Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Dawn of the (forbidden) hed

(Polite knock) Desks? Editors? We call 'em "forbidden heds" because they're, um, forbidden? Under all circumstances? Unto the end of time amen? Right, something like that.
Behold two sterling exemplars. At top (from today's 1A in Columbus) is the all-purpose "it's official," which can be applied to almost anything in which people or entities have to file pieces of paper, commit assorted speech acts, or place a certain statistical distance between themselves and the hated Bankees. Given that it applies to everything, we can fairly conclude that it doesn't apply very well to anything. Any lede or hed containing "It's official" can be radically improved just by taking out "It's official." Try it!
The second (4A in Monday's Freep) is more specific: It's the Up-Up-and-Away of woeful environment heds. You can't just take out the offending cliche, because then you're left with "Homeowner finds." That means you have to work a little harder: you know, finding a subject, verb and object that suggest at first glance that something is new and different since last your readers stopped in for a visit.
You almost hate to pick on desks too much these days, especially in shops where the wreckage is still smoldering from the latest round of cuts. But forbidden heds don't do a lot to underscore the value-added that a desk provides.

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6 Comments:

Blogger John Cowan said...

I'd say that "It's official" heds are only forbidden in papers that don't make a habit of heds like "Kasich in governor's race" when it's only a rumor. As far too many of them do.

Also, there's a whole separate rant about "in" as the vague preposition du siecle.

4:46 PM, June 02, 2009  
Anonymous Jane said...

This headline blog is excellent. Examining small bits of text is so reassuring.

John Cowan, what's the rant about "in?" I'm always curious about problems with vagueness.

12:00 PM, June 03, 2009  
Anonymous raYb said...

Strangely, it's still kinda iffy on Mr. Kasich's participation in the goobernatorial race. He's announced he's a candidate, but he hasn't filed official papers.

8:43 PM, June 03, 2009  
Blogger fev said...

Oh, hell. Does this mean we have to say "It's unofficial"?

I think (correct me if I'm wrong) John might have in mind the British "in," which the redtops use in cases where we'd be fishing about for a (frequently passive) verb:
Yob in hood row = Teen charged in fight over sweatshirt
PM in drinks shame = Prime minister apologizes for drunken rant

The Kasich hed strikes me as just a dropped linking verb, which is much less fun -- though his not having filed the papers threatens to make it really amusing.

And welcome to our new visitors. Y'all wave if you need a drink or anything.

10:28 PM, June 03, 2009  
Blogger John Cowan said...

Fev: Just so, although this in is not unknown in the U.S. either. A quick look at today's AP national wire shows "Lawyer: Astor ironic in asking son about money", which is not as vague as your examples but still a bit ... hasty.

1:54 PM, June 04, 2009  
Anonymous Jane said...

Thanks, Fev and John, for the "in" explanation. Hasty verb searches always end badly.

6:38 PM, June 04, 2009  

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