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Headlinese is an abbreviated writing style used in newspaper headlines.[1] Because space is limited, headlines are written in a compressed telegraphic style, using special syntactic conventions, including:

  • Forms of the verb "to be" and articles are usually omitted.
  • Most verbs are in the simple present tense, e.g. "Governor signs bill", while the future is expressed as "to" followed by a verb, e.g. "Governor to sign bill".
  • In the US (but not the UK), conjunctions are often replaced by a comma, as in "Bush, Blair laugh off microphone mishap".[2]
  • Country names are often used instead of their adjective form, e.g. "Russia fires warning shot at Turkey boat".[3]
  • Individuals are usually named by their last name only, with no honorifics.
  • Organizations and institutions are often named by metonymy: "Wall Street" for "the financial industry", "Whitehall" for the UK government administration, "Madrid" for "the government of Spain", "Davos" for "World Economic Forum", and so on.
  • Use of many contractions and abbreviations: in the USA, for example, Dems (for "Democrats") and GOP (for the Republican Party, from the nickname "Grand Old Party"); in the UK, Lib Dems (for the Liberal Democrats), Tories (for the Conservative Party).

Some periodicals have their own distinctive headline styles, such Variety and its entertainment-jargon headlines, most famously "Sticks Nix Hick Pix".

Commonly used short words[edit]

To save space, headlines often use extremely short words (many of which are not in common use otherwise) in unusual or idiosyncratic ways:

  • axe (eliminate)
  • amid (at the same time as)
  • bid (attempt)
  • blast (heavily criticize)
  • chop (eliminate)
  • confab (meeting)
  • curb (reduce)
  • duo (two people)
  • eye (consider)
  • foe
  • fold (shut down)
  • fury
  • gal
  • guy
  • hike (increase)
  • hit
  • hype
  • ink (sign a contract)
  • laud (praise)
  • lull
  • mar
  • mull (consider)
  • nab
  • nix (reject)
  • parley (meeting)
  • pen (write)
  • pose
  • probe (investigate)
  • quiz (question)
  • rap (criticize)
  • revel
  • rout
  • scrap (abandon)
  • see (forecast)
  • slam (heavily criticize)
  • stun
  • temblor (earthquake)
  • tout (endorse)
  • vie (compete)
  • vow (promise)
  • woe (problem)

Many verbs can be converted into nouns, e.g. "rap" could be understood as either "criticize" or "criticism" depending on context.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Headlinese Collated definitions via www.wordnik.com
  2. ^ "Bush, Blair laugh off microphone mishap". CNN. 2006-07-21. Archived from the original on 2007-08-16. Retrieved 2007-07-17. 
  3. ^ http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-35087050

Further reading[edit]

  • Headlinese : on the grammar of English front page headlines, Ingrid Mard, ISBN 91-40-04753-9 (pbk.), Lund studies in English
  • Biber, D. 2007. Compressed noun phrase structures in newspaper discourse: The competing demands of popularization vs. economy. In W. Teubert and R. Krishnamurthy (Eds.), Corpus linguistics: Critical concepts in linguistics (Vol. V), 130-141. London: Routledge.