I LOVE language that either says much more than what the writer was thinking, or suggests something completely different to that which was intended; English is great at doing this, French not bad, but Chinese will have nothing of it until it’s translated into English, where it becomes a right donnybrook.
The following are all true press headlines that charmingly take us places we would never dream of.
A WWII header allegedly ran, “Eighth Army push bottles up German rear”. Ah, for the want of a hyphen!
More recently, a capital L could have helped a political story, “British left waffles on Falklands”.
Animals are cute at any time except when they get headlined: DEAD WHALE MAY EXPLODE OFF FUKUOKA, one header warned the world at large; while A NEW WEAPON AGAINST UNDERCOVER CUCKOOS promised another, presumably to a sigh of relief all round.
“Stag fails to take off” makes me just want to avoid that entire page but “Warning: aggressive walking fish heading to Australia” makes me eager to read on to discover the hitherto unsuspected overland route to our island. ALIENS HELD IN PEN promises much until you find out it’s about boat-people, but PRINCE CHARLES’ GIANT WOODEN CARROT STOLEN demands that you read no further simply because it’s too thrilling and full of frisson to spoil by adding an explanation.
When the header says “Army cadets injured in mass pillow fight” it’s quite depressing in terms of homeland security, but even moreso that a mass outbreak of pillow-face is just so last year’s fashion and as far as drama is concerned, it’s beaten hands down by “Woman in street hurt by flying horse”.
Doing its best to create a sense of urgency is SECRETS OF THE FOREST: WOODLICE HAVE THEIR OWN PERSONALITIES.
But really secrets like this just need never to be known, don’t they?
Far more poetically enticing is A LONDON CROW SPOKE BLEAKLY FROM HIS PERCH BY THE BAR; that’s one of my favourites – it’s seemingly not amazing enough that a bird nattered on about the footy and Brexit with the locals but that he was such a bloody depressing bore about it that they just wished he’d shut up.
“Canadians keen on upsetting Italy” makes you want to read on; if they upset the “boot” and cut it in half then it would look like another New Zealand – that’s enough to upset anyone who knows that “a” isn’t pronounced like an “e”.
Similar to this is, “Dozens of witnesses see antichrist hovering over Los Angeles” – I mean, one craves to know what he did next, and whether antichrists make a habit of “hovering” or had he simply spotted a Kardashian sun-baking in a backyard or what?
Sometimes there are obviously two different angles to choose from for a story but trying to have your cake and eat it is just not the way to go with MAN WITH 50 DEAD CATS ON ICE GETS 18 MONTHS FOR CHILD PORN.
Conversely, sometimes there is no angle and no story but away we go anyway with A GIRL ALWAYS REMEMBERS THE FIRST CORPSE SHE SHAVES. Indeed, don’t we all!
Not from the press but an email headline that I received just this week from Facebook: “Help your friends recognise you!”
Blimey, my friends all already recognise me – and I recognise them, they’re the mongrels who run in the opposite direction when they spot me.