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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:

  • Forms of the verb "to be" are omitted.
  • Articles are usually omitted.
  • Most verbs are in the simple present tense, e.g. "Governor signs bill".
  • 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]
  • To save space, a long word is sometimes replaced by a shorter word with not quite the same meaning, e.g. "attack" to mean "criticize".
  • Country names are often used instead of their adjective form, e.g. "Russia fires warning shot at Turkey boat".[3]

Headlines are generally sentences or noun phrases.

Short forms[edit]

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.

Headlines use many contractions and abbreviations: in the USA, for example, Pols (for "politicians"), Dems (for "Democrats"), GOP (for the Republican Party, from the nickname "Grand Old Party"), Govt for government; in the UK, Lib Dems (for the Liberal Democrats), Tories (for the Conservative Party).

Some periodicals have their own distinctive headline styles, especially Variety and its entertainment-jargon headlines such as "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)
  • 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
  • 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.


The vocabulary and grammatical constructs used in headlines have become so culturally ingrained that they are often encountered even where there are no space constraints, for example in Internet news agencies' headlines.

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.