Honolulu Lite


Sunday, November 4, 2001

Fowled up headline writers
deserve a pullet surprise

Many years ago, long before anybody whose feelings I could possibly hurt today was working at the Star-Bulletin, a headline writer pinned the following headline for a small news item: "Protesters spill milk over hormone."

I knew what the writer meant to say, that dairy farmers poured milk in the streets in a protest concerning genetically engineered cow hormones. But I pointed out to a habitually cranky copy editor that the headline seemed to say protesters were spilling milk "on" a hormone. Grumbling, he said he'd fix it. So I was surprised when the second home edition came out and the headline read: "Demonstrators spill milk over bovine." I didn't bother to bring the subject up again, although I did save both editions for my blooper collection.

Being a headline writer is like being a place kicker in football. Nobody remembers the several hundred kicks you booted between the goal posts; they just remember the times you blow it. The headline writer who wrote "Kona police aiding in coast slayings" was obviously under a fast-approaching deadline or he/she would have realized that the head made it sound as if police were taking part in the killings.

I suspected that tourists might have been a little confused when they picked up the newspaper to read, "State to hunt sharks off Waikiki" on Page One, followed by a Page Three story with the headline, "Captive tiger shark returned to ocean." I could see the visitors scratching their heads, thinking, "If they wouldn't let the sharks go in the first place, they wouldn't have to hunt them down again!"

We haven't had any good local headline bloopers lately. That may be good for the headline writers, but it selfishly deprives everyone else of a good laugh. Luckily, I came across my old blooper file while giving a lunchtime talk recently and found my list of all-time great national headline boners. Most were compiled by a New York Times editorial writer. They fall into two categories, which I call "Huh?!" and "Duh!"

Some typical "Duh!" headlines are: "Heat wave linked to temperatures," "Something went wrong in jet crash, expert says," "Miners refuse to work after death" and "War dims hope for peace."

But the best blooper headlines are those with unintended meanings, the ones that make you go, Huh?!"

These are a few classics: "Panda mating fails, veterinarian takes over," "Enraged cow injures farmer with ax," "Typhoon rips though cemetery, hundreds dead" and "Hospitals are sued by 7 foot doctors."

Stories about body parts are especially hard on headline writers. Like: "Blind woman gets new kidney from dad she hasn't seen in years," "Lack of brains hinders research," "Iraqi head seeks arms," "Man minus ear waives hearing" and "Some pieces of Rock Hudson sold at auction."

Headlines about kids also are tricky. Consider: "Kids make nutritious snacks," "Child's stool great for use in garden" and "Teacher strikes idle kids."

I write most of my own headlines. Not because I don't trust headline writers. It's just that if someone is going get a big laugh simply by screwing up, it had better be me.

Alo-Ha! Friday compiles odd bits of news from Hawaii
and the world to get your weekend off to an entertaining start.
Charles Memminger also writes Honolulu Lite Mondays,
Wednesdays and Sundays. Send ideas to him at the
Honolulu Star-Bulletin, 500 Ala Moana Blvd., Suite 7-210,
Honolulu 96813, phone 235-6490 or e-mail

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