A sporting headline

While we’re on football, in the notorious and grandly-named Saipan incident in the run-up to the 2002 World Cup, Roy Keane’s spat with the Republic of Ireland team manager Mick McCarthy evokes the principled hauteur of an illustrious Ming-dynasty court official going into voluntary exile rather than serving under the new Manchu regime.

The confrontation between player and manager allegedly culminated in this fine rant from Keane:

“Mick, you’re a liar… you’re a fucking wanker. I didn’t rate you as a player, I don’t rate you as a manager, and I don’t rate you as a person. The only reason I have any dealings with you is that somehow you are manager of my country and you’re not even Irish, you English cunt. You can stick the World Cup up your bollocks.”

Reporting the story, the Guardian came out with the magnificent headline

Keane Displays Tenuous Grasp Of Anatomy

Another headline

Another fine headline, perhaps from the 1950s. Such is its linguistic creativity that I’ll settle here for the language of the day, rather than trying to rephrase the story in PC-speak:

A patient escaped from a loony bin, burst into a launderette, and molested two staff before running off.  The headline ran:

Nut screws washers and bolts

Linguistically an even more perfect version manages to award the first word a plural too:

A rich family named Nuts owned a chain of laundromats [cf. the old “lavatory chain” line]. Having exploited their workers for years they finally absconded. Hence

Nuts screws washers and bolts

Ambiguity

On syntax, in cases like these it can be tricky to surmise whether the opening adjective should apply to the first noun or to the following adjectival noun–noun pair. Some may be clarified by means of a judiciously-placed hyphen, but that would spoil the fun:

  • Vibrated concrete manufacturer
  • Missing intelligence officer
  • Edible oil merchants—and indeed Crude oil merchants
  • Used car dealer
  • Small business adviser [peering over desk]
  • Great Queen Street
  • Hot bread shop
  • Swiss watch maker
  • Fat free yogurt
  • Overweight lorry driver
  • Affordable housing shortage [one for conservative governments, confident that we—or rather they—can indeed afford a housing shortage]
  • Wild goose chase [man, that was one wild goose chase],

as  well as this literary contribution:

and the classic

  • Fine tooth comb,

and perhaps even

  • One trick pony [How many trick ponies?].

A letter to the leader of a quartet belongs in this category too.

Recent news items have featured

Welcome to our theme café, Sir and Madam, I’m your racist dog waiter for this evening, and I’ll be whistling your favourite racist ditties for you to sing along to—specials on the board, and a fine selection of craft rightwing beers. (Did you see that Pekinese? I dunno, they come over ‘ere… Woof! LOL—What am I like?) Perhaps I can warm you up by warbling The Stammering Coon.

This almost leads us towards silly headlines (some early classics here; and hours of harmless fun in the “crash blossoms” archive of languagelog):

  • Squad Helps Dog Bite Victim
  • Prostitutes Appeal To Pope
  • British Left Waffles On Falklands

And this, from Terry Jones and Michael Palin, no less:

Front raps

And some punctuation might help here:

Come on England

See also Publicity.

A new headline

Confirming Kate Fox’s anthropological observation that the creative love of wordplay evinced by tabloid headlines is one of rather few things of which the British can be proud, how about this one spotted today (about a table-tennis player involved in an altercation, you understand):

Ping-Pong Ding-Dong

Actually, a quick search online shows that this has quite a history. Once freed of the petty constraint of describing an actual event (which has seldom held the tabloids back), it can even expand into the headline reporting a fight involving a giant ape at a table-tennis club karaoke night:

King Kong Ping-Pong Sing-Song Ding-Dong

 

For more on King Kong, see here; and for “Xi sells seashells by the seashore”, here. For a related headline that opens my haiku on Morris dancing, see here; see also Nut screws washers and bolts, and much more under the headlines tag.

