The Style Conversational
The Style Conversational
Loser-friendly discussion with The Empress of The Style Invitational

Week 916: Bank headlines, and all those ‘pair-a-phrases’

Good afternoon, everyone. Or maybe even good morning — I’m trying every trick I can to take advantage of what our new, integrated “content management system,” Methode, offers (in exchange for the system’s less than polite behavior some of the time, including taking the occasional afternoon off), and that might mean I can post both the Conversational and the Invitational itself on my own weird Friday schedule.

This week’s contest — online, it has the traditional headline of “Mess With Our Heads”; in the print paper, where only one line would fit, I used “Bank Shots” — is one that never ceases to produce funny and (perhaps surprisingly) fresh ideas. As you can see in the most recent set of results, from Week 885, one good strategy is to choose headlines whose actual meaning and context are apparent without further explanation — this makes the joke of the “misinterpretation” clear in the bank head that you write beneath it. (Still, Kevin Dopart’s second-place entry was a play on a headline of no obvious subject, “He surprises even himself.”)

One main source of humor for this contest — and a perennial source of material for oops-headline collections — is the “headlinese” wording of many heds (weirdo newsroom spelling), in which linking verbs such as “is” are omitted ... which lets the reader see the words in the hed differently from what’s intended. This particular tack doesn’t appear very often in the Week 885 results, but here’s one good example: In the original head, “Musician behind ‘Hot Hot Hot’ “ (some show), the intended phrase “the musician who is ...” is condensed to the single word “musician.” Which encouraged the warped, er, flexible mind of 91-time Loser Rick Haynes to move that invisible word “is” AFTER, rather than before, the word “behind.” That deft mental rearrangement changes ‘musician’ from a noun to an adjective, and “behind” from a preposition to a noun. Which all prompted the bank head ‘Second violinist voted ‘best buns’ by Philharmonic.’ ”

Still, you’ll note that most of the inking bank heds are indeed based on seeing different meanings of the words in the original heds. “Salmon labels,” “Frank Zappa bust,” “bore,” “arms,” “filings,” etc. But note that I say to “reinterpret” the headline, not necessarily misinterpret it. Which holds the door open for the occasional cleverly snarky comment on the original, as long as it wasn’t the original point of the story. Psst: I found the Week 885 contest and results from a list that still exists but is no longer searchable; it’s the index of Invite contests that were published before the website converted to Methode and started up another list that goes back only to January 2011 (and it’s a mess, with some partial columns). So bookmark this link to access Weeks 844 through 910, until we can fix the current list, which is what you get when you type in

A question that’s come up since The Post changed from “upstyle” heds, in which all the main words are capitalized, to “downstyle,” in which they’re capitalized like regular text: Are you allowed to change the capitalization of the original hed? For example, say you wanted to change “smith,” about a blacksmith, to Smith, about Chuck Smith of Woodbridge. Answer: No.

One difference this time around: The headline you use can’t just be a link (or the print equivalent, a “key” to the story on an inside page); it has to have the story beneath it right there on the page; you can still use the jump heds, the headlines on the second page of the story. Still, you’ll have a wealth of headlines to choose from. In fact, if you live out of town, you can now see most of the print Post on PDF pages: Just go to the home page of and scroll down, down, down the right side of the page — four turns of the mouse wheel, for me — to the picture of the paper’s front page and the heading “Today’s Paper.” One great benefit of the recent website redesign.


As with almost all wordplay contests we run, when I posted this new contest suggested by Kevin Dopart -- to puIl a word from another word, pair it with the original, and define the new phrase — I figured we’d have enough good stuff to use; wordplay contests are just safer bets than joke-type contests such as the previous week’s 911-calls. I hadn’t predicted, though, that we’d get a larger than usual response — close to 300 e-mails, many of them with long lists of entries.

On the other hand, as I began to judge the contest, I realized how similar it was to the “air quotes” contest we’d run several times — in that contest, you found the word-inside-the-word, but just put quotation marks around it, leaving it where it was. And I began to fret that perhaps this contest would be simply a lesser, more heavy-handed version. For example, instead of “prude jurisprudence,” (laws against nude bathing) it would have be much more elegant to do it as “juris’prude’nce.” And we might (might) have been able to print “embarr’ass’ment — getting stuck in an airplane seat,” but we couldn’t spell it out as “ass embarrassment.” (Both of those entries, by the way, happen to be by today’s unwitting volunteer Loser, Rick Haynes.) We still wouldn’t have been able to print “int’rod’uction” as a free sample of Cialis (Craig Dykstra) but it would have been funnier than “rod introduction.”

But when I don’t have something to fret about, I have to rummage around for one, I guess. Because I ended up with scads of funny phrases with zingily pithy definitions, many of which wouldn’t have fit the “air quote” format anyway — lots of the pairs of words rhyme, for example. My first cut was close to 150 entries, three dozen of which will be in this weekend’s Sunday Style section, and two dozen more in the online version.

(This is the first time that the online version of the Invite is longer than the print version; until now, we’ve always run the extra honorable mentions under a separate heading. I’d wanted to do it this way for quite a while, but for logistical reasons it wouldn’t work until the paper and website were on the same digital page. As always, all the entries are worthy, and the print ones aren’t necessarily better than the online-only ones. Part of the decision of what went where involved getting the exact number of lines to fall in each column of print type.)

So I’ll be sending out those scribbled-on form letters to 38 Losers this weekend, including FirStinks (“Affirmative Fir,” as Jonathan Hardis called them this week) to four First Offenders. The Inker goes, for the for the first time, to Michael Reinemer of Northern Virginia, who boosts his ink total to 18 with three blots this week. It’s just the third ink for the newbie Susan Geariety of Menifee, Calif., which is way down there near the border. We hope that Susan will do wonderful things with her hair with her new jar of Gorila Snott gel, which we hope is not Day-Glo green once it’s spread through her tresses. Chris Doyle yadda yadda yadda; and we're happy to welcome back Mike Turniansky of the Baltimore area, who hadn’t been around much but we hope will be reenergized by this 24th ink.

And Brendan Beary reaches Ink. No. 800 with his three blots this week, joining Russell Beland, Tom Witte, Chris Doyle and Chuck Smith in the Eighth Circle of hellacious achievement.


Ooh, lots of baddies this week.:
Tit altitude: A measurement that tends to decrease with age. (Pam Sweeney, newly located from St. Paul to the Boston area)
Orgasm gas: Relief from both sides. (Roy Ashley)
Ur-Aureole: The Beltway; Congress and K Street are the nipple. (Phil Frankenfeld)
Menstrual men: John Boehner and Glenn Beck. (Nancy Schwalb)
Lecher leche: The stuff of a “money shot.” (Tom Witte)
Testicle tic: A jump ball. (Kevin Dopart)
Mother Chemotherapy: Author of nursery rhymes such as “Tumor Cat,” “Itsy Bitsy Polyp,” and “Lumpty-Dumpty.” (Kevin Dopart)
Urea bureaucracy: a management style that generally devolves into pissing contests. (Brendan Beary)
Janus anus: definitely the one looking backward. (Elden Carnahan)
FukU Fukushima: Epithet commonly uttered throughout Japan. (Russell Beland)


As we noted last week, the next Loser brunch won’t be till Sunday, May 22. And we have learned through our contact at WikiLeaks that it will be “somewhere in Virginia.” Presumably not way-out-there Virginia. More on this breaking story as it develops!

— The Empress of The Style Invitational, Pat Myers

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