Headline Bloopers and Grammar Lessons

Some of the most visible grammar lessons come to us in headlines. The words chosen and how they are arranged can be confusing, funny or ridiculous.

Here are some bloopers and instructive corrections.

What to Eat with Atrial Fibrillation  👎

Let’s see … peanut butter and jelly, bacon and eggs, a burger and fries.

We’re familiar with these favorite combinations, but what goes best with atrial fibrillation?

Often referred to as A-Fib, atrial fibrillation is the name for what happens when disorganized electrical signals in the heart cause its upper chambers to contract quickly and irregularly. A-Fib increases the risk of stroke, and it can cause chest pain or heart failure.

The way this headline is phrased, readers might expect to learn which foods you should eat during an atrial fibrillation attack. Instead, what follows it suggests a diet that helps prevent A-Fib.

This might be better:

Diet Tips to Prevent Atrial Fibrillation

• • • • •

Nicki Minaj Looks Amazing In The Pink, Latex Outfit of Your Nightmares  👎

One way to determine whether you need a comma between adjectives — descriptive words pink and latex in this case — is to see if it reads better by inserting and between them.

In this case, you wouldn’t describe Minaj, an American singer, songwriter, rapper, actress and model, as wearing a pink and latex outfit. Ditch the comma and then ponder … an outfit of pink latex? I can understand why someone chose to use “nightmares” in the same sentence.

• • • • •

Harvey Weinstein Spotted at Phoenix Restaurant in Disguise  👎

How do you disguise a restaurant?

I’m sure the writer meant that Harvey Weinstein, not the restaurant, was in disguise — or an attempted disguise, considering that he was recognized.

Harvey Weinstein in Disguise Spotted at Phoenix Restaurant

• • • • •

Chinese Auto Glass Magnate Faces Union Challenge in Ohio  👎

Hmmm … a Chinese auto and a magnate made of glass — a glass statue perhaps?

Not likely.

I think the writer was trying to convey that the magnate made his fortune in producing glass for automobiles — and not necessarily for only Chinese models.

A hyphen adds clarity:

Chinese Auto-Glass Magnate Faces Union Challenge in Ohio

• • • • •

Pink Wants You to Know She Wasn’t Shading Christina Aguilera at the AMAs  👎

I had to consult the urban dictionary to confirm the appropriate definition of “shading” as used here. It doesn’t mean providing cover or shelter from the sun; it means publicly denouncing or disrespecting — talking trash about — a friend or acquaintance.

It’s often expressed as “throwing shade at“ someone. My problem with this headline is the differing meanings of “shade” across generations.

The source of the story: Singer and songwriter Pink was seen making what others described as “an awkward face” at the American Music Awards as Aguilera sang a tribute to the deceased singer and actress Whitney Houston. Pink denied it.

• • • • •

Mind-Blowing Photos that Could Come Only from GoPro Cameras 👍

5 Must-Shop Destinations in Pittsburg  👍

It was gratifying to find these two headlines that are composed clearly, thanks to the writers’ knowledge of the importance of hyphens to create compound modifiers: mind-blowing photos and must-shop destinations.

And I consider it rare to see the appropriate placement of only closest to what it modifies. Here’s a more likely — but incorrect — choice:

Mind-Blowing Photos that Only Could Come From Gopro Cameras.  👎

And think about the different meaning the Pittsburg headline would have had without the hyphen:

5 Must Shop Destinations in Pittsburg  👎

Readers might be left asking, “Which five people must shop?”

• • • • •

Reminder: The two worst mistakes a writer can make are 1) misspelling someone’s name and 2) an error in a headline.

Test your grammar skills by skimming headlines, watching for those that are written clearly and those that could use some grammatical tweaks.

If you come across a good example of how NOT to compose a headline, please email it to me.

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Kathy Watson

Kathy Watson has a love/hate relationship with grammar; she loves words and the punctuation that helps them make sense, yet she hates those pesky rules. A self-proclaimed ruthless editor, she prefers standard usage guidelines of The Associated Press Stylebook. Her easy-to-use Grammar for People Who Hate Rules helps people write and speak with authority and confidence. She encourages and welcomes questions and comments. (Email)