Headlines should strip out the (bad) puns

Photo by http://www.flickr.com/photos/ari/

Is it just me or is the constant and repetitive punning of cultural references in print headlines getting a bit tiresome?

I’m currently irked by the constant riffing on No Country for Old Men – a Google search for “no country for old” -men gives 831,000 entries. And this is for a film that is only a couple of months old. The first page of results shows sources such as the Guardian and Slate, while it was an Economist article that prompted me to write this. I would have hoped that their sub-editors were less lazy.

Creative and original punning can work very well, but unfortunately these are rare. However, in the age of search engine optimisation, will this be a thing of the past?

This article gives a good overview of the subject. To get picked up by Google et al, headlines need to be factual and contain keywords. Several memorable puns are also mentioned. Of course, a compromise can be reached whereby the sub-headline contains the necessary keywords. Even so, I want to see more effort put into headlines. It is the thing that draws people to the article, after all. And as my RSS reader is set to display titles only, it is literally the only thing I see when deciding what to read.

There is an argument that British tabloids are actually making it more difficult for people to learn the English language. While the sentences used aren’t that complex, the litany of both current and outdated cultural references makes it impenetrable to non-natives. Yet another reason for a ban on the “do ron ron” headlines for every other Christiano Ronaldo article, or the “joy of six” proclamation that greets every occurrence of a half-dozen. If this continues, there will be blood.

sk

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3 Responses

  1. Thank you for the perfect portrait of the current world – while writing about Google you depicted the life we all are facing. The sound titles shadow the humble daily walk in love (the real content of our posts)- the spamers receive the highest ranks such way and laugh at us – make profit from the sincerity of the unknown (blogs without domains).

  2. I was on rsrch training a couple of weeks ago where I was being taught how to write snappy copy and “NO COUNTRY FOR OLD [XOXOX]” was the example of great headline writing given!

    Obviously I grew up on the NME when Steve Lamacq was sub-editing so I need NO URGING to use 1x dreadful pun at every opportunity. But though my heart is fickle my head admits it’s deplorable.

  3. Well, what can I say? At least it is a contempary reference, and there is less opportunity for people to get confused than with, say, a Diving Bell & Butterfly reference (I was going to go with Lust, Caution but I think the Economist have already used that as well).

    To my mind, music and film magazines are the worst offenders. Considering the number of reviews and articles requiring witty titles, it isn’t that surprising that their hit:miss ratio is so poor.

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