Old newspaper featuring headlinese like "WOMAN MYSTERY-DEATH VICTIM" and "Drop 150 Teachers Tonight, Board Plan".
Headlinese has a long history. This example is the front page of the Los Angeles Herald issue of May 29, 1916.

Headlinese is an abbreviated form of news writing style used in newspaper headlines.[1]


Because space is limited, headlines are written in a compressed telegraphic style, using special syntactic conventions,[2] including:

  • Forms of the verb "to be" and articles (a, an, the) are usually omitted.
  • Most verbs are in the simple present tense, e.g. "Governor signs bill", while the future is expressed by an infinitive, with to followed by a verb, as in "Governor to sign bill".
  • The conjunction "and" is often replaced by a comma, as in "Bush, Blair laugh off microphone mishap".[3]
  • Individuals are usually specified by surname only, with no honorifics.
  • Organizations and institutions are often indicated by metonymy: "Wall Street" for the US financial industry, "Whitehall" for the UK government administration, "Madrid" for the government of Spain, "Davos" for World Economic Forum, and so on.
  • Many abbreviations, including contractions and acronyms, are used: in the US, some examples are Dems (for "Democrats") and GOP (for the Republican Party from the nickname "Grand Old Party"); in the UK, Lib Dems (for the Liberal Democrats), Tories (for the Conservative Party). The period (full point) is usually omitted from these abbreviations, though U.S. may retain them, especially in all-caps headlines to avoid confusion with the word us.
  • Lack of a terminating full stop (period) even if the headline forms a complete sentence.

Some periodicals have their own distinctive headline styles, such as Variety and its entertainment-jargon headlines, most famously "Sticks Nix Hick Pix".

Commonly used short wordsEdit

To save space, headlines often use extremely short words (many of which are not in common use otherwise) in unusual or idiosyncratic ways:

  • axe (eliminate)
  • bid (attempt)
  • blast (heavily criticize)
  • cagers (basketball team – "cage" is an old term for indoor court)[4]
  • chop (eliminate)
  • confab (meeting)[5]
  • eye (consider)
  • fold (shut down)
  • gambit (attempt)
  • hike (increase)
  • ink (sign a contract)
  • laud (to praise)
  • lull (a pause)
  • mar (to damage, harm)
  • mull (contemplate)
  • nab (grab)
  • nix (reject)
  • parley (meeting)
  • pen (write)
  • rap (criticize)
  • see (forecast)
  • slam (heavily criticize)
  • solon (judge)
  • tap (select e.g. an appointee)
  • tout

Many verbs can be converted into nouns, e.g. "rap" could be understood as either "criticize" or "criticism" depending on context.



The use of "slam" in headlines has attracted criticism on the grounds that the word is overused and contributes to media sensationalism.[6][7] The violent imagery of words like "slam", "blast", "rip", and "bash" has drawn comparison to professional wrestling, where the primary aim is to titillate audiences with a conflict-laden and largely predetermined narrative rather than provide authentic coverage of spontaneous events.[8]

Crash BlossomsEdit

'Crash Blossoms' is a term used to describe headlines that have unintended ambiguous meanings, such as The Times headline "Hospitals named after sandwiches kill five". The word 'named' is typically used in headlines to mean "blamed/held accountable/named [in a lawsuit]",[9] but in this example it seems to say that the hospitals' names were related to sandwiches. The headline was subsequently changed in the electronic version of the article to remove the ambiguity.[10]

This term was coined in August 2009 in the Testy Copy Editors forum.[11] The term comes from the headline of a Japan Times article which was worded "Violinist Linked to JAL Crash Blossoms".[12] The article has since been re-titled.[13]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Headlinese Collated definitions via www.wordnik.com
  2. ^ Isabel Perez.com: "Newspaper Headlines"
  3. ^ "Bush, Blair laugh off microphone mishap". CNN. July 21, 2006. Archived from the original on August 16, 2007. Retrieved July 17, 2007.
  4. ^ "When the Court was a Cage", Sports Illustrated
  5. ^ "Is confab still used?"
  6. ^ Ann-Derrick Gaillot (July 28, 2018). "The Outline "slams" media for overusing the word". The Outline. Retrieved February 24, 2020.
  7. ^ Kehe, Jason (September 9, 2009). "Colloquialism slams language". Daily Trojan.
  8. ^ Russell, Michael (October 8, 2019). "Biden 'Rips' Trump, Yankees 'Bash' Twins: Is Anyone Going to 'Slam' the Press?". PolitiChicks.
  9. ^ Pérez, Isabel. "Newspaper Headlines". English as a Second or Foreign Language. Retrieved March 31, 2020.
  10. ^ Brown, David (June 18, 2019). "Hospital trusts named after sandwiches kill five". The Times. Retrieved March 31, 2020.
  11. ^ Zimmer, Ben (January 31, 2010). "Crash Blossoms". New York Times Magazine. Retrieved March 31, 2020.
  12. ^ subtle_body; danbloom; Nessie3. "What's a crash blossom?". Testy Copy Editors. Retrieved March 31, 2020.
  13. ^ Masangkay, May (August 18, 2009). "Violinist shirks off her tragic image". The Japan Times. Retrieved March 31, 2020.

Further readingEdit

  • Mårdh, Ingrid (1980); Headlinese: On the Grammar of English Front Page headlines; "Lund studies in English" series; Lund, Sweden: Liberläromedel/Gleerup; ISBN 91-40-04753-9
  • Biber, D. (2007); "Compressed noun phrase structures in newspaper discourse: The competing demands of popularization vs. economy"; in W. Teubert and R. Krishnamurthy (eds.); Corpus linguistics: Critical concepts in linguistics; vol. V, pp. 130–141; London: Routledge