Bridging the grammatical gap in headlines

Photo by Kevin Connors

Photo by Kevin Connors

I met Victoria Ipri via LinkedIn which is a professional sort of Facebook. I like to connect with other copywriters, editors, and proofreaders to expand my own knowledge and see what others are doing in the industry. I recently joined Victoria’s Link InSanity group and found it to be helpful and professional, and I’ve expanded my knowledge of LinkedIn tremendously.  Victoria shares funny headlines that give readers the wrong idea. Welcome, Victoria!

Hysterical Headlines Teach Important Copywriting Lessons

By Victoria Ipri

Seen in local newspaper:

Hospital Sued by 7 Foot Doctors

Gee…I wonder what they’re feeding those guys?

Mistakes like these can be found in printed materials any day of the week. And while they give us a good chuckle, such a coup de plume won’t build your reputation as a skilled copywriter.

Before I begin to wax poetic about the joys of writing and proofreading, here are a few other headlines guaranteed to give you the giggles:

Red Tape Holds Up New Bridges

Astronaut Takes Blame for Gas in Spacecraft

Kids Make Nutritious Snacks (Tastes just like chicken!)

It is curious how the writers of such gaffes don’t catch the humor in these lines. No doubt, the writer knows exactly what he or she means, and simply fails to see it any other way.

Now let’s apply this to the skill of copywriting, as most of us know it. Those of us in the copywriting industry spend long hours staring at computer monitors, stringing together just the right words and phrases for our clients. How simple it is to write a sentence that can be easily misconstrued, like this one:

“ABC Medical Group announced today that it will seek a larger test group for its study on obesity.”

Hmmm….larger, as in…?

Or this one:

“BigCity High School representative Mary Jones stated, “High school dropouts have been cut in half.’”

Now that isn’t going to help boost our national SAT scores!

So much has been said and written about the art of copywriting. In my humble opinion, however, not enough information is shared on the correct use of English language. In a world overrun by tweets and text messaging, these nuances of grammar and punctuation quickly fade. I contributed this article today with one goal in mind – to help us all remember the immortal words of English poet John Drinkwater, who said, “The written word is everything.”

Let’s work together to keep the love of real words alive, and keep our eyes open for more hysterical headlines. Drop me a note if you have some funny ones of your own.

Victoria Ipri

Victoria Ipri

Victoria Ipri is a professional copywriter and LinkedIn enthusiast who has helped hundreds of small business owners achieve outstanding success with Internet marketing. Please visit Victoria on LinkedIn for more information. Visit Victoria’s blog at Linked-In-Sanity.


What funny headlines have you seen? Have you made a mistake like this in one of your own headlines?

Photo by Kevin Connors. You can see more of Kevin’s photography at



Filed under Editing & Proofreading, Guest Writers & Bloggers

17 responses to “Bridging the grammatical gap in headlines

  1. Well said (and thanks for some chuckles). It seems like newscasters are making a lot more of these mistakes as well, likely due to jumbled phrases entered on teleprompters. Some are funny — or would be were the stories not so tragic. I can never understand why just a little more polish isn’t added. Where is the pride in a line well written?

  2. Love it! I know as an author I can see everything so clearly . . . and then my editor tells me what I am really saying. 😉

    • So true, Heather! While I don’t think we should feel overly anxious or paranoid about expressing ourselves incorrectly, especially via some of the more casual methods we all use today, I am grateful for editors like yours who keep us on the straight and narrow 🙂

  3. Amity

    Yes, these are humorous. Though I wonder what steps she would take to correct the potential miscommunications. It’s well and good to note the errors (and enjoy a good chuckle–my favorite is the astronaut one), but what are the solutions? I’d like to see possible corrections too, you know, as a way of modeling good habits.

  4. Stacy S. Jensen

    A newspaper group I worked with had a headline that said: “Lewd acts on Chunky Gal.” Chunky Gal by the way is the name of a mountain. I think that one made Leno. Thanks for sharing Victoria (and Karen)

    • Love it, Stacy! A similarly funny headline is “Chick Accuses Male Colleagues of Sexism”. The subject’s name is Laura Chick, Los Angeles Councilwoman.

      Another one of my faves: Porn Star Sues Over Rear End Collision.

  5. Glad to know someone else notices these gaffes. Actually, they are more prevalent on television, particularly in commercials than in the newspapers. Reality shows have shown how truly illiterate most of the Americans are when it comes to correct English grammar which is barely exceeded by dressing as though most of us are out mucking barns. In the 60s I too was hoping for a more relaxed method of educating the public we have swung way too far to the left. Thanks for the chuckles, though it was tongue in cheek!

  6. Kathleen, I agree! The nightly news seems particularly affected.

    A few weeks ago, a friend invited me to Sunday services at a church I’ve never attended. I made a comment about what I might wear, and the friend said, “Don’t get carried away. No one dresses up anymore.” Here, I’m thinking Carrie Bradshaw, complete with hat and gloves, as she spied on Mr. Big. He was thinking we should take a break from gardening and pop in to say hi to the Lord.

    I dressed up anyway. It never hurts to stand out.

  7. Thanks everyone for your comments! And great idea for a follow-up, “Amity.”

  8. A couple of recent ones I have seen:

    Duo charged with killing man over phone. (from the Cleveland Plain Dealer)

    Buffett to Invest $5 Billion in Shaky Bank of America. (from The New York Times)

  9. Murder by wireless. Ghastly!

  10. Eric Nilsson

    Just as the NY Post’s famous headline “Headless Man Found in Topless Bar” drew readers into the story (the story itself was a typical crime story), some of these were done for that purpose. In”Hospital Sued by 7 Foot Doctors,” the reader would chuckle and possibly look into the story, whereas “Hospital Sued by 7 Podiatrists” might cause the reader to move on.

    This is not to say, however, that unintentional gaffes appear. I remember when a teacher named Pope was giving a lecture and some wit suggested the headline “Papal Bull.” That is clever, witty, and quite intentional. Those above, though, are a bit bizarre.

    The headline needs to relate to the story, not just tenuously. The lede should be designed to hold the reader, drawing her into the full story. It’s been a long time since I did this, and I am a neophyte compared to those respondents above )and to follow), but writing headlines and ledes help with just about anything, from abstracts to cover letters for jobs.

  11. I do recall seeing a certain headline, and saying, “Wow!” and then reading the story. Then to be disappointed when it was nowhere near as sensational as the headline. But I suppose that is the business – especially front-page, top-of-the-fold headlines.

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