system made some mistakes:

A front-page story sends the reader to A10 to continue the story but you won't find the story title. Instead, you'll find the word "Slug"[...]. Below that, you'll find the phrase "Three lines of jumphed right in here, yuppers."

(And btw, I hadn't previously encountered the word "jumphed," but I like it. In case it's not clear, it refers to a "jump headline." See also the question of whether to use jump heds or jump words.)

It never calls, it never writes

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Headline today on the BBC website:

Pope could make Birmingham visit

Birmingham hasn't visited in months, and I was beginning to think it never would. So I'm pleased to see that the Pope has the ability to force it to visit. I only hope he chooses to exercise that ability.


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I know what an attosecond is. (It's 10-18 seconds.)

What surprised me was seeing the word used metaphorically and in passing in a general-interest news article:

Stress may be most readily associated with the attosecond pace of postindustrial society, but the body's stress response is one of our oldest possessions.

I'm used to seeing words like "millisecond" or "microsecond" in that kind of context. These days, maybe "nanosecond." But this New York Times article's author has skipped all the way from nanoseconds past picoseconds and femtoseconds to attoseconds.

Side note: That article also has a headline I particularly like: "Brain Is a Co-Conspirator in a Vicious Stress Loop." And I like the phrase "chronically stressed rats lost their elastic rat cunning."

Ambiguous headline

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AP headline this morning:

Obama ventures back to hurting region _ with money

I think that underscore was intended to be a dash, but either way, I initially read the headline as saying that, having stopped his hurting of a region at some previous time, Obama had now started hurting that region again, and this time he was hurting it using money.

I suppose the word "ventures" should've prevented my misinterpretation; maybe it's just that I'm not entirely awake yet.


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Headline from a news story:

Gay rights activist makes Clinton stop

What did the activist make Clinton stop doing, and was it President Clinton or Secretary Clinton?

Answer: Neither: the story is from the Clinton Herald, a newspaper from Clinton, Iowa, and "stop" in that headline is a noun, not a verb.

I was amused.

Context disambiguates!

Punny name headline

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A headline I saw in late October, apparently provided by Dow Jones Newswires, read:

CORRECT: Microsoft Executive Is Harry Patz, Not Putz

The corrected article is titled "Wireless Carriers Target Young Texters With Latest Phones" but I was really just amused by the headline of the correction.

But is it bad form to make fun of a misspelling of someone's name? Even if I'm not making fun of the person himself? I'm not sure.

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This page is an archive of recent entries in the Headlines category.

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