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Hed: (n) Newsroom Jargon for Headlines

Headlines are tricky. They have to grab flighty readers’ attention, tell a story, and hopefully even squeeze in a witticism. The smallest choices affect readers’ first impressions and, sometimes, their only take on the story. Once a week, we analyze the different ways Canadian news outlets present the same story.

The Tale:

Leading up to Halloween night, when children stroll from door to door with candy bags in hand and older crowds attend zombie walks, pumpkin carvings, and Thriller dance parties, journalists and editors across the country were busy coming up with Halloween puns to slip into their stories’ headlines. Unsurprisingly, “boo” crept its way into more than one.

The Heds:

‘Healthy’ Halloween? I say boo to that: Menon (Toronto Star)

Local couple says “I boo” during Halloween-themed wedding (Windsor Star)

Ready, set, BOO! A guide to getting your Halloween on in Calgary (Calgary Sun)

The Summary:

Given lighter-than-usual subject matter, editors sometimes try to be witty—for better, or far more likely for worse. (To wit, “Heds and Tales.” We’ll show ourselves out…) They spend a lot of time handling challenging stories as tastefully and truthfully as possible, so light Halloween fare is like candy to them, and they enjoy it with puns, good, bad, and ugly. It’s no coincidence that three major newspapers ran three different headlines with the same groaner of a pun.

There’s something oddly appealing about the shortcomings of puns, and the Toronto Star’s is as good-bad as they come. It’s subtler than most and succeeds at creating a double meaning through a single word: “boo.” It’s the sort of wordplay editors love to inflict on others, despite leaving readers thinking, “oh, c’mon!”

The pun in the Windsor Star is less successful, if only because it’s legitimately scary. Section 24 of the Marriage Act of Ontario calls for a handful of “I dos” to legally solemnize a civil marriage. We sincerely hope the couple in question dealt with the required statements separately, otherwise, for the sake of a Halloween pun, the couple may have inadvertently forfeited their marriage. That’s scary stuff.

What the Sun’s headline makes clear is that puns should be left to those who can do them well, or at least for those who make them so bad they’re good. Stretched too far, or not far enough, they fall flat, and “Ready, set, Boo!” falls flatter than most—boo doesn’t even rhyme with go. It doesn’t leave the reader loving or even love-hating it, and a pun that fails to evoke at least mild contempt is barely a pun at all.