In the headlines
Features of headline language
If a story hits the headlines it suddenly receives a lot of attention in the news.
Here are two typical examples of headlines from tabloid newspapers with comments on their use of
language. [popular papers with small pages and short simple reports]
EXPERT REVEALS NEW CLOUD DANGERS
Articles, prepositions and auxiliary verbs are often omitted from headlines.
This use of the present simple instead of the past tense makes the story sound more immediate.
The use of language is often ambiguous. It is not entirely clear, for example, what cloud refers to
here. It is actually about the dangers of storing electronic information on a "cloud" [hosted services
on the internet for storing personal data], but it could have referred to dangers relating to the weather.
Readers have to look at the story in order to find out.
Words with dramatic associations such as danger are often used.
TV STAR TRAGIC TARGET FOR CRAZED GUNMAN
This story is about how a well-known television actor was shot by a mentally unstable killer.
In order to attract readers" attention, tabloid newspapers often feature celebrities, e.g. film/pop
stars and sports personalities.
Alliteration such as TV Star Tragic Target is often used to attract the eye in headlines and to make
them sound more memorable.
Newspapers tend to use strong, simple words such as "gunman" in order to express an idea or
image as briefly and as vividly as possible.
Strongly emotional words like crazed are often used to attract attention. [behaving in a wild or
strange way, especially because of strong emotion]
Violent and militaristic words are often used in headlines, especially in tabloid newspapers, in order
to make stories seem more dramatic. For example, people who cause trouble may be referred to as
thugs, yobs or louts.
EU acts to crush1 terror of thugs
Crackdown2 on soccer louts
Palace besieged3 by journalists
Typhoon rips through town
taking serious measures to deal with a problem
surrounded, as if by army
moves in a destructive way
Playing with words
The kind of language that is common in
headlines may sound strange in other
contexts. So the vocabulary in this unit is
more likely to be useful to you when you
are reading rather than when you are
speaking or writing.
Many newspaper headlines attract readers" attention by playing on words in an entertaining way. For
example, a story about a very heavy rainstorm which caused a landslide on a narrow mountain road
was headlined Rain of terror. This headline was a play on words based on the expression reign of
terror, an expression used about a period in which a country's ruler controls people in a particularly
Another example is the use of the headline Moon becomes shooting star to describe a football
match where a player called John Moon shot [scored] the winning goal. Shooting star is an informal
expression for a meteor. Here it is used to play on the expression shoot a goal, and also to link to the
player's name, Moon (another astronomical body). The headline is particularly effective because of
the association between star and moon in the sky.
Read these headlines. What do you think the stories might be about?
4 CRACKDOWN ON DISSENT
THUGS BESIEGE TEEN STAR
COPS TARGET YOBS
Look at these headlines from a fictitious tabloid newspaper about Ancient Greece. Match
them with the subjects of their stories and comment on the features of headline language
NUDE SCIENTIST IN BATHTUB SCANDAL
KING PHIL"S MACEDONIAN MASSACRE
MARATHON MAN IN DROP-DEAD DASH
BLAST TERROR IN CAPITAL
PM TO REVEAL SOCCER LOUT PLANS
TOP PLAYERS DEFEND COACH
QUADRUPLE ROYAL MURDER SENSATION
IT"S CURTAINS FOR CORINTH
Four members of the royal family die in mysterious circumstances.
Philip of Macedonia wins a battle against the city states of Athens and Thebes.
Archimedes discovers the law governing the displacement of water.
The city of Corinth is burnt to the ground by the Romans.
A long-distance runner brings news of a battle victory to Athens and then dies.
Match the headline to its story and explain the play on words in each case.
1 Bad blood
6 Hopping mad
2 Happy days?
7 Flushed with success
4 False impressions
5 Happy haunting
a A grandfather's breathing problems were solved when doctors found four false teeth at the
entrance to his lungs. They had been forced down his windpipe in a car crash eight years before.
b A 25-year-old terrapin is being treated for a fractured shell after surviving a 200-foot drop.
c A Shetland teacher has suggested sheepdogs could be used to control pupils in playgrounds.
d A ghost society has been told not to scare off a friendly female apparition at a hotel.
e An unusual travel company is offering adults the chance to experience going back to school
again - they will spend a week wearing school uniform, sitting through lessons and eating school
f An ex-public loo in Hackney, East London, is to be sold for £276,000.
g A Whitby vicar has attacked the resort's attempts to profit on its connections with Dracula: "a palefaced man with a bad sense of fashion, severe dental problems and an eating disorder".
h A toad triggered a police alert when it set off a new hi-tech alarm system.
i Firefighters had to scale a 30-foot tree to rescue a man who was trying to capture his pet iguana.