You’ll notice on this blog that generally, I won’t use clever or funny titles for my posts. That’s because there seems to be a panicked feeling inside every writer that headlines and titles must contain a joke or double meaning. It leads to a frenzy of truly awful headlines, so I’m fighting the urge.
I think perhaps there was once a writer who was clever and talented, and put little jokes in his headlines. This was probably a ridiculously long time ago, let’s say the 1920s, as the general tone of newspapers was just starting to pull its head out of the sombre hole of austerity. So this writer seized his chance to write something witty, his editor loved it and he eventually retired with a legend’s pension.
The other newspapers caught on. More headlines were funny and clever, and more readers chuckled heartily at the gambolling words at the top of the page. Eventually, magazines picked up the trend with abandon, and now blogs and even forum posts have “amusing” titles.
Unfortunately, over the many decades since our friend the wit began his clever headlining, many thousands of articles have been written. And also unfortunately, English only contains so many set phrases. What this means is that with clever headlines now feeling like a requirement, scores of articles have been written with the same weak, punny headline.
For instance, I have seen “Fringe Benefits” heading up magazine articles about fringes more times than I have hairs in my fringe. In fact, I can’t remember seeing an article about fringes that didn’t have this title. Since there aren’t many phrases that work well with the word “fringe”, that headline seems to have become the only one available for fringe articles.
Another one I’ve seen too many times is “Just Desserts” in an article about, predictably, desserts. I’m not sure how many people realise that the phrase is actually spelt “just deserts” (and before you leap on me, go and check your facts here: http://www.askoxford.com/concise_oed/deserts?view=uk – this is one of those phrases that sparks mass righteous indignation) although it is pronounced like “desserts”. That’s not the problem, though. The problem is that this poor phrase is now the default headline for dessert articles.
I don’t know whether writers really do try to think of something else and then panic and say “Oh sod it, I’ll just have to use ‘Bride and prejudice’ again”, or whether they realise that no-one minds if the title just says what the article’s about, but I’d love to see some of these stock headlines disappear. If there are any that you’d like to see the end of, post them in the comments. I’ll add more to this article when I think of them.