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

Week 987: Rearing our ugly heads

By the E, Pat Myers

Bank Shots, a.k.a. Mess With Our Heads, has been one of our funniest and most reliable contests ever since it debuted during my first year as Empress: in Week 583 (2004), at the suggestion of Still Happily Losing Roy Ashley, according to the Loser Master Contest List. As someone who wrote Style section headlines for a living for several decades, I’ve especially enjoyed how it spoofs the conventions of newspaper headline-writing, much as the Onion does. And it certainly gets a lot of laughs in the office.

But I’m beginning to wonder — now that so many people read their “newspapers” only online (if at all) — whether people are familiar enough with the “main hed/ bank hed” structure to spoof it, or even to appreciate a spoof of it. I don’t know of any news sites that use the main/bank construction online, like these on a page from the A-section of today’s Post. The closest thing is on some of your more leisurely home pages, like The Post’s and the New York Times’, where the single-line headline (used as a link to the actual story) is followed by a short sentence of text. The real difference is that headlines, so that they’ll fit in a limited space, are often written in “headlinese” — with “the,” “a” and “is” sometimes omitted; “and” changed to a comma; and the use of the present tense for news that just happened. And a bank head (also called a deck) observes these conventions; it’s a second headline in smaller type, so you basically can catch the reader’s attention with more of an idea of what the story’s about. They’re especially useful if the main head is a wordplay or some colorful but not very edifying phrase; then you can “tell the story” in the bank.

The abbreviated nature of headlines has resulted in famously oopsie ones over the years; the Columbia Journalism Review runs a collection of clips in every issue. Recent ones include “Mother arrested after drowning” (Houston Chronicle); “ ‘At Last’ Singer Etta James Dies” (Richmond Times-Dispatch); and “U.S. Pays $5,000 Per Killing to Massacre Families” (San Francisco Chronicle). I can only hope that some headlines like these pop up in The Post over the next 10 days.

While most of the bank heads that have gotten ink over the years tend to be total misinterpretations of the point of the story (here are the results of the most recent Bank Shots contest, from May 2011), I’m not against those that are more of a wry comment about the actual story or about the headline itself. Today’s example to lead off this week’s Invite — which I hope is clear that it’s playing on “sew” -- is of the classic form; it’s like this HM from last time by Beverley Sharp: “Replace a window shutter”/ “If your spouse keeps denying you fresh air, get a new one.” An example of the latter, from the same contest, the headline on Dan Snyder’s op-ed piece “Why I am suing Washington City Paper,” with Stephen Litterst’s bank; “Redskins owner guesses: ‘Because I am a pathetic jerk?’”

Because The Post no longer uses “up-style” headlines, in which the major words are capitalized as in a book title, it’s not as effective to play on proper names. You cannot capi­tal­ize a word that wasn’t capitalized before when you’re quoting the main headline — such as, oh, “Hot weather besieges capital” — and then write a bank head saying “Ovechkin sinks into melted ice.” On the other hand, you probably CAN get away with reading a capitalized name in a headline as a common noun, as in this one by Rob Wolf, also from Week 916: “Harry Reid’s high-stakes China gamble”: “Senate leader to try the pull-the-tablecloth trick at state dinner.”

A warning: We’re not going to make jokes on headlines about very bad news, especially local news. If someone’s killed in a car crash and that person’s family might read this column, the Style Invitational is not going to use the headline as a chance to make some silly joke, even if it’s not related to the actual event in the story. Have a heart.


Well, what do you know (as if I’d had the slightest concern): lots of very clever, very well crafted limericks in this year’s iteration of the Limerixicon, our annual semi-collaboration with, the Omnificent English Dictionary in Limerick form. OEDILF’s list of limericks that focus on words beginning Eq- to Ez- can be bolstered by at least a couple hundred five-liners, if the Losers choose to submit them there (both inking and non-inking entries are eligible; just mention if your limerick got Invite ink). As usual, despite my laughably drawn-out explanation of what we require in a limerick, there were numerous — of about 700 total — that didn’t remotely have the cantering limerick meter, plus some that “rhyme” “equality” and “royalty,” for instance. But most of the entries were from Limerixicon veterans and weren’t off the mark (though even some accomplished limericists sent in such lapses as “equestrian”/ “looks sexy in” and “infirmity”/ “eternity”).

