A newspaper headline is designed to grab your attention, summarize the story underneath, and entice you to read the body of the article. Over the years, good, bad, ridiculous, and great titles have become famous and infamous in their own right.
Sometimes a headline jumps off the page you’re reading and grabs you by the neck. Last week, amid all the warmongering between Russia, America and Europe over the impending invasion of Ukraine, the caption atop Thomas Friedman’s column in The New York Times cried out: “Putin to Ukraine: Marry Me or I’ll Kill You”.
Friedman’s personalized version of the swaggering Russian bully forcing his coveted neighbor to bed at gunpoint was so cleverly accurate and comprehensive that the reader hardly needed to read the rest of his column.
A list of the most iconic American titles from the past shows that they are brief, as in “Nixon Steps Down” (August 9, 1974). Violent, as in “Assassin Kills Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson Sworn In” (November 22, 1963). Both brief and violent as in “Beatle John Lennon Slain” (December 9, 1980).
In Canada, a list of our most famous titles, recently compiled by Reader’s Digest, tends to be a little light. As in “Goat arrested after entering Tim Hortons in Saskatchewan”.
Some headlines in Canadian newspapers speak to the very heart of our heritage: “Three Men Sentenced For $18 Million Maple Syrup Heist”. Some of our titles are so quintessentially Canadian they make you want to cry. “A hockey game breaks out after a massive pile-up on the Quebec highway.” Cry…to laugh, that is.
At least one was so classic Canuck it deserved a celebration: “Canadian truck explodes after hitting moose, sets off fireworks.”
Americans are drawn to brutally direct headlines – “Hitler Dead” (May 2, 1945). Or short and sweet like “The First Footstep” (July 21, 1969) as Neil Armstrong landed on the moon. And in this historic and hysterical moment when the first black man became president of the United States, only one word: “OBAMA!” (The New York Times. November 5, 2008)
In contrast, Canadians seem more comfortable with black-and-white captions that relate to our most colorful pastimes. “Zamboni driver charged with impaired driving.” Not to mention our signature penchant for politeness – “The car thief returns the vehicle with a full tank of gas.” (And no, I checked. This guy wasn’t even linked to “Ontario thief returns stolen goods, leaves $50 for damages.”
Not to mention our penchant for politeness. (What’s…an echo here?) “Have a nice day: BC man politely asks family of bears to leave his backyard.”
That’s not to say the American press can’t, on occasion, be warm and personal: “Rubio Suggests Trump Has Small Genitals.”
Or puzzling: “One-armed man applauds kindness of strangers.” Or really, really confusing: “Infusion partners with Anheuser-Busch to accelerate business innovation using Microsoft Hololens.” (Seriously, grab a digital gun and put two bullets in the back of my computer.)
By using only her first name in the “Diana is dead” column, the New York Post showed that Diana Frances Spencer was not just a British royal, but the princess of the planet.
Some US tracks have a keen eye for the obvious, such as in “Federal Agents Raid Gun Shop, Find Weapons”. And sometimes they’re so obvious they don’t need numerical statistics to prove the premise: “Study Shows Frequent Sex Improves Chances of Pregnancy.”
In the United States, a title can conjure up a wondrous image like that of a half-man, half-dolphin making his way through major league baseball: “Amphibious Pitcher Makes Debut.” (He taught himself to throw the ball with both hands. No, no gills involved.)
In Canada, a headline can be so frightening that it discourages the reader from moving on to the real story. This one from Newfoundland: “Shark Nearly Chokes to Death On Moose, Is Saved By Canadian Bystanders.”
At least one big title has blurred the line of the 49th parallel: “Ford To City: Drop Dead.” No, not Rob or Doug in Toronto, but Gerald in New York, refusing help from the Big Apple during its bankruptcy crisis.
And finally this perfect title that unites our two great nations and not only honors our bilateral friendship, but blesses both sides of our 5,525-mile undefended border: “Canadian Sorry for Drinking Eight Beers and Swimming to Detroit “. The beauty of binge drinking succumbs to the lure of the American dream.
This guy’s friend, the one who drank nine beers but stayed down? He swears he saw his buddy get chased across the Detroit River by a shark with a moose in its mouth.
Headlines – sometimes it’s not Breaking News. Sometimes it’s just news that’s broken.
For a comment or a signed copy of “The True Story of Wainfleet” by humor columnist William Thomas, email: [email protected]