In one period during my long stint with newspapers, my office was opposite the editorial department and I heard firsthand the wrangling and agonizing that went on about the daily problems encountered in a newsroom.
This was an educational period. For one thing, I heard some colourful phrases they wouldn’t dare print in the paper. I learned that a weekly migraine was one of the perks of the editor’s job, said headaches often being caused by printing errors and ambiguous story headlines. Once, for example, the police arrested a suspect in an arson case and the story headline read, Arson Suspect Held in Berwick Fire. A reader called to comment that grilling the arson suspect over the fire – as the heading intimated – was probably fitting but rather severe punishment.
The editor chuckled over that one but there were times when a heading with a double meaning was embarrassing. Due to common words having several shades of meaning, newspaper headlines like the arson example are difficult to avoid. Watch the newspapers carefully and you’ll find a heading with a double entendre now and then. An amusing example follows.
Hot on the trail of a renegade gene that was suspected of causing dwarfism, British researchers needed cells from a person who was a dwarf. An advertisement was placed in a large circulation newspaper asking for volunteers but none came forward and the research had to be stopped. In an article about the research problems and the futile search for volunteers, a newspaper came up with this heading: Researchers Find Dwarfs in Short Supply.
According to the Oxford Dictionary, the word “contain” can mean both “control or restrain” and “hold or be capable of holding within itself.” Using the latter definition gives both a humorous and gruesome twist to this heading, which appeared in a daily newspaper: New Vaccine May Contain Rabies. A similar example occurred when pharmacies decided to remove a questionable eye drop product from their shelves. A newspaper dutifully reported the removal with a story headed Eye Drops Off Shelf.
It wasn’t all that long ago that a provincial daily startled readers with a story that turned out to be a report on the annual deer harvest. Deer Kill 1,600. Those nasty deer, eh?
Even the big time newspapers goof with ambiguous headings now and again. The Globe and Mail once ran a story headed War Dims Hope for Peace. Remember when the attempted mating of captive giant pandas failed? Apparently, they tried an alternative method since an American newspaper reported that Pandas Mating Fails – Veterinarians Take Over.
Each new newspapers turn out hundreds of such humorous headings. Here are a few that I culled from the Internet:
New Study of Obesity Looks for Larger Test Group.
Kids Make Nutritious Snacks.
Drunk Gets Nine Months in Violin Case.
Iraqi Head Seeks Arms.
British Left Waffles on Falkan Islands.
Teacher Strikes Idle Kids.
Squad Helps Dog Bite Victim.
Planes Too Close to Ground, Probe Told.
Miners Refuse to Work After Death.
Stolen Paintings Found by Tree.
Two Sisters Reunited after 18 Years in Checkout Counter.
Man Minus Ear Waives Hearing.
Stud Tires Out.
Cold Wave Linked to Temperature.
Red Tape Holds Up New Bridge.
Juvenile Court to Try Shooting Defendant.