Unfortunate Headlines in Print

15 Feb

According to Saxena (2006), a good headline is the few words set on top of a news report giving the readers a guide, compass and index to the story. Headlines spark curiosity and draw readers into a story, establish news value and relative importance of a news report, provide contrast and balance on a page and give character and identity to a publication.

But other times, in their effort to create headlines that grab readers’ attention, copy editors try too hard and instead craft headlines that offer alternative meanings.

Here are some actual headlines taken from newspapers around the world:

Headline: “Chick Accuses Some of Her Male Colleagues of Sexism”
Published: Los Angeles Times, June 24, 1995

In this article, Los Angeles council woman Laura Chick  accuses some of her male colleagues of sexism. The public was given a chance to interpret the headline alternatively due to the council woman’s unique family name – Chick.

“Chick” is an informal slang for a girl or a young woman. In this instance, it changes the original meaning of the headline to mean that a girl or a young woman is making the accusation.

This could have been avoided if the headline said, “Council Woman Accuses Some of Her Male Colleagues of Sexism”.


Headline: “Colleagues Finger Billionaire”
Published: The Wall Street Journal, October 19, 2009

This article in the Wall Street Journal is about the colleagues of Mr Raj Rajaratnam, the billionaire owner of a hedge-fund firm, ousting him and his insider-trading crimes.

The word “finger” here suggests a sexual connotation. If the word had been replaced by “accuse”, the message could have been communicated better.


Headline: “Girls’ Schools Still Offering ‘Something Special’ – Head”
Published: Gloucestershire Echo, February 2, 2011

This is a report based on the claims of the Principal of Cheltenham Ladies College that single-sex education in the country is still a “winning formula”, despite evidence showing the popularity of all-girls’ schools is declining.

Unfortunately, “head” is also a modern slang coined to represent oral sex, thus the unfortunate connection when the phrases “girls’ school” and “head” are used in the same sentence.

However, this blooper was quickly discovered by the publisher soon after the print edition was issued. To rectify the situation, the online edition of the news report was quickly rectified to say “Girls’ schools still offering ‘something special’ says headteacher”.



Hugo, M., 1995. Chick accuses some of her male colleagues of sexism. Los Angeles Times, 24 Jun. p.3.

Saxena, S 2006, Headline writing, SAGE, New Delhi

Vickers, L., 2011. Girls’ school still offering something special – head. Gloucestershire Echo, 2 Feb. p.16.

Zuckerman, G., Clark, D., Pulliam, S., 2009. Colleagues finger billionaire. The Wall Street Journal, 19 Oct. p.1.


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