Headline writer with marital problem advised not to pun-ic

Nury Vittachi

My journalist colleague was horrified after his spouse accused him of always speaking like newspaper headlines. "Wife slams shocked scribe," he told me. "Turn to page 5."

Headlines have been on my mind lately. It all started in February when there was a rash of headlines saying "Smoking Good For Health" after scientists revealed one tiny possible benefit of cigarettes (they prevented a case of anemia).

The same week, this headline appeared in Time magazine: "America's Top Fortune Cookie Writer Is Quitting Because of Writer's Block."

It seems to be Collectable Headline season around the world, so let's survey recent classics. Funny headlines come in four categories.

First we have Deliberate Puns. The UK has been hit by a lettuce shortage. "LEAF IT OUT!" was the headline in the Sun, while the Guardian had the more predictable "Tip of the iceberg". The Times of London told the excitable British public to "Romaine calm".

The Hong Kong Standard is known for its punning headlines, such as the one over a report on a poultry restaurant's legal troubles: "Court cooks their goose." When a giant bird escaped from its owner, Singapore's AsiaOne headlined the tale: "Ostrich runs afowl on Malaysian highway."

The second category is the Oops Headlines, when the words are not wrong but accidentally offer an alternative meaning.

"Trump campaign chief charged with battery", the New York Times reported last year, creating an image of an expired man being plugged into a recharger.

"Undiscovered moons may lurk around Uranus", the Washington Post reported a few months ago, to juvenile snickers.

When a food inspector left his job, a recent wire service report was headlined "Meat head resigns".

The third category is Clickbait Cheating -- headlines which deliberately mislead the reader. In Nigeria last month, cheeky scribes titled their "Buhari undergoes penis surgery" to make it go viral. Buhari is the name of the country's president, but the story referred to a non-famous person with the same name.

The fourth category is Grammatical Mistakes, which is when a problem like missing commas or bad grammar changes the meaning.

News website The Hive last year featured a story titled: "Spotify founder gets married with Bruno Mars and Mark Zuckerberg".

Bad sentence construction was evident in the title of a report by the Star-Ledger newspaper of Newark, New Jersey, last July: "Cops called to Union house where man was killed at least 30 times".

This sort of error often creates interesting word-pictures. "Thousands of bees swarm an area Walmart, three recover in hospital", said a report on KFOR-TV, a US news website in August last year. So several thousand bees attacked a big store and three of the bees ended up in hospital beds, hooked up to drips and monitors, right?

Since real news headlines are so entertaining these days, people who make their living creating fake ones (such as The Onion website or Andy Borowitz) are redundant.

Meanwhile, I pledged to train my journalist friend to talk in human speech from now, instead of in headlines. "Scribe In Reform Pact", he replied. "Verdict Unsure".

(Nury Vittachi is an Asia-based frequent traveller. Send ideas, comments via his Facebook page)