Monday, October 12, 2009

Recycled Ridiculousness

#!):?(ing Labels

Rumor has it that my former employer, the Herald Record of Woodland Park, N.J., has banned colon headlines. Read that, "Editor to copy desk: No more colons," only, as was always the case at my former place of employ, the editor himself or herself was always too much of a wuss to throw down such an edict him-or-herself, so, according to rumor, the order was barked in the form of a memo from an intermediary, something to the effect of "Let's not write headlines with colons in them anymore."

As I've mentioned previously, at one time or another I've seen just about everything you can put in a headline banned except spoons. And personally, I'd like to ban spoons. The kind used by headline writers who write things like "Performance stirs emotions," or "Election result stirs anger." Such headline spooning should be restricted to the food section. "Chef stirs pot," now there's a headline that makes sense.

During a recent discussion of the alack and alas rumored to be doomed colons, I pondered an accomplishment which at the time I deemed to be virtually impossible. If I were still chained to a copy desk, I opined, I'd love someday to write a single headline that included not only a colon but an exclamation point, a question mark, a parenthesis or two, and, of course, it couldn't be a normal straight headline but would have to be a gerund.

Then it dawned on me. Only I daresay in the above headline I cheated a bit by using a faux gerund, as it were. And it isn't a cliche, unless you consider a string of punctuation marks in place of an expletive to be a cliche.

I can see debating whether a colon should be used to place the attribution at the beginning or the end of a headline, as in "Report: Newspaper business at death's doorstep" vs. "Newspaper business at death's doorstep: Report."

But banning colons entirely? If the New York Daily News had banned colon headlines many years ago, the great headline writer Joe Percival might never have been able to write, on a story about a woman who advertised her colon-cleansing services in the back of New York magazine being arrested when one of her clients turned up dead, a headline that read: "Public enema Number 1." On the other hand, I guess he still could have written that, unless some editor banned colons from stories as well.

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