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Saturday, 23 June 2007


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Mike, I couldn't agree more. I feel puns are usually a crude mechanism to start or take the upper hand in a somewhat competitive conversation, or get the attention of an uninterested audience you want to hustle in some way. To me, it says something like "look at me, you moron". This might sound too harsh and far fetched, but that's essentially how I feel about it. It shows a lot in news channels, I love BBC because it has the least editorial presentation of facts (they might be lying, that's another thing, I'm talking about the modus operandi). Basically, when puns or other special effects are used to hook people, basically it says "you are not smart, you don't choose what to read, we will use this to attract you because you wouldn't care if the news were presented just factually". We believe you are stupid. Period.

That's a puny excuse.

I noticed that The Economist is a big fan of headline puns. Some recent examples:

Article topic: The popularity of the Russian royal family
Headline: Tsarstruck

Article topic: The president’s policies on global warming
Headline: Emissionary positions

I put together a "best and worst" list the other day. You can read it at:


Blame copyrighters - they're the ones that write all of the headlines. The actual authors can include suggested headlines, but they're usually ignored.

Have you seen this game invented a few years ago by two _New York Post_ reporters called "Man Bites Dog"? Each player starts with a hand of five cards, each with a word on it, and you get points for stringing together sensationalist headlines--more points for words like "naked," "blonde," "nun," and "urologist."

How I hate puns in headlines (or plays on song titles). And I work for a newspaper. I hope there is a copy editor, or two, reading this who will let us all know why this practice persists.

As a painful punster myself, I can nonetheless appreciate your disdain of pointless or pinheaded punning headlines.

In the case of this article on Stephen Shore, however, I'm not sure you've hit the mark. The central meaning is obvious: wishing for hue in a world where color photography is frowned upon as being relegated to snapshots non-photogs take on family vacations, which they send home with the cliche, "wish you were here." It's not a punning headline that was worth the effort, I grant, but both its senses are relevant enough, n'est-ce pas?

Oh, come on. I love a good pun.

The problem is that headline writers try to force them in where they don't belong. Which unfortunately is 99.9% of the time.

Just a note on Adam Isler's comment: For those of us who pun habitually, it's not much effort. Our brains are wired that way and we can't help thinking of dual meanings of words and phrases when we see them. Fellow punsters find it amusing. We don't do it to hook people in or point out how superior we are and what morons our readers are. We do it to entertain our readers and because we have fun at it. If some people don't find it entertaining, well, that's too bad. It's par for the course in the world of writing. Not everyone appreciates every style. Same as with photography.

I do agree, however, that some puns are purely gratuitous and don't belong in public discourse. The "Wish Hue Were Here" headline was a bit hokey, I'll grant you, even though as Adam rightly pointed out, it does make sense in the context of the article.

BTW, you said you wouldn't post any comments with puns in them. Maybe you overlooked the pun in Herman's "That's a puny excuse."

This blog continues not to be "The Oneline Photographer", and we can all be happy about that. What if all of us felt cranky about exactly the same things? All at once? Forever? Oy. Yo. Have a nice day, everybody.

seems to me that the article's first Shore photo--U.S. 97, South of Klamath Falls, Oregon, July 21, 1973--is a visual pun.

But those are okay, Mike?

"BTW, you said you wouldn't post any comments with puns in them. Maybe you overlooked the pun in Herman's 'That's a puny excuse.'"

Hi Rosie,
No, it was just because it was Herman, and I like his pictures. :-)


"This blog continues not to be 'The Oneline Photographer'"

Hi Dave,
Actually it's not a "blog"--it's a "vertical magazine."

And that post WAS about photography. The purpose of it was to link to the photography article.

I actually almost didn't link to it because of the awful title. That's what I was trying to overcome. You see, I suffer from "Editor's disease." I'm afraid I'm one of those people who can't get into the "10 Items or Less" line at the supermarket without thinking, "It's 'fewer,' not 'less.'" I can't help it....


There was a post recently where an editor lamented that the punny, ofbeat headline is gradually disappearing due to the internet and sites like Google news. Briefly, the headline becomes critical for getting the article indexed correctly and found by its readers. A punny headline will doom the piece to obscurity. Google news, for instance, will be much more likely to link to an article with an accurate, straight headline than to a jokey or offbeat one that doesn't obviously connect to the subject. At least some news organizations already rewrite their headlines when publishing online for this reason.

This, in my opinion, can't happen quickly enough. I try to rely on headlines to find out what I want to read and headlines like the Economist examples above prevents me from doing so. It is bad user interface design to obscure the central subject of the article in the single most prominent position. If you want to be a comedian feel free hit the standup circuit on your off time, but keep it out of the headlines.

Bad puns aren't just for newspaper headlines, major retailers seem to enjoy them greatly as well. For example, check out any of Target's weekly ads in the Sunday paper. The current week's offering is rather tame (Make the summer scene) but in stores you can see the horrendous "fabuLESS" and "marveLESS" campaigns which needlessly assault orthographic skills that are already woefully inadequate in this day and age.

Anyway, if a retailer is using stupid puns and wordplay to sell product, it's likely a safe guess that the such tactics do indeed motivate the general buying public. I think that when a consumer reads a pun, a connection is subconsciously made. He (or she) pats himself on the back for "getting it" and the advertising piece becomes subliminally lodged in his head. Advertisers can't ask for more than that.

Similarly, The Economist, The Village Voice, The New York Times, et cetera all have readers of a certain education level. It makes people feel smart to get the in-jokes of the publication, and reinforces the notion that the publication itself is likewise intelligent.

I think today's investigation will be to track down an issue of, say, Guns and Ammo and see how many puns I can find. If I don't see many, than my theory will be one step closer to validated.

Yes, yes, yes!!
I've been bitching about this for years.

Another one, mostly about newspapers: Have they not heard of verbs? Why do they think that making headlines in incomplete sentences make them more readable?

A distinction should be made between a pun as a pun and a pun as satire. Often
a pun is worth a thousand words.

I think it happens because the headlines happen just about last as the page is going together, and they've got to fit into a certain space in the layout while still capturing the essence of the article *and* simultaneously being attention-grabbing. So the poor headline-writers are under a lot of pressure.

Yeah, life is just one darn thing after another. Sorry, but puns make me smile. I shoot for a newspaper and wish our copy editors (headline writers) had more of a sense of humor.

Sorry, but what does "Wish Hue Were Here" have to do with a sense of humor?? The humor value of that one is zero as far as I'm concerned.


You're a good punster. (That's almost, but not quite, an oxymoron!)


I don't think this counts as a pun, a recall a years-ago headline in (I think) the Washington Post about an Iberian drought. Actually, I bet I don't even have to tell you what it was...

Mike, It's not laugh-out-loud humor, but it is catchy. When I read a newspaper I plow through almost every story, but most folks just scan the page and read an item or two. I guess a pun is a way to hook them into reading the story.

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