 

The definitive transliteration

Svejk

I just can’t resist constructing a headline to incorporate some of my favourite Chinese transliterations (for more, see here, with thread):

帅克耍耍圣桑的兔子不拉屎
Shuaike shuashua Shengsangde tuzibulashi

or

Conquering General plays with the Rabbits-don’t-shit of Sage Mulberry

or, if you insist,

Švejk plays with the toothbrush of Saint-Saëns

What kind of language do you call that, ask the Plain People of Ireland. Beat that, China Daily.

Among several references to the toothbrush in The good soldier Švejk, try this:

Then she took out of the hamper three bottles of wine for the convalescent and two boxes of cigarettes. She set out everything elegantly on the empty bed next to Švejk’s, where she also put a beautifully bound book, Stories from the life of our Monarch, which had been written by the present meritorious chief editor of our official Czechoslovak Republic who doted on old Franz. Packets of chocolate with the same inscription, “Gott strafe England,” and again with pictures of the Austrian and German emperors, found their way to the bed. On the chocolate they were no longer clasping hands; each was acting on his own and turning his back to the other. There was a beautiful toothbrush with two rows of bristles and the inscription “Viribus unitis,” so that anyone who cleaned his teeth should remember Austria.

The latest research, however, suggests that Saint-Saëns (1835–1921) once carelessly left his toothbrush behind at his hotel while on tour in Prague—he was indeed a keen traveller, but his biographies are curiously silent about this incident. Later the Good Soldier came across it by chance while rummaging in a junk shop, and proceeded to toy with it.

Still, we cannot dismiss the possibility that the toothbrush may be employed here in its popular Slovakian metaphorical sense. In a comment suggestive of Molvania, Andrew Lawrence Roberts (From Good King Wenceslas to the Good Soldier Švejk: a dictionary of Czech popular culture) notes:

Slovácko is best-known for its traditional culture: distinctive national costumes are still occasionally worn, folk traditions like The Ride of the Kings [a major theme of Kundera’s The joke—SJ] still celebrated yearly. The largely rural residents of Slovácko are known as well for their love of slivovice, which they refer to as their morning toothbrush.

So have I been barking up the wrong tree? In this case, one wonders further: just what kind of liqueur was Saint-Saëns’ so-called “toothbrush”? In our headline, perhaps we may now interpret the verb shuashua “fooling around with” as referring to a tasting session—given Švejk’s Bacchic propensities, surely an epic event, at which Flann O’Brien would have been more than welcome.

Headline punning

Since I often seem to find myself citing drôle headlines, Kate Fox again has some fine observations on the subject (Watching the English, p.225):

It seems to me that the English love of words—and particularly the universal nature of this passion, which transcends all class barriers—is most perfectly demonstrated not by the erudite wit of the broadsheet columnists, brilliant though they are, but by the journalists and sub-editors who write the headlines in the tabloids. Take a random selection of English tabloids and flip through them: you will soon notice that almost every other headline involves some kind of play on words—a pun, a double meaning, a deliberate jokey misspelling, a literary or historical reference, a clever neologism, an ironic put-down, a cunning rhyme or amusing alliteration, and so on.

Yes, many of the puns are dreadful; much of the humour is labored, vulgar or childish; the sexual innuendo is overdone; and the relentlessness of the wordplay can become wearing after a while. You may find yourself longing for a headline that simply gives you the gist of the story, without trying to be funny or clever. But the sheer ingenuity and linguistic playfulness must be admired, and all this compulsive punning, rhyming and joking is uniquely and gloriously English. Other countries may have “quality” newspapers at least as learned and well written as ours, but no other national press can rival the manic wordplay of English tabloid headlines. So there we are: something to be proud of.

And it’s not just the tabloids: even the Grauniad is not above

Nineteen Eighty-Phwoar:
the truth about George Orwell’s romantic “arrangements”

although they would doubtless lay claim to a more post-modern sense of irony than the red-tops bother with.

Under the headlines tag, do read the imaginatively-titled Headlines, as well as Historical headlines, Another headline, and A new headline. Actually, they’re all rather good… And there’s more harmless fun for all the family under the China Daily tag.