Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Headline poetry

The announcement yesterday of Samantha Cameron's pregnancy was a gift not only to Conservative Party spin doctors in the run up to the general election, but also to newspaper sub-editors. 

Here's today's headline from The Sun: 'Wham bam! Sam Cam to be mam - and she'll need a new pram'.

While the Daily Mail went with: 'Sam's having a babycam'.

A more political - and less alliterative - approach was taken by both The Guardian: 'Sam Cam's labour bombshell', and The Times, with: 'Sam Cam moves towards labour'.

Puns are often regarded as a pretty low form of word play and usually elicit groans rather than bellows of laughter. For a pretty thorough analysis of puns and various other types of wordplay click here

However, constrained by space and the need to catch a reader's attention, tabloid newspapers have raised punning to an art form. I never buy or read The Sun but I have to admire the skill and audacity the paper's subs display. The Sun is the Daddy when it comes to the fantastic headline. 

Here's a few examples:

Sarky gets Narky at Carla Malarky  (15 March 2010)

Obama Llama Ding Dong (19 February 2010)

Scumbag Millionaires (11 February 2009)

Hawk Kestrel Manoeuvres in the Park (9 February 2009)

How do you Solve a Problem like Korea?  (10 Oct 2006) 

Super Caley go Ballistic, Celtic are Atrocious (Feb 2000)

Freddie Starr ate my Hamster (13 March 1986) (I know it's not a pun, or strictly playing with words - but it's a monster headline)

Stick it up your Junta (20 April 1982).

Thursday, 18 March 2010

Can you ban words?

As a lover of words I'm ideologically opposed to banishing words - it's like burning books.

However, being a logophile doesn't stop me from loathing all types of jargon, and there are many words and phrases that make me cringe.

So, it's with mixed emotions that I greet this year's list of non-words announced by the Local Government Association (LGA) For the past three years, the LGA has issued an annual list of words that public sector workers should avoid using when dealing with the public.

New words on this year's list (taken from EU, central and regional government, quangos, business management speak and public relations) include: 
  •  trialogue
  •  wellderly
  •  goldfish bowl facilitated conversation
  •  tonality
  •  webinar
  •  under-capacitated
  •  clienting 
  •  disbenefits.
I recognise three of these - wellderly, tonality and webinar - although, I hasten to add, I don't use them. The  the rest remain obscure. I can guess what a trialogue is but what is a 'goldfish bowl facilitated conversation'? (And shouldn't there be a hyphen between bowl and facilitated anyway?) Normally, when I come across a word I don't know I try to find out what it means.  With these words I don't feel that same urge.

Other wince-inducing words on the list are:
  • citizen touchpoints
  • world cafe
  • hereditament
  • meaningful reusable interactivity
  • predictors of beaconicity
  • thought shower
  • reablement
  • worklessness.

Once they're out there in the public domain, jargon words seem to be able to worm their way into our vocabularies. But I'm not sure if should I be ashamed of using the following words that are included in this year's list:
  • best practice
  • client
  • customer
  • facilitate
  • procurement
  • robust
  • strategy.
If you're interested in how such jargon has evolved, there's an interesting interview with Professor David Crystal here.

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Diagram Prize - a celebration of odd book titles

Although the Diagram Prize has apparently been running for more than 30 years, I have only recently come across it. It's an annual prize awarded by The Bookseller magazine to the book with the oddest title, as voted by the public.

Although many of the entries seem to come from the world of academia, there are also plenty of self-help titles and even children's books.

The shortlist for books published in 2009 prize was announced last month and includes six glorious titles:
  • The Changing World of Inflammatory Bowel Disease
  • Collectable Spoons of the Third Reich
  • Crocheting Adventures with Hyperbolic Planes
  • Governing Lethal Behaviour in Autonomous Robots
  • What Kind of Bean is this Chihuahua?
  • Afterthoughts of a Worm Hunter.
The Bookseller's own wonderfully named diarist Horace Bent - who runs the prize - sifted through more than 90 nominations, many of them sent in via Twitter, before settling on the chosen shortlist. 

The first ever prize was awarded in 1978 to Proceedings of the Second International Workshop on Nude Mice.

Last year, to celebrate 30 years of oddity, a special 'Diagram of Diagrams' prize was run to find the most odd title of all the winners. Some 8,500 people voted and the overall winner was 2007's fantastically titled If You Want Closure In Your Relationship, Start With Your Legs.

Some of my favourite winning titles of previous years are:

1986's Oral Sadism and the Vegetarian Personality 
1989's How to Shit in the Woods: An Environmentally Sound Approach to a Lost Art 

1996's Greek Rural Postmen and Their Cancellation Numbers
2003' The Big Book of Lesbian Horse Stories
2006's The Stray Shopping Carts of Eastern North America: A Guide to Field Identification

If you go to the Bookseller's website you can vote for the title you think deserves the 2009 prize - the winner will be announced on 26 March. My money is Collectable Spoons of the Third Reich - a title Spike Milligan would have been proud of.