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HEADLINE A heading, usually in large, heavy type, at the top of an article in a newspaper, magazine, or other publication, indicating the subject of the article. Constraints on space affect the language of headlines, sometimes known (in its more extreme forms) as headlines. It has developed from more or less conventional syntax to increasingly brief, generalized, powerful, and cryptic units. Particularly in the banner headlines of the tabloid press, the VOCABULARY has tended to consist of short, emotive, and suggestive words, often metaphors of violence, such as axe, clash, cut, hit, oust, slam, slate, and ‘broad-spectrum’ words such as ban, bid, boost, call, curb, link, probe, riddle, scare, swoop, vow.

Layout and punctuation

Although, by and large, banner headlines continue to be popular, styles vary and many newspapers have sedate, largely lower-case styles: the International Herald Tribune, with initial capitals on main parts of speech (For a Day, Pro Football Goes Global in Tokyo and London); the Independent, with an opening initial capital, apart from proper names (Sex abuse dispute children go home). Punctuation, once the same as for prose, has been exploited in special conventions, notably among the tabloids: the exclamation mark used to generate interest (MR K! DON'T BE SO BLOODY RUDE!); the question mark implying speculation or doubt (ELECTION PACT?); both creating a visual shout (Dogs! Dontcha hate ʾem?!). The comma is increasingly used for and: PETROL, BUTTER PRICE HIKE; POUND'S FALL, PM TO ACT. Conventional punctuation marks may be ignored: I'm innocent says blast jet woman (Observer, 6 Apr. 1986). Within a headline, quotes mark a statement or allegation from which the newspaper distances itself: Union opposed to ‘liquor police’ (Montreal Gazette, 14 Apr. 1983).

Style and syntax

Whereas the quality press tends to be relatively sober and restrained, using ‘high’ register and less immediately emotive words (Uzbekistan Shocked by the Socialist Heroes Who Lived Like Lords: IHT, 8 Oct. 1988), the tabloids prefer ‘low’, colloquial, often pejorative usage (The Floozy, Fatso and the Fall Guy: Daily Mirror, 8 Feb. 1989). Present-day usage tends to string terms together in concentrated (often opaque) sequences: Fodor, Ex-Violin Prodigy, Starts Paying the Piper (IHT, 7 Aug. 1989); Fox on up up up (Observer, 14 Aug. 1988). Such strings often entail heavy pre-modification (Deadlock over Anglo-Irish EEC cash bid: Independent, 9 Oct. 1986) and the completely pre-modified STRIKE BAN SHOCK PROBE. Abbreviations are common: Gandhi Assails U.S. on Pakistani N-Arms (IHT, 13 Sept. 1986).

Ambiguity and other effects

Dense headlinese often demands a second reading, because of strange combinations and unintended sense relations: Payphone revamp plan to cost BT £23 million (Guardian, 11 Mar. 1987); Blue jean robbery victim legs it after trouser thieves (Montreal Gazette, 30 Nov. 1982). Some headlines are ambiguous until the text has been read: SLAVE ENDANGERED TREASURE, SAY DAM CRITICS (Montreal Gazette, 25 Aug. 1982) refers not to a bondsman but to the Slave River in Alberta, a stretch of which is regarded as a treasure. The AMBIGUITY can at times be funny: WOMEN'S BODY SEEKS MEMBER (Montreal Gazette, 30 July 1981). Two possible readings can also serve to embarrass a newspaper: AMNESTY CHAMPIONS TORTURED GIRL (Observer, 13 Oct. 1985). Word-play is common: Basquing in glory (Independent, 11 June 1988, about holidays in the Basque Country); SAVAGE DEFENCE (Guardian, 20 Feb. 1986), with the text: ‘Obstetrician Wendy Savage yesterday attacked male colleagues’ intolerance of differing childbirth methods.’ ALLUSIONS are also common (US poaches our eggheads: Observer, 19 July 1987), as well as MIXED METAPHORS (Labour's last-ditch stand will go off with a bang: Independent, 29 Nov. 1986). See ACRONYM, JOURNALESE, STYLE, TIMESPEAK.

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head·line / ˈhedˌlīn/ • n. a heading at the top of an article or page in a newspaper or magazine: a front-page headline. ∎  (the headlines) the most important items of news in a newspaper or in a broadcast news bulletin: issues that are never long out of the headlines. • v. 1. [tr.] provide with a headline: a feature that was headlined “Invest in Your Future.” 2. [tr.] appear as the star performer at (a concert): an acoustic jam headlined by rappers L.L. Cool J and De La Soul.

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