James Clarke Masthead
May 28 2012 at 10:57

I thought I’d seen all the crazy headlines that exist, but now a Birchleigh reader has sent me some that are quite new to me. They were, I discovered, from that entertaining free website, A Word a Day (AWAD) (http://wordsmith.org) – which invited its million-or-so subscribers worldwide to send them in.

A Word a Day, I should mention, is a site for “word lovers” – a site aimed at enhancing one’s word power, but also for having fun with English. It is run by a genial Indian-born writer with the unforgettable name of Anu Garg who began his site in 1996 while at college in the US. We occasionally correspond.

Anu, 45, was educated in rural India under a mango tree using a board and, instead of having chalk to write with, he had to use soot. He knew only Hindi until well into his teens. 

His story made me realise how education is not what is organised for you, but what you organise for yourself.

He never saw a library until he went to college, yet he is today a prolific author of entertaining and useful books on the English language. He is a vegan and lives in Seattle with his wife and daughter and, I seem to recall, used to ride around on a monocycle.

The collection of headlines from Anu’s readers used a well-known example of an ambiguous headline as its own headline:

“Squad Helps Dog Bite Victim”.

Other ambiguous headlines conjure up even more amusing images:

“Paranormal Books Fly Off Shelves”.

From Margaret Dunton, a New Zealand teacher, came a headline over a story about schoolchildren being forced to stay home because teachers were on strike:

“Teachers Strike Idle Kids”.

Talking of ambiguity, Dunton said she was often tempted with end-of-year report cards to resort to ambiguity herself by writing, “This child is trying”.

An Illinois reader sent:

“Catch Oral Cancer While it’s still Treatable”.

An Australian reader found a newspaper picture of sombre South Australian political leaders on a podium under the headline:

“Big Drips Spoil Opening”.

A classic headline that was obviously deliberate was when Michael Foot, British Labour MP, headed a nuclear disarmament group:

“Foot Heads Arms Body”.

And when Australia’s tennis ace, Pat Cash, defeated Ivan Lendl of the Czech Republic a headline read:

“Czech Cashed”.

But back to ambiguity. A Canadian newspaper headline puzzled many:

“Mathematicians Face Division in New Exam Plans”.

Bearing in mind that the word “tarry” means “linger” and can also mean “sticky with tar” note these two:

“Tanker Spill Cleaned Up But Spectators Tarry”,

“Motorists Tarry on Newly Surfaced Motorway”.

I particularly enjoyed this one:

“PET Ducks Debate”.

It referred to Pierre Elliott Trudeau, Canadian prime minister, avoiding a debate.

The San Francisco Chronicle came out with:

“Disabled Fly to see President”.

And a British newspaper announced what sounded like a final marriage tiff:

“Man Drowns Snapping Wife”.

In fact, the story referred to a man who was standing in a boat in the act of taking a photograph of his wife when he fell over the side and drowned.

Another classic was during World War II when General Douglas MacArthur returned to a battle front in the Pacific:

“MacArthur Flies Back to Front”.

The Daily Californian carried a photograph of a local poet looking particularly grim. It was beneath a headline:

“Poet’s Dinner Coming Up”.

And the Toronto Star came up with this one:

“Marijuana issue sent to a joint committee”.

LETTER TO THE STOEP Esteemed Ever-so Sir,

I phoned the local ramblers club yesterday but the bloke who answered just went on and on.

J Walker, Benoni-on-Sea

Contact Stoep: E-mail: jcl@onwe.co.za; Website: www.jamesclarke.co.za;

Blog: http://stoeptalk.wordpress.com


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