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A reader’s guide to headlinese

Here’s a look at the front page of Friday’s Daily Record. Believe it or not, it took some mild discussions to come up with the seemingly basic headline at the right, “145 seek info.” Welcome to the wild world of headlinese!

If you’ve been reading the physical, print version of the Daily Record/Sunday News over the past week, first of all, thank you! Secondly, you’ve probably run across some oddly worded phrases atop various stories:

Dems celebrate Obama

Gun rule irks some

Batteries eyed in Boeing mishaps

NRA Web ad riles many

… Just to name a few. These words are written in a tongue that has been around for decades that you might not have heard about: “headlinese.” This unique English dialect, spoken mostly by copy editors and frustrated page designers, can be seen throughout history in newspapers, most often making appearances in those vertical stories running down either side of the page. The beauty of the language is that it is short: When casual words simply cannot fit in a space allotted for a headline, the organization’s linguists get to work on creative ways to get an idea across in just four or five letters.

The language of headlinese is confusing at times, which is why even the most adept speakers try to refrain from using it whenever possible. It’s also a skill that’s not as useful on the Internet: Web headlines need to be straightforward and contain the most popular, recognizable words so anyone on the World Wide Web can know instantly what the story is about. Not to mention, the Internet has (more or less) infinite space to type a headline, so why kill yourself over ways to shorten “Utility improvement charge expected to boost rates for PPL, Columbia Gas customers”?

For anyone who wants to better understand the mad world of headline writing, here’s a handy dandy list of some popular headlinese terms with their English translations. See how many you can spot in today’s paper!

EYE — verb — to consider, plan, suspect, anticipate

MULL — verb — to discuss, consider, debate

NIX — verb — to cancel, veto, negate, decline

AIM — verb — to attempt, aspire

TAP — verb — to select, nominate, choose (also seen as TAB)

POL — noun — politician

DEM — noun — member of the Democratic Party (commonly seen as DEMS)

GOP — noun — member of the Republican Party, or the party itself (acronym for Grand Old Party)

GOV. — noun — governor

COPS — noun — police (OK, so you’ve probably heard of this one before)

HIKE — noun — increase, raise

SET — adj. — planned, scheduled, ready, prepared

SLATE — verb — to plan, schedule, prepare