More than usual when I’m judging the Invite blindly, I was able to guess who wrote some of the limericks, though I was often wrong. I did go back and check the names of those in my second cut of about 85 entries; I’m afraid that the writers of some worthy work got shut out of the final cut of 31, but so it goes. (Yes! It was you!) There’s a lot of multiple ink — 18 writers account for all the limericks published today — but that might still be more parity than back when there was no 25-entry limit and certain people by the name of Chris Doyle would submit 10 e-mails each containing 10 excellent limericks within. (Chris has three inks this week.)

The Inkin’ Memorial is destined for the similarly renowned limerician Brendan Beary — both the Czar and I (independently) chose his entry on “euphemized” as the clear winner. That this is “only” Brendan’s second grand prize among the nine Limerixicons fails to reflect the amount of really impressive Beariness that appears among them over the years, which even back in 2006 led to a narrow victory in the Doyle-Beary Limerick Smackdown of Week 678.

The other “above the fold” entries are by veteran limerick writers as well: Aside from Chris, there’s Stephen Gold, of the Invite’s Glasgow bureau, who First-Offended in the 2008 Limerixicon and has inked steadily since, though he’s branched out into other contests as well, especially song parodies. And recent Loser of the Year/Rookie of the Year Craig Dykstra, who hasn’t been so Invite-obsessed lately, is back with the best of a pile of entries I received that played on “ewe.”


As befits the heritage of the limerick form, there were many fine limericks with risque themes, many of which made my list of 85, and a few got into the final results. (Chris Doyle’s “logged more than 44 hours” and Kevin Dopart’s “erumpent” are perhaps the bluest among them, and they’re not in the print paper, while I did dare to include Craig’s amorous shepherd and Brendan’s “stick it out” line about the exhibitionist.)

Still, surely you can’t be surprised that several of them were publishable only here in our cozy little shelter under the radar. Here’s a sampling:

From Brian Allgar, who I believe is a British expat living in Paris:
An exquisite girl from East Anglia
Had piercings progressively danglier.
Her lover said “Hell,
I keep ringing a bell!
Could there be a vagina that’s janglier?

From First Offender John Whitworth, also a Briton:
For seventy years he’s been randy
For various kinds of eye-candy,
And he’s in like a stoat,
The disgusting old goat,
If there’s ever an orifice handy.

And from New York-based limerick blogger Madeleine (“Mad”) Kane:
Kindly expedite. Speed is a must.
Do it quick as you can -- that’s my thrust.
’Cause I cannot express
What a sizable mess
Lack of dispatch would make of my lust.

And the Scarlet Letter goes to another one from the esteemed Mr. Allgar, who did include this disclaimer: “And this one may be going too far even for the Conversational. It may be going too far for you, in which case I apologize. In fact, it may even be going too far for me - although (context apart) it doesn’t contain any rude words ...”

“My sex life is over!” cries Dobson,
Distraught, as my shoulder he sobs on.
“My splendid tumescence is
Marred by excrescences --
Who’d suck a knob that has knobs on?”


As I mentioned last week, I received far too many excellent song parodies in Week 982 than I could expect any sane person to read at once. And so I’ve been sharing one of them each day on Facebook — complete with a link to the melody — on my own page as well as with the Style Invitational Devotees group. I think I’ll continue to post them every day for at least for a month. Some are parodies that were published way down in the 88-inch column; some didn’t get ink at all. But they’re all very good.


I’m looking forward to meeting newly emergent Losers and their fans at the next Loser event: brunch from the sizable buffet at The Front Page, in Arlington’s Ballston area. RSVP to Elden Carnahan at

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