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Commentary: Head Aches

By Paula LaRocque, KERA 90.1 commentator

Commentary: Head Aches

Dallas, TX –

Everyone in the media knows that even readers who don't read the stories read the headlines, and therefore how important headlines are.

You'd think, then, that headlines would get the greatest care and attention. Instead, they're written last and in haste and seldom if ever by the person who wrote the story. Deadline distractions help explain the errors that appear in headlines, despite their importance.

The greatest hazard for the headline writer, though, is the blooper or double entendre headline. When you've worked on a headline for a while, trying to tell the story in a tiny space and changing this word and that, sometimes you're unaware that you've created a double meaning. And if the editor misses it, too, that headline appears on the page or screen - for everyone to laugh at.

That's how we get such headlines as "Typhoon Rips Through Cemetery; Hundreds Dead." The writer failed to notice that hundreds dead could refer to the cemetery as well as to the typhoon. Other obvious blooper headlines:

"Red Tape Holds Up New Bridge."

Or: "Local High School Dropouts Cut In Half."

Or: "2 Sisters Reunited After 18 Years At Checkout Counter."

Maybe those sisters should have used the express lane.

Structural problems often create bloopers. In the headline, "Crowds Rushing To See Pope Trample Man To Death," it seems that the Pope, not the rushing crowd, has trampled a man.

Both context and structure make a blooper of this headline: "Florida May Get Disabled Voting Machines." What, the hanging chad debacle wasn't enough? If that headline were Florida may get voting machines for disabled, it would have presented no problem.

Words that have more than one meaning can get a headline into trouble right away. You can be sure that the headline writer wasn't thinking about the various meanings of the word "bust" when he wrote:

"Beauty queen unveils bust at ceremony."

Nor did other meanings of the word "belted" occur to the writer of this headline:

"Safety Experts Say School Bus Passengers Should Be Belted."

If the writer of the following headline had remembered that the blind can't see, he'd never have written: "Blind Woman Gets New Kidney From Dad She Hasn't Seen In Years."

Some headlines so baldly state the obvious that readers respond with a long, drawn-out duhhh. Here are some "duh" headlines:

"Official Says Only Rain Will Cure Drought"

"Crash Probe Says Plane Too Close To Ground"

"If Strike Isn't Settled Quickly, It May Last a While"

"Bible School's Focus Is The Bible"

"Cold Wave Linked To Temperatures"

"Couple Slain; Police Suspect Homicide"

And here's a final "duh" headline:

"Reason For More Bear Sightings: More Bears"

If some headlines earn a "duh," others merit a wow! Here are several of those:

"Chef Throws His Heart Into Original Recipes"

Or: "Kids Make Nutritious Snacks"

Or: "Iraqi Head Seeks Arms"

Sometimes readers are funnier than the headlines. A friend in Italy sent me this headline: "Italian Police Seek Huge-Breasted Woman." My friend wrote: "Tutto il mondo e paese," which translates: "Men are all alike."

I'm Paula LaRocque.

If you have opinions or rebuttals about this commentary, call (214) 740-9338 or email us.