Tuesday, January 30, 2007


Britain's tabloids have long been contorting the language so that it accords with their column widths. Here's a representative sample I culled from yesterday's super soaraway Sun.

What's interesting is that you can glean a good idea of the story from some of the headlines but with others a little extra reading is required.

So, for example, in "Torture Army recruit AWOL" we can hazard a guess that some poor teenage squaddie had his genitals singed by a sadistic Sergeant and has therefore decided that it's definitely not "a man's life in the army" and run away to hide in some woods hoping that no-one will miss him.

But with "DEAD TOT QUIZ" we're on shakier ground as on first glance this appears to be a game show for sickos about dead children. But on delving deeper into the story we learn it's another case of domestic violence as a couple help police with the investigation into the death of a five month-old baby.

Which leads us onto the synonyms or more likely, code words, that tabloids always use. Firstly for reasons of space and secondly because their readers aren't likely to enjoy an especially intimate relationship with the nuances of the English language.

"TOT" Baby. But in reality, any child under the age of ten.
"QUIZ" Interrogation. Someone is helping the police with their inquiries.
"HELL" Any unpleasant experience of hugely variable severity, preferably undergone by a 'celebrity'. So, in the two examples above we learn (on reading the whole story) that Kelly Osbourne's 'HELL' is her less-than-traumatic time in Japan where she had to use the local toilets. And Natasha Kaplinsky's version of Hades was that she discovered on the TV programme, "Who do you think you are?" that some of her distant family were murdered by the Nazis. Now, certainly, for those distant family members, the word 'HELL' is apt. But for Natasha? Well, it's hardly the same is it?
"STORM" A protest. Apparently. A big row over an issue which may or may not be of national importance. The origin of the storm frequently being a newspaper headquarters in the Wapping area of London. In our example, the "Corrie Wife" seems to have outrun a hurricane. She didn't. She got battered.

And finally...

No, it's nothing to do with G.W. Bush and his escapades in Iraq. It's actually a tale of mild-mannered Man City manager, Stuart Pearce who 'rejoices' in the nickname 'psycho' and who has apparently offered to be the manager of England's U21 football team. But his club, City, aren't too happy. Hence the outbreak of hostilities. Or a couple of grumpy 'phone calls anyway.